Christine Michael: The Numbers

The Seattle Seahawks drafted future XFL MVP Christine Michael with their first selection in 2013 (Round 2, Pick 62), in what just might be the worst class of the PCJS era. (Evidence of John Schneider’s knowledge and subsequent attempts to correct this failing is openly documented in his relentless desire to acquire every first-round pick from 2013.) Despite public perception, Michael was — and is — a transcendent player with numbers that rival some of the top running backs in the NFL.

Athletic Evaluation

Let’s start at the beginning with the rawest of raw numbers. SPARQ is a statistic that utilizes a player’s testing numbers to measure athleticism. To use the same terms as Zach Whitman, founder of 3SigmaAthlete.com, C-Mike is a freak. Here’s what Whitman had to say about Michael’s SPARQ scores:

“I can’t really leave this section without raving about Christine Michael: relative to the 2014 class, he’s one sigma from the mean in 40 time, bench press, and broad jump, two sigma in shuttle and three cone, and three sigma in vertical and 10-yard split….

… Fun Fact To Know And Tell about CM: if you took each one of his test scores down (40 yard time increases, broad jump decreases, etc.) by a whole standard deviation his pSPARQ would be 130 (!!!), good for ninth-best (!!!) in the 2014 class (!!!!!).”

No running back has surpassed Michael’s 152.1 pSPARQ score since. Saquon Barkley, arguably the best running back in the NFL right now, was at the top of the 2018 draft class and didn’t even crack 150. Is Christine Michael better than Saquon Barkley? We don’t yet have enough information to decide, but there is quite the compelling argument.

On Field Production

Unfortunately, Michael was never trusted enough by his coaches to be given the three-down back role he deserved, and deserves. But over the course of his six-year career, he has given us enough data to get a good idea of who he would be as a starting running back. As it currently stands, C-Mike has 256 attempts, 1089 yards, and 7 touchdowns. If we bunch all those into a single season, Michael would have finished tied for 4th in attempts, 7th in yards, and with more touchdowns than Ezekiel Elliott.

Here is a sampling of some players who have had seasons since 2013 with at least 250 attempts who didn’t reach C-Mike’s yardage total:

  • Todd Gurley
  • Devonta Freeman
  • Frank Gore (x2)
  • Matt Forte
  • Adrian Peterson

It’s a veritable who’s who of future Hall of Famers, and none of them as productive as Christine Michael.

Perhaps the closest comp to Christine Michael’s career boiled down to a single season would be 2014 Pro Bowler Arian Foster.

The Texans mediocre passing offense was dragged to a 9-7 record on the back of Foster, the leader of their top-5 rushing offense.  Would Christine Michael have done the same? I have to assume so.

The only place C-Mike doesn’t really land within the elite tier of running backs is with his pass-catching skills.

While C-Mike’s receiving prowess may at times leave much to be desired, we have to remember that passes to running backs are overrated anyway. And although he isn’t the top-tier pass-catcher some might want in a modern running back, he still finds ways to contribute in the passing game overall.

Some may point to his lackluster receiving skills as a reason he can’t succeed in the modern NFL, but I’d argue that he has disregarded pass catching in order to focus on his pass blocking skills.  It’s quite selfless of him, to be honest.

Advanced Numbers

Digging a little deeper into the data, C-Mike really begins to shine.  A quick aside: in quarterback evaluation, we often see the idea of a TD:INT ratio.  How often does the quarterback put up points versus turning it over?  Well my friends, I posit that just as we consider this TD:INT ratio, so can we use a running back’s TD:fumble ratio.  And we find that our hero Christine Michael’s 3.5:1 TD:fumble ratio points to him being a better running back than first-round fantasy selection David Johnson (2.2:1).  And as we all know, fantasy drafts are where the real player evals happen.

Looking now at efficiency, Michael’s EPA/carry ranks a respectable 67th out of 165 running backs with at least 100 carries since 2013, and 62nd in success rate.  I know what you’re thinking: That seems low. And while I agree, he does sit in the top half of the league, and in the company the engine of the 2018 LA Rams offense C.J. Anderson (50th EPA/carry, 63rd SR).

To get a better visual of these numbers, I’ve plotted success rate and EPA/carry below.

Michael has a better success rate and EPA/carry than the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers’ Melvin Gordon. Gordon is currently sitting out of training camp as he demands a new deal somewhere in the David Johnson/Todd Gurley range. And he’s got a good point. Ben Baldwin (somewhat accidentally) documented Gordon’s success last year, and it makes a compelling case for why he deserves $15M APY. With C-Mike definitively having better career efficiency, I think we may have stumbled on to the reason he isn’t currently on an NFL roster: he’s holding out for more money.

Should the Seahawks be pursuing SeaMike?

If it’s true that Michael is holding out for more money a la Melvin Gordon, there is no way the Seahawks could afford him. But if the reason C-Mike remains unsigned is more of a league-wide blackballing scandal, there is a strong argument to make that Seattle should bring him home. Consider, for a moment, Rashaad Penny.

Christine Michael could easily have run for more than the -2 total yards gained here. And that is superstar first-round draft pick Rashaad Penny on those carries! To everyone who says “you can’t measure player talent based on draft position!” I’d ask, why can we not do for Rashaad Penny what we already do for Jared Goff?

Christine Michael has spent his entire career as an undervalued, underpaid, underutilized running back with star power just itching to explode. Taking this deep dive into his numbers makes it abundantly clear that, given the chance to be a full-time starting running back, C-Mike would reign supreme.