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Christine Michael: Meet Fantasy Football's Next Breakout RB

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Christine Michael: Meet Fantasy Football's Next Breakout RB
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In fantasy football, identifying the next "breakout" running back can give teams a massive edge. Over the past two years, Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins and Zac Stacy of the St. Louis Rams have come from nowhere to lead squads to fantasy glory.

Well, this year's "lottery ticket" at running back isn't a rookie, but that isn't the most interesting thing about him.

The most interesting thing about Christine Michael is that he presently sits behind a back who's a top-10 pick on many fantasy draft boards on the Seattle Seahawks' depth chart.

In fact, technically Michael is third, behind Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin. However, the times they are-a-changing in the Emerald City, according to Terry Blount of ESPN:

Granted, that one comment made by offensive coordinator Darren Bevell at an event for season ticket holders isn't what sent the fantasy football community into Michael-mania mode.

After all, we're talking about Lynch. Beast Mode himself. He of three straight seasons of over 1,200 rushing yards and 1,002 carries over the past three years (most in the NFL).

I mean, c'mon, right? Lynch causes earthquakes, for goodness' sake.

However, it's hardly the first good thing we've heard about Michael this year. There hasn't been a running back with more positive spin surrounding him in 2014. There may not be a player at any position.

At the NFL Combine, it was head coach Pete Carroll singling Michael out as the Seahawks' biggest breakout candidate in 2014:

As the calendar turned to April, it was general manager John Schneider. As Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times reported, while appearing on ESPN 710 Radio in Seattle, Schneider called Michael one of the team's "most explosive offensive players."

Cue the end of May. With Lynch sitting out the first round of OTAs, it was Michael who ran with the first-team, and Carroll's turn again to gush about the second-year pro, according to Blount:

We have very high expectations for him. He's going to get a ton of work. He's just a million miles ahead of where he was in terms of understanding what we want scheme-wise, pass protection wise, route wise, and we know he's a natural runner. He's got explosive talent and we just want to get him to fit in.

There's talking up a player, and then there's bursting. And they're bursting, Jerry!

All this for a player who carried the ball all of 18 times last year.

But hey, don't take Carroll's word for it. Or Schneider's, for that matter. This could all be part of some nefarious, Machiavellian, Belichickian plot to mess with our heads.

See for yourself, with this video from Seahawks' workouts.

In case you were wondering, that's Bruce Irvin trying to clean the egg off his grill.

It wasn't long after the raves started regarding Michael that they were joined by rumbles regarding Lynch's future with the team.

With Lynch carrying a $9 million cap hit in 2015, according to spotrac (subscription required), and the Seahawks staring at the impending mega-extension for quarterback Russell Wilson, Todd Dybas of The Tacoma News-Tribune was among the numerous scribes who speculated that 2014 could be Lynch's last year in Seattle.

With that said, though, if Michael continues to wildly exceed expectations, what's to stop the passing of the torch from happening sooner than that?

After all, Lynch is 28. He's the only back in the NFL with 1,000 carries over the past three years. And most importantly, if you've ever seen Lynch run, you know every yard he picks up is earned, often at the expense of some linebacker's sternum.

It only makes sense for Carroll to want to dial Lynch's carries back. Combine that with Bevell's assertion, per Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times, that the Seahawks plan to remain a run-heavy team, and the door appears wide open for more work for Michael.

If he makes the sort of impact with those regular-season touches that he has in camp, then the workload will increase. It's that simple.

Carroll is a "best guy plays" coach, whether that player is a rookie, a grizzled veteran or somewhere in between.

How many rushing yards will Christine Michael gain in 2014?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Cue Matt Flynn nodding solemnly while holding a clipboard in Green Bay.

Nevermind that running back is a position where the cliff really is a cliff, both in the NFL and fantasy football. Backs can go from superstar to afterthought in the blink of eye.

Cue Ray Rice's fantasy owners nodding solemnly while bawling like toddlers.

Granted, the ascension of Michael from third-stringer to NFL and fantasy starter is far from a sure thing. It's only June, and Lynch ain't Flynn.

They don't call them lottery tickets because the odds are good.

However, the signs are there. The electrifying talent. Coaches raving about his second-year growth. An aging starter ahead of him with a ton of wear of his wheels. The best situation team-wise for running backs in the NFL.

Oh, and an early average draft position of the fourth round at My Fantasy League.

Of course, that price is only going to rise with every positive report about Michael.

That's the problem with lottery tickets. The bigger the jackpot, the more people that want one.

 

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.

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