At one of the practices for the 2013 East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida, I noticed that Ted Thompson was studying one player quite intently as he went through drills. That player was running back Christine Michael of Texas A&M.
Michael was a physical specimen who flashed all sorts of athletic ability. In the actual East-West Shrine Game, Michael ran for 42 yards and a touchdown in the West’s 28-13 victory over the East. He also had a reception for seven yards.
At the NFL Scouting Combine about a month later, Michael ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, posted a 43-inch vertical jump, benched 225 pounds 27 times and had a broad jump of 10-feet, 5-inches.
Michael led all running backs with his performance in the vertical leap and broad jump drills.
In college at Texas A&M, rushed for only 417 yards rushing his senior year, but did manage to score 12 touchdowns. Injuries kept Michael from playing full seasons the two previous years (broken tibia in 2010 and a knee injury in 2011). Combined in those two years, Michael had 1,530 yards and 12 touchdowns.
As a freshman, Michael ran for 844 yards, and also scored 10 touchdowns.
In 2013, I was writing for Bleacher Report. I put out a number of mock drafts for the Packers that spring and in one of them I had the Packers selecting Michael.
In another mock draft, I had the Packers selecting Eddie Lacy of Alabama, which is exactly what the Packers did with the 61st pick of the draft in the second round. The next pick coincidentally went to the Seattle Seahawks, who then picked Michael.
In my final mock draft that year, I correctly predicted that the Packers would select defensive lineman Datone Jones of UCLA in the first round. I had the Packers selecting running back Montee Ball of the Wisconsin Badgers in the second round.
Thompson had also gone to the Wisconsin pro day and not only did he study Ball closely, but he also chatted with him for a few minutes.
So going into the 2013 NFL draft, I believed that the Packers were intent on drafting one of three running backs in the second round. Either Ball, Lacy or Michael.
The Packers originally had the 55th selection in the second round of the draft, but traded back to the 61st spot in the draft in a deal with the San Francisco 49ers. With the 58th selection of the draft, the Denver Broncos selected Ball.
When it came time to make their pick at No. 61, the Packers selected Lacy, while Michael went a pick later to the Seahawks.
Lacy had a great first couple of years in Green Bay, as he rushed for 2,317 yards and 20 touchdowns, plus caught 77 passes for 684 yards and four more scores.
No. 27 of the Packers was also named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, plus made the Pro Bowl.
Even with that, the Packers were still kicking the tires with Ball after he was released by the Broncos in their last cut just before the start of the 2015 season.
The Packers did work out Ball after he was released, but never signed him. The Packers were content with the tandem of Lacy and James Starks at running back last season.
But Lacy regressed a bit due to weight issues and injuries in 2015, as he only rushed for 758 yards and three touchdowns, while catching 20 passes and two more scores.
Starks helped to fill that void, as he rushed for a career-best 601 yards and two touchdowns. No. 44 also caught 43 passes for 392 yards and three scores.
Michael meanwhile, had a very interesting start to his career. Michael backed up Marshawn Lynch in Seattle and didn’t get a lot of lot of opportunities in his first two seasons in the league.
In 2013 and 2014, Michael rushed for 254 yards and did not score a touchdown. Michael didn’t help himself by missing assignments, plus was difficult to coach at times due to maturity issues.
The Seahawks traded Michael to the Dallas Cowboys in 2015, where he played in five games and rushed for 51 yards. But Dallas saw the same issues that plagued Michael in Seattle and released him.
The Seahawks then took another chance on Michael by re-signing him, as he rushed for 192 yards in three games for the Hawks last season.
The 2016 season was a huge opportunity for Michael to shine for the Seahawks. For one, Lynch retired. Secondly, Michael would be competing primarily with Thomas Rawls, who was coming off a season-ending broken ankle in 2015, when he rushed for 830 yards and four touchdowns.
Michael took full advantage of his chance to shine this past preseason, as he ran like a runaway freight train and was very impressive.
No. 32 carried that over to the regular season, as he was having a solid campaign with 469 yards rushing and six touchdowns through nine games. Rawls suffered a leg injury early in the season, which gave Michael the bulk of the carries for the Seahawks, as Rawls has been sidelined since that time.
But over the past couple of games, the Seahawks were giving rookie running back C.J. Prosise more snaps than Michael. It didn’t help matters that Michael also was dealing with a hamstring issue.
And with Rawls getting ready to get back on the playing field and with Prosise performing well in both the running and passing game, the Hawks decided to jettison Michael earlier this week.
The main cause of his release may have been due to assignment errors again and his penchant for immaturity.
No matter, based on the depth chart at running back right now for the Packers, it was easy to see why Thompson would kick the tires on Michael and sign him off waivers.
Lacy was having a promising start this season, when he rushed for 360 yards (5.1 yards per carry average) in five games before going on injured reserve due to an ankle injury which required surgery.
Right around that same time, Starks had undergone a minor procedure on his knee which would keep him out of action for a month or so.
That meant the options at running back were undrafted rookie Don Jackson and wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who had played some running back at times at Stanford.
It’s no wonder why Thompson made a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs to bring in Knile Davis for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.
Davis (Arkansas) was also part of that running back class in the 2013 NFL draft. Davis, like Michael, had shown excellent athletic ability at the combine, where he ran a 4.37 in the 40, plus had a whopping 31 reps in the bench press.
But after a short stay with Green Bay, where Davis had only five yards rushing in five attempts and had two catches for four yards, the Packers released him.
Meanwhile, Jackson injured his hand in his first game with the Packers, while Montgomery shined in running the ball and especially catching the ball out of the backfield. In games versus the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, No. 88 rushed for 113 yards on just 16 carries, plus caught 13 passes for 104 yards.
But unfortunately for Montgomery, he also missed a Week 8 game due to a sickle-cell illness.
In Week 10, Starks returned to action at running back and received most of the snaps there, as he rushed for 33 yards in seven carries, plus caught three passes for 11 yards and a touchdown.
Although Lacy is eligible to come off injured reserve and return to the team in Week 15, some recent reports say Lacy may not be able to return until January, which is after the regular season is over.
That is a big reason why Thompson jumped at the chance to bring in a back he really liked out of college. But there are a couple more reasons as well. For one, Michael is only due $280,000 for the rest of the 2016 season. Secondly, the Packers will be facing the Seahawks in a key NFC matchup in Week 14 at Lambeau Field.
You can be sure that the Packers will have Michael discuss the offensive tendencies of the Seahawks with the coaching staff.
Right now I see Starks as the bell cow at running back for the rest of the season if he can remain healthy. Montgomery will also get some opportunities there as well, plus Michael will get his share of reps too. Jackson was put on IR due to a knee injury suffered just before the waiver pickup of Michael.
But whether Michael stays on the team for the rest of the 2016 season or is given a quick release like Davis, depends solely on him.
Michael has all the physical skills that one would want in a running back. It’s the mental acuity of the game which has caused him issues in his short time in the NFL.
If Michael finally figures out how to match his excellent athletic ability with the thinking part of the game, then Thompson and the Packers would have gotten themselves a valuable asset for the football team.