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With the NFL Draft looming, does Sony Michel have an issue with “ball security”—comparatively speaking?
With the NFL Draft looming, does Sony Michel have an issue with “ball security”—comparatively speaking? (Greg Poole/Bulldawg Illustrated)

Pat’s Weekly Stat (you likely won’t see anywhere else—and there’s probably a good reason why): Recently, I heard for what seemed like the umpteenth time from a distinguished NFL draft analyst that fumbling is a concern with former Georgia standout Sony Michel as the draft looms just days away.

“Ball security with Michel [is an issue], the fumbles,” the draft expert said. “He's got to clean that up.”

Not necessarily doubting the analyst, I decided to explore the legitimacy of his claim—comparatively speaking, that is, as it relates to all Bulldog players who handled the football over an extended period of time—say, beginning in 2001, or when individual fumble statistics were first made available, via UGA, through last season.

Accordingly, the expert’s assertion seems valid on the surface as Michel’s 12 fumbles during his Georgia career, five of which were lost, are tied for the most by a non-quarterback and tied for fourth overall among all Bulldog players (trailing quarterbacks Aaron Murray, who fumbled 20 times, David Greene, who had 17, and Matthew Stafford’s 14).

However, upon further examination, Michel’s career fumble statistics (12 fumbles, five lost) are identical to the totals for his former teammate Isaiah McKenzie—and, notably, Michel had nearly 500 more “touches” as a Bulldog than McKenzie. A “touch” is defined as any pass or rushing attempt, a reception, or any kind of return.

Still, is it fair to compare the fumble figures of Michel, whose touches were predominantly rushing attempts, to that of McKenzie’s, whereby more than 40 percent of his touches were via returns, which seem more likely occasions for losing a fumble than when running the ball?

Speaking of losing a fumble, perhaps it's more appropriate to measure an individual’s number of fumbles lost and not those fumbles recovered by oneself or teammates. And, again, Michel lost five fumbles to the opposition while at Georgia—the same number as Nick Chubb, who had just a 789-to-658 advantage over his running mate in career touches.

Therefore, establishing three separate groups for those who come in contact with the football—quarterbacks, receivers (including tight ends) and/or returners and running backs—the following is Georgia’s top and bottom players in terms of percent of career touches resulting in a lost fumble for the past 17 seasons (players with at least 100 touches and/or three fumbles lost):

UGA's top and bottom in fumble-lost percentage (2001-2017)
Position Tendency to lose fumble 1st 2nd 3rd

Quarterback

Least likely

0.00- Hutson Mason (2010-14)

0.33- Greyson Lambert (2015-16)

0.35- Mathew Stafford (2006-08)

Quarterback

Most likely

0.97- Jacob Eason (2016-17)

0.75- Joe Tereshinski (2003-06)

0.67- D.J. Shockley (2002-05)

Receiver/Returner

Least likely

0.00- Chris Conley (2011-14)

0.39- Damien Gary (1999-2003)

0.41- Terrence Edwards (1999-2002)

Receiver/Returner

Most likely

3.30- Branden Smith (2009-12)

2.91- Isaiah McKenzie (2014-16)

2.42- Reggie Davis (2013-16)

Running Back

Least likely

0.00- Verron Haynes (1999-2001)

0.34- Todd Gurley (2012-14)

0.41- Musa Smith (2000-02)

Running Back

Most likely

4.23- Brandon Harton (2011-13)

2.54- Brannan Southerland (2005-08)

1.95- Tyson Browning (2002-05)

By the way, the three Bulldogs from 2001-2017 who had at least 100 career touches yet never lost a fumble recovered by the foe—Hutson Mason, Chris Conley, and Verron Haynes—did so while totaling 507, 118, and 156 touches, respectively.

As for Michel, the 20 other Georgia running backs with at least 100 touches combined to have a fumble-lost percentage of 0.90, whereas Michel was less likely to lose a fumble with a percentage of 0.76.

Hence, if ball security is an issue for Sony Michel as he enters the NFL Draft, it would seem to me there are other draft-likely running backs—and possibly a good number of them—who've “got to clean that up” even more so than the former Bulldog star.