Miles Sanders Is NFL Draft's Big Winner and Ready to Take Off in 2020May 2, 2020
Jordan Howard left as a free agent, wasn't replaced. Darren Sproles retired, wasn't replaced. The Philadelphia Eagles acquired six veterans via free agency or trade. None were running backs. They drafted 10 players last month. No backs among them.
While they did sign two undrafted free agents at the position and re-signed reserve back Corey Clement, the Eagles' actions this NFL offseason strongly indicate they're all-in on 2019 rookie sensation Miles Sanders.
The back-less draft despite the loss of Howard confirmed it: Sanders will have a chance to become an all-out superstar in 2020.
Tyler Steege @TSteegeNFL
Miles Sanders probably the biggest beneficiary of the speed added to the #Eagles offense this offseason. Teams can’t run single high unless they want to get beat deep regularly - Sanders should see some favorable boxes this season. (I’d take him early round 2 in fantasy drafts)
This week, The Athletic's Zach Berman wrote that the 2019 second-round pick is "entrenched atop the depth chart—more so than any running back since [Doug] Pederson became head coach in 2016."
It's easy to understand what the team is thinking. Beyond Week 7, Sanders was one of just eight backs to average more than 5.0 yards per carry, and he and Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers were the only two who accomplished that while compiling more than 250 receiving yards.
Ultimately, the 23-year-old was one of just six players to accumulate more than 500 yards on the ground and through the air. So even though he was hardly used as a receiver at Penn State, it's obvious he's successfully molding himself to become the next Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey.
In April, he admitted that's the plan.
"When I look at him," Sanders said of McCaffrey, per ESPN.com's Tim McManus, "I look at a back that's very hard to stop. I want to be that back. I want to be that back where you think you can stop me in the run game and then, boom, I'm outside in the passing game and I'm rolling up yards for the team. I want to be that back where there's no way you can really slow me down or stop me or take me out of the game because I'm so versatile. That's the type of mentality and the type of player I want to be."
Pederson is familiar with backs like that. LeSean McCoy caught 220 passes during Pederson's original four-year stint coaching the Philadelphia offense, Jamaal Charles was the Kansas City Chiefs' leading receiver in Pederson's debut season as that team's offensive coordinator (Charles tied for the team lead in touchdown catches the next season), and Sproles was a Pro Bowler with 52 receptions during the offensive guru's inaugural campaign as head coach of the Eagles.
Sanders caught just 30 passes and scored only one receiving touchdown in three years in the Big Ten, but there's little doubt he has the skill set to excel in that role as a pro.
Look for Pederson to run with that.
But it's not as though Sanders can't be relied on heavily when the Eagles need to focus on the ground game. He possesses a beautiful combination of size, strength and speed, and when you watch footage of his 2019 exploits, one particular observation from Bleacher Report draft guru Matt Miller's 2019 offseason scouting report sticks out.
"Squeezes through rushing lanes and can make himself small to get through cracks and creases," Miller wrote. "Pops out the other side with balance."
Dude can block, too, which is critical when you've got a fragile quarterback like Carson Wentz.
Thomas R. Petersen 🦅 @thomasrp93
Checked my notes from last year on Miles Sanders: - Good pass protection technique. Can deliver hit. Needs to find blitzer consistently. - Displays good catch ability, not utilized much. - Smooth jump cuts between tackles, transitions to drive legs well Let's check 👀 #Eagles https://t.co/kPjccGszZV
Look at it all, and it's amazing he wasn't a top-50 draft pick, but the Eagles might have benefited from the fact he started just one season after being overshadowed by Saquon Barkley during his first two years at Penn State, where his pass-catching skills weren't fully revealed.
And so it's likely we still haven't seen the best of Miles Sanders. He played just 53 percent of the team's offensive snaps and ceded 200 carries to Howard and Boston Scott as a rookie. When he finally carried the ball more than 15 times in three separate outings in December, he held up just fine: 56 attempts, 5.1 yards per carry, four touchdowns, 16 catches on the side, no fumbles.
In fact, he hasn't fumbled since Sept. 22.
Sanders looks like the complete package, and the Eagles look primed to take advantage of that.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter. Or don't. It's entirely your choice.