In 2009, the Philadelphia Eagles spent the 53rd overall pick of the draft on a talented, do-it-all running back named LeSean McCoy. McCoy spent six great seasons with the franchise, is still a quality NFL player to this day, and has accumulated almost 15,000 scrimmage yards and 89 total touchdowns over the course of his illustrious career. Ten years later, the Eagles spent the same 53rd overall selection on another versatile runner. That man’s name was Miles Sanders, and the franchise was hopeful that he could prove to be the long-term solution they’ve struggled to find at the position ever since McCoy was dealt to the Buffalo Bills in 2015.
Sanders is only 12 games into his NFL career, but if the early returns are indicative of what’s to come, history could be repeating itself in the City of Brotherly love and if you’re an Eagles fan, that’s exactly what you want to hear.
Miles Sanders Has Big-Time Potential
Sanders was the second runner off the board in the 2019 NFL draft, behind only the Oakland Raiders first-round tailback Josh Jacobs. While Jacobs has proven to be a dynamic talent and a legitimate rookie of the year candidate, there were many analysts who believed Sanders was the top tailback on the board.
Boasting high-end rushing talent and plus receiving ability, Sanders was also possessed of the most impressive athletic profile of all the top backs in the draft. Perhaps the only thing standing in his way was a lack of sustained college production. Indeed, Sanders was statistically dominant during his final season at Penn State in 2018, but having spent the 2016 and 2017 campaigns playing behind uber-talent Saquon Barkley, he really only had one year to prove his mettle. Fortunately, the Eagles saw his immense upside and pounced.
Jumping right into the fray, Sanders had an impressive training camp, but found himself in a crowded backfield competing for reps with veteran runner Jordan Howard, a former Pro Bowler who the Eagles acquired from the Chicago Bears in an off-season trade.
Splitting time with his veteran teammate, Sanders flashed some huge upside over the first nine weeks of the season, but Howard clearly provided the more stable presence for the ground game. As such, the rookie was relegated to more of a change-of-pace role with some added pass-catching opportunities. However, coming out of the team’s Week 10 bye, Sanders found himself bracing for a new role.
A Heavy Workload
Reports emerged that Howard had sustained a shoulder injury in the team’s Week Nine win over the aforementioned Bears, and that all-but guaranteed Sanders would see plenty of action for as long as his backfield mate was recovering.
In Week 11, with Howard sidelined and Darren Sproles on injured reserve, Sanders saw his first opportunity to be a featured back. While he struggled against the New England Patriots defense (almost everyone does), it was a big step forward in the youngster’s career. A Week 12 date with the Seattle Seahawks was no walk in the park either, though Sanders still managed to produce 86 scrimmage yards on only 15 touches.
However, it was in Week 13 when Sanders really showed the world what he could do, rushing for 83 yards on 17 carries, and corralling all five of his targets for 22 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort against the Miami Dolphins.
The Eagles typically employ a committee-style backfield, but in the three contests since Howard sustained his injury, Sanders has played 85% or more of the snaps each time. No other Eagles runner has seen a snap share this high in 2019, and the only one to come remotely close was Howard when he was on the field for 73% of them in Week Eight.
As of this moment, Howard has still yet to be cleared for contact and is looking highly questionable for Monday night’s contest against the rival New York Giants. If he sits, expect Sanders to absorb another high-volume role.
In spite of the fact that Miles Sanders has been a part-time player for most of the year (prior to Howard’s injury, the rookie’s highest single game snap rate was 54%), through twelve weeks of the season, he currently sits second among all rookies in yards from scrimmage, with 879. The former Nittany Lion also ranks fourth in rookie rushing (520 yards), while boasting a solid 4.5 yards per carry, to boot.
Additionally, Sanders leads all rookie tailbacks in targets (41), receptions (32), and receiving yards (359), but perhaps most impressively, his 11.2 yards per reception is best among all NFL running backs who have seen 25 or more targets. That’s right, all of them.
These numbers don’t lie. Sanders is an impressive talent and he’s only getting better. The rookie is a strong fit in this offense and looks like a potential long-term difference-maker. Howard will be back on the field sooner than later and his strong play this season all but guarantees he will regain his role as the team’s number one rusher, but Sanders has proven to be too talented to keep off the field for long stretches.
“Shady,” Part II?
In a season that, to this point, has been full of disappointment and frustration, Eagles fans should take some comfort in the fact the Sanders looks very much like the long-desired successor to LeSean McCoy; “Shady the Sequel,” if you will.
McCoy accumulated 945 yards from scrimmage and four total touchdowns as a rookie in 2009. With four games left to go, Sanders is only 66 yards and one touchdown shy of matching his predecessor’s production. It’s safe to make the assumption that he will exceed it. McCoy followed up that impressive rookie season with a 1,672 total yard, nine-touchdown effort as a sophomore. Sanders has the talent to do the very same thing, opportunity permitted.
The Eagles have clearly found themselves a talented and versatile runner. It remains to be seen if they ever stray from their committee-based leanings, but Sanders has proven that he can handle the load when called upon. The future is bright for the former Big Ten standout, and the Eagles will need him in a big way as they make a late season playoff push. Make no mistake about it, Miles Sanders’ bright NFL future is just getting started.
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