All summer, we’ve seen Miles Sanders work on his hands.
He’ll catch balls from the JUGs machine before practice, he’ll sometimes catch balls from running backs coach Jemal Singleton during special teams periods. Anything he can do to eliminate what was a big problem in his game from last season.
The issue is that the problem has persisted this summer.
“I’m just trying to get better at it,” Sanders said last week. “Get back to how I was my rookie year, just be consistent and confident catching the ball.”
Eliminating drops would be important no matter what. But it’s especially important in Nick Sirianni’s offense.
“This is no secret,” Sirianni said on Saturday. “We really are going to use our running backs in the pass game. We're going to. They create great mismatches in games.”
While Sanders has just a couple drops in team drills this summer, he has also been dropping passes in 1-on-1s and in individual drills. Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal if we hadn’t watched Sanders lead the league in drops among running backs last season.
In 2020, Sanders saw a steep decline in his production as a receiver and he was plagued by drops. According to ProFootballFocus, Sanders was tied for the NFL lead in drops among running backs with eight. Ezekiel Elliott also had eight but his drop percentage was just 13.3%, while Sanders’ was 22.2%.
“He's working at it, because he knows he has to continue to improve there,” Sirianni said. “So I love the fact that he's doing that. We've seen Miles drop a couple. Off angle routes is really where we've really seen it, and that's coming back in and looking at the quarterback and the angle that it's coming through. So we're just trying to simulate that as much as possible.”
Sirianni said he once had a receiver who struggled to catch these types of routes before, so he feels like the coaching staff has a blueprint for how to correct the issue. Because Sanders didn’t play in the preseason opener, it looks like his work might be confined to practice.
For his part, Sanders has said he’s been working hard to correct one specific issue. He wants to get his head around faster to become an easier target for quarterbacks. So he sees the issue and is working to correct it.
While Sanders improved as a runner in Year 2, the drop-off in his receiving stats was steep. As a rookie, Sanders caught 50 of 63 targets for 509 yards and 3 touchdowns. Last year, he caught 28 of 52 targets for 197 yards and no touchdowns.
Maybe that rookie season will end up being somewhat of an outlier but Sanders clearly has the ability to be a good receiver out of the backfield. Even if he doesn’t have the most natural hands, he can be special once he pulls the ball in.
Sanders has three-down skills but in order for him to really shine in Sirianni’s offense he has to clean up this issue.
“You go through something. Like this is anything, right?” Sirianni’s said. “You go through an adversity, this receiver dropping passes, and you can either learn from it or do everything you're doing the exact same. So, you learn from it and you add a couple of catching drills to your routine. So, we feel like we've been through this, and we are going to do the same this with Miles.”
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