Forget the future.
The Eagles need to play Miles Sanders a ton this year.
Sure, the Eagles also added Jordan Howard in a trade this offseason, but there’s no reason to hold back on playing the second-round pick from Penn State. Running backs, perhaps more than any other position, can contribute early in their careers. That should be no different for Sanders.
During training camp and the preseason games, he’s been proving that.
Based on what he’s seen this summer, how much does Doug Pederson think Sanders can contribute as a rookie?
“As much as we give him,” Pederson said.
They should give him a lot.
I think he’s does a great job with us so far,” Pederson continued. “The biggest concern coming into camp was obviously the health issue with coming out of the spring being injured a little bit. But I think he’s checked that box. Obviously, he’ll have a role for us. It’s good to have those two guys back there who are different runners but at the same time give us that running game that was missed a year ago.
We’ve seen impressive things from Sanders all summer, but now that he’s doing it in games, I actually have some video to show you. So let’s take a closer look at the different aspects of his game:
Sanders can hit a hole and with what should be a very good offensive line in front of him, there will be plenty of holes.
Check out the first play against the Jaguars last week. Sanders makes a nice move to find a huge hole in front of him, then he bursts through it.
It’s great to be able to cut, but Sanders’ ability to accelerate after the cut is what makes this play. That hole was huge, but it would have closed way quicker on a lot of backs.
This is where his 4.49 second 40-yard dash time (70th percentile) shows up on the field.
We all think of Howard as the power back in the rotation and maybe that will be true on goal line situations. But Sanders has power too. This run from the Eagles’ 5-yard line shows that.
On this one, Sanders goes for a gain of 16, but about 12 of those yards came after contact. By the end of the play, he’s dragging Jaguars defenders to the 21-yard line.
We saw this from Sanders at Penn State too. According to PFF, he ranked eighth among qualified FBS running backs in yards after contact per touch (3.68). As a runner, he averaged 3.8 yards after contact per rushing attempt and 845 of his 1,274 yards in 2018 came after contact. His legs keep churning.
As much as everyone else was happy to see his running ability last week, Sanders beamed when talking about his blocking. The ability — or lack of ability — to pass protect is what often keeps rookie running backs off the field. Coming out of college, Sanders was at least a willing blocker, but we’re seeing he understands his assignments too.
This block on blitzing linebacker Joe Giles-Harris allowed Clayton Thorson enough time to deliver a 38-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ward against the Jaguars. While some might notice the blitzer coming off the edge, Sanders picked the right guy and stuffed the ‘backer.
This is the most exciting part of Sanders’ game and it’s the part that has prematurely drawn Shady comparisons. No, Sanders is not LeSean McCoy. There aren’t many guys who are as shifty as Shady. But Sanders does have the ability to make tacklers miss and his jump cut has been very impressive.
The jump cut in Thursday’s game wasn’t as draw-dropping as the one he pulled off at the Linc during the public practice, but it’s still a good example.
This play went for a modest gain of three yards, but it could have been a loss. Aside from just the physical ability to move laterally, vision is so important in this instance. The ability to get to the hole means nothing if the back can’t find it.
Through two preseason games, Sanders hasn’t been targeted, so you’ll have to take my word on this one. He can catch. Really, I’ve been impressed by how smooth he’s looked as a pass catcher this summer in practice.
In 2018, he caught 24 passes for 139 yards as a Nittany Lion, so he wasn’t exactly LaDanian Tomlinson, but he already looks like a more natural pass catcher than Howard, who has averaged 24 passes per year in longer NFL seasons.
Sanders’ ability to catch the ball combined with not being a liability in pass protection could earn him some valuable third-down snaps even as a rookie.
This is the one category where we’ll have to wait and see. The Eagles have been working with Sanders on ball security, but over time he’s just going to have to show he can be trusted.
At Penn State, Sanders fumbled 10 times (lost 7), which means he fumbled once every 27.6 rushing attempts. That’s obviously way too many. To put it into perspective, Howard has fumbled just four times in his three-year NFL career; once every 194.5 snaps.
There’s nothing Sanders can do to prove to coaches in practice that his fumbling issues are completely gone. He’ll have to prove it when the real games start.
He should have plenty of chances to earn that trust.
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