Making sense of Miles Sanders' bizarre rookie year

Making sense of Miles Sanders' bizarre rookie year

It’s been a strange six weeks for Miles Sanders, who’s started out his NFL career struggling in what he was really good at in college and flourishing in what he wasn’t good at.

Sanders is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, which ranks 24th of 30 running backs with at least 50 carries.

But he’s caught 13 passes for 219 yards, the eighth-most receiving yards in the league by a running back. He’s got five catches of 30 yards or more — he had only one in college — and that’s more than every wide receiver in the NFL other than Will Fuller of the Texans and D.J. Chark of the Jaguars.

As Sanders' carries have decreased — 45 in the first four games, 12 in the last two — his impact in the receiving game has increased. 

Only David Johnson of the Cards has more receiving yards than Sanders over the last four games among running backs. He led the Eagles with 86 receiving yards in the loss to the Vikings Sunday, including a 32-yard TD and a 45-yard catch to set up another touchdown.

He already has the most receiving yards by an Eagles rookie running back since LeSean McCoy had 308 in 2009, and he’s more than halfway to the record — 405 yards by Herman Hunter in 1985.

It’s tricky trying to figure out Sanders’ season.

The rushing stats are certainly disappointing. But the receiving numbers are remarkable.

Overall, Sanders trails only Josh Jacobs, the Raiders’ first-round pick, in yards from scrimmage among rookies. Jacobs has 507, Sanders has 418.

Sanders was just 3-for-6 rushing against the Vikings, and after the game he told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Derrick Gunn he understands why his carries are down.

“I haven’t really shown too much in the run game and that’s obviously something that I”ve got to keep working on in this league, but I’m just happy I’m able to do something to help the team win,” he said. “They use me a lot in the passing game and I’m going to do whatever they tell me to do. Obviously I’ve got some stuff to work on to keep getting better. I’m a rookie and it’s not going to be easy, but I’ve got a lot of stuff to work on.”

The bottom line is that Sanders is contributing, and even though it’s not how anybody envisioned him contributing, he is leading the team in yards from scrimmage — more than Zach Ertz, more than Jordan Howard, more than any of the wide receivers. 

And he has the Eagles’ six-longest offensive plays over the last four games — five catches and a run.

And yards are yards. Moving the sticks is moving the sticks.

It’s way too early to tell whether Sanders’ biggest impact ultimately will be as a receiving back, but there are certainly a ton of running backs who’ve started out as productive runners and gradually developed the receiving side of their game.

Maybe Sanders will just be the opposite.

Consider this: Darren Sproles has seven 30-yard catches in 60 games as an Eagle. Brian Westbrook, the Eagles’ best receiving back ever, had five 30-yard catches in his first four years. Ricky Watters had three in three years here.

Sanders has five in the last four games.

“We like to see all the different matchups that we get each week, and the whole offensive staff is pretty confident I can match up with any linebacker in this league,” Sanders said. “We see mismatches and we try to take them.”

It hasn’t been an ideal first six weeks for Sanders. That 3.5 figure needs to come up. He had two fumbles against the Lions.

But the bottom line is he’s contributing in a big way right now, and that’s more than you can say about a lot of people on this team.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

Add Ronald Darby to the list of injured Eagles

Add Ronald Darby to the list of injured Eagles

Starting cornerback Ronald Darby popped up on the Eagles’ injury report Friday with a hip flexor strain and is questionable for the Eagles’ game Sunday against the Redskins.

Darby wasn’t on the injury report Wednesday or Thursday and was a full participant in practice. He’s listed as a limited participant on Friday, which likely means he either got hurt during practice or an injury he suffered Monday night against the Giants got worse.

In either case, it’s yet another injury for an injury-riddled team. The only defensive players to start all 13 games are Malcolm Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Rodney McLeod.

The Eagles do have some depth at cornerback, since they’re carrying seven corners on the 53-man roster.

Jalen Mills is expected to be OK for Sunday after hurting his elbow in the Giants game. He was a full participant on Friday after being limited on Thursday.

Rasul Douglas would likely be the starter opposite Mills if Darby can’t play. Douglas has started 17 games in his three-year career, including five earlier this year.

Avonte Maddox can play outside but has been in the slot for the nine games he’s been healthy, averaging 46 snaps per game. Sidney Jones, who started four games earlier this year, is also available. Cre’Von LeBlanc is being brought back slowly after being on IR most of the year, and Craig James hasn’t played a defensive snap in nearly two months.

Darby missed half of the 2017 season with an ankle injury, half of last year with a torn ACL and four games earlier this year with a hamstring injury. He’s played only 29 of a possible 50 games since he got here in the summer of 2017.

The Eagles have don’t have a cornerback who’s played defense in every game this year. They’ve used eight different combinations of starting corners in 13 games.

The Eagles signed the 25-year-old Darby to a one-year contract worth $6.5 million. He has two interceptions in nine starts.

More on the Eagles

Eagles vs. Redskins 2019: TV schedule, storylines, game time and more

Eagles vs. Redskins 2019: TV schedule, storylines, game time and more

The Eagles (6-7) are visiting the Redskins (3-10) at FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon. 
Here’s everything you need to know:  

•12 p.m.: Eagles Pregame Live on NBCSP
•1 p.m.: Eagles at Redskins on FOX 
•4 p.m.: Eagles Postgame Live on NBCSP 
•10 p.m.: Birds Outsiders on NBCSP 
The FOX broadcast crew for this game is Thom Brennaman (play by play), Chris Spielman (analyst) and Shannon Spake (sideline). You can also stream the game on FuboTV.
Merrill Reese, Mike Quick and Howard Eskin will have the call on 94WIP. 
The Eagles opened as 6-point favorites in some places but that has slipped to around 4 1/2 points. The over/under is 39. 

The referee for Eagles-Redskins is second-year referee Shawn Smith. This is his first game reffing an Eagles game. The Eagles were 2-1 with him as an umpire in 2016 and 2017. 

Keep it going

The Eagles got off to a terrible start against the Giants last week before they turned it around, scoring the last 20 points of the game and getting a huge overtime win. So which team shows up on Sunday? The team that fell behind 17-3 to the Giants or the team that rallied to a win? 

It’ll be key for the Eagles to find what works for Carson Wentz in this game a little earlier. They got him into rhythm last week, but that didn’t happen until the third drive of the third quarter. 

No receivers left 

The Eagles began the season with DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. That was nice for that one game. Going into Week 15, with Agholor’s status uncertain, the Eagles’ top three receivers might be J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward and Rob Davis. Not exactly what the Eagles had in mind this offseason. 

A rookie QB 

The last time the Eagles faced Washington, in the opener, Case Keenum was the starter. So this will be their first time facing rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins. While the Redskins have won two of three, they’re still a mess of an organization, so who knows what the future holds for Haskins. They have an interim coach and it’s possible the next head coach will want to pick his quarterback, which could leave Haskins in limbo. But there’s also a possibly Haskins is still their long-term QB. It’ll be interesting to see what happens down there.  

More on the Eagles