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.
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