During his career at Penn State, Miles Sanders definitely wasn’t known for his ability as a pass-catcher.
Now he’s catching balls like a receiver in the NFL.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to showcase since I go there,” Sanders said.
While Sanders has had some trouble getting going as a runner between the tackles, he’s surprisingly making a huge impact in the receiving game and has been a nice complement to Jordan Howard, who appears to be the new lead back.
On Sunday against the Jets, Sanders had four catches for 49 yards and through five games, he has 10 catches for 133 yards.
Sanders in 36 games at Penn State: 32 catches, 193 yards (6.0)
Sanders in five games in the NFL: 10 catches, 133 yards (13.3)
“That’s what I was planning on doing,” Sanders said. “Just really showing everybody that I’ve got the hands to do it. I really didn’t get the chance to showcase it at Penn State. Trying to add that to my toolbox, being effective in the passing game.”
In five games, Sanders already has three catches of 30-plus yards, which accounts for half of the Eagles’ 30-plus-yard catches this season. While that probably speaks more to their lack of a downfield attack without DeSean Jackson, it’s still impressive that Sanders is having this kind of impact as a receiver.
He’s one of the few players on the offense right now with the speed to separate from defenders.
This was the first play of the Eagles’ second drive on Sunday. The 36-yard pickup came on an alert from Wentz, who saw the linebacker and defensive end switch coverage responsibilities. Good recognition from film study. That left 277-pound Kyle Phillips to cover Sanders and Wentz delivered a perfect pass.
“Wentz recognized it and told me to be ready,” Sanders said.
It was just a simple wheel route, but Sanders used his speed, getting up to 19.45 mph on the play, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, for a big gain.
Here’s a list of every rookie running back in the last five years to have as many receiving yards as Sanders through their first five games: Saquon Barkley, Nyheim Hines, Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Tarik Cohen, Duke Johnson, David Johnson.
All those other guys were much more accomplished receivers coming out of college, so it’s surprising to see Sanders’ name among them. Well, surprising to most.
“Watching him in training camp and all the practices and stuff, I saw he could catch the ball pretty well,” Howard said. “He can gain separation from the defender, so I knew we could take advantage of that.”
The last Eagles’ rookie RB with as many receiving yards in first five games was Junior Tautalatasi back in 1986.
The Eagles seem to have found a nice balance between Howard and Sanders; each played 29 snaps on Sunday. Doug Pederson intimated that Howard will be the lead back going forward, but they can’t completely telegraph what they’re doing — meaning they can’t just pass to Sanders and run with Howard all the time — but that formula seems to be working.
These two pieces seem pretty complementary. And Sanders’ role just happens to be something that’s completely new for him.
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