The thing that made Miles Sanders so dangerous as a rookie was that he was a dual threat. He could kill you on the ground or through the air.
One of those elements has been missing this season.
While Sanders has had an explosive 2020 season on the ground, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, he hasn’t been nearly as dangerous as a receiver.
Sanders is working to get that part of his game back.
“Yes, he's coming along,” running backs coach Duce Staley said. “I must say that he's working on it. He’s staying after, catching balls, which is the number one thing, and catching different types of balls. Every ball is not going to be a spiral and every ball is not going to be perfect. You got to catch low balls, high balls, over the shoulder balls, so you got to kind of give him different types of balls to catch.
“And he's been doing a good job, still a work in progress, and I'm glad he did admit that, and he'd be the first to tell you. And I tell him all the time. Got to continue to work on that. And he does.”
As a rookie, Sanders caught 50 balls for 509 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, before he really put it all together as a runner, he was still finding ways to be a threat as a receiver. In a way, that was the strange part of his rookie season, that he was a more effective receiver than runner early on.
But for some reason, that part of his game has dried up in Year 2.
In 10 games this season, Sanders has just 23 catches on 44 targets for 144 yards and no touchdowns. His longest reception this year is 28 yards; he had six catches longer than that last year.
A big problem has been drops. Sanders has eight, which leads all NFL running backs according to ProFootballFocus. In fact, just two players have more this season.
Sanders has been working on his receiver skills and last Sunday against the Saints he caught all four passes that hit his hands for a modest 21 yards. Still, it’s an improvement.
"Making sure I'm getting extra Jugs work after practice,” Sanders said. “Getting connection throws with Jalen (Hurts) and Carson (Wentz) at the beginning of the season. After practice and in between practice periods so just making sure, getting right, fixing my mechanics, getting my confidence level back up.”
As far as the mechanical issues, Sanders felt like he wasn’t looking the ball in like he needed to. He was closing his hands before the ball settled; he was looking to run too early.
Really, that’s more of an issue with concentration, which is something Staley said he stresses to his group.
“That's a lot of it,” Staley said. “And we talked about focus and finish. That's one of the biggest things in our room, about focusing and finishing. And sometimes when you go back and watch film, Miles and other running backs, other players, they like to run or turn their head before they secure the catch. So that's one of the things that he was doing also. You got to make sure that you secure the catch, put it away, and then get up field. So, been harping on that.”
Aside from his issues with drops, it seemed like Sanders and Wentz just struggled to connect this season. On some of those drops, Wentz didn’t give Sanders perfect ball placement. Sure, Sanders has to catch them, but those plays were generally easier in 2019.
With Hurts at quarterback now, it’ll be interesting to see if Sanders’ ability as a receiver starts to return.
As good as Sanders has been without it, imagine if he got it back.
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