Miles Sanders

Most important Eagles for 2020: Miles Sanders starts off the top 10

Most important Eagles for 2020: Miles Sanders starts off the top 10

Over the next four weeks, we’ll be counting down the 20 most important Eagles for the 2020 season. 

20: Nate Sudfeld 
19. Avonte Maddox
18. Nathan Gerry
17. Dallas Goedert  
16. Derek Barnett
15. Jalen Reagor 
14. Jalen Mills
13. Brandon Brooks
12. Rodney McLeod
11. Javon Hargrave 
10. Miles Sanders 

After a really promising rookie season, the Eagles will be relying heavily on Sanders in 2020. It'll be up to Doug Pederson to figure out how much to use him

It was a really good rookie season for the second-round pick from Penn State. Sanders rushed for 818 yards (4.6) and also caught 50 passes for 509 yards with 6 total touchdowns. Along the way, he amassed 1,327 scrimmage yards, breaking the Eagles’ rookie record. 

Year 2 should be even better for Sanders. 

Early last season, he wasn’t quite ready to be the Eagles starter. He got off to a slow start and the Eagles had Jordan Howard so they had to go with him. And Howard was playing well until he suffered a stinger. That injury might have ended up being a blessing in the long run. Because that’s when Sanders exploded. 

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Sanders became the Eagles’ starter coming out of the bye week in Week 11 and took his game to a new level. And then in the four-game win streak to end the season, Sanders averaged 112 scrimmage yards per game. 

There’s a reason the Eagles fell in love with Sanders during last year’s draft. He has all the makings of an elite feature back: He’s quick, explosive, shifty, has hands out of the backfield and is a willing blocker. 

In the past, we’ve seen Doug Pederson utilize a running back by committee approach, but I think a lot of that was because he didn’t have a back that was able to carry the full load. That doesn’t mean Boston Scott and Corey Clement and whoever else won’t get any touches; they will. But without Howard, Sanders is the true, no-doubt-about-it No. 1 back and the Eagles are going to ride him this season. 

If Sanders can stay healthy, he should be able to put together a 1,000-yard rushing season and continue to be a huge part of the passing game. 

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Doug Pederson faces crucial decision with Miles Sanders

Doug Pederson faces crucial decision with Miles Sanders

How much Miles is too much Miles?

That’s a crucial question for Doug Pederson and his offensive staff once the NFL starts up again.

It’s always a tough call for head coaches when they have a talent like Miles Sanders. You want to get him the ball a lot because he’s so dangerous. But you don’t want to over-do it because we’ve all seen what happens to running backs that get too heavy a workload. 

They’re never the same again.

We all saw what Sanders is capable of last year. After starting the season mainly backing up Jordan Howard, he became the Eagles' lead back when Howard got hurt midway through the season and wound up leading all NFL rookies with 1,327 scrimmage yards on 229 touches — 179 carries, 50 receptions.

What does that mean for Sanders' future?

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Start here: No Eagle has averaged more than 11.9 carries or 12.9 touches per game in Pederson’s four years as Eagles head coach. Of course, he’s never had a talent like Sanders.

Some backs are built for a heavy workload. Ricky Watters averaged an NFL-leading 23.7 touches in his three years with the Eagles, but he could handle that. LeSean McCoy averaged 19.6 touches per game in an Eagles uniform, although not surprisingly that figure was much higher under Chip Kelly [22.1] than Andy Reid [18.2].

And we all know Pederson’s coaching philosophy is closely aligned to Reid’s.

Sanders played six full games last year without Howard, and that stretch gives us a pretty good idea what to expect over a full season.

In those six games — from the Patriots through the second Cowboys game — Sanders averaged 15.7 carries and 4.2 catches for 20 touches per game. During that span he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, 8.2 yards per catch and 107 yards scrimmage yards per game — 8th-most in the league.

Project that over a full season and you have 318 offensive touches — 251 carries, 67 catches and 1,704 yards from scrimmage.

I think that’s a fair estimate for next season. Maybe a tad high. Only five backs in the NFL last year had that many offensive touches — Christian McCaffrey [403], Ezekiel Elliott [355], Leonard Fournette [341], Nick Chubb [334] and Derrick Henry [321].

Brian Westbrook is a great comparison for Sanders. Similar build. Similar talent. And Reid didn’t give Westbrook 300 touches until his fifth season. In Reid’s ideal world, running back by committee not only keeps defenses off-balance, it protects a young back.

In his all-pro season in 2007, Westbrook had a career-high 368 touches. Then he had a huge drop-off in 2008, was hurt most of 2009 and finished his career as a part-time player with the 49ers in 2010. He was never the same after that 368-touch season.

You see it all the time. 

Increase a running back’s workload too much and it can do permanent damage. Just ask Rams fans. Todd Gurley led the NFL with 658 touches in 2017 and 2018, his production dropped dramatically last year, he got hurt and the Rams cut him.

A lot of this has to do with how high the Eagles are on Boston Scott. He showed over the last month of the season, when he averaged 15 touches and 88 scrimmage yards per game, that he is a viable No. 2 back.

That certainly takes pressure off Pederson to over-use Sanders.

The 2017 Super Bowl season really showed us how Pederson wants to use his running backs.

Five backs – Darren Sproles, Jay Ajayi, Wendell Smallwood, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement – had games with at least 12 touches that year. But none of them ever had a game with more than 17 touches.

Sanders is so talented there will be times Pederson nudges his workload up. Sanders had back-to-back 25-touch games late last year against the Redskins and Cowboys, but those were must-win games, Howard, Sproles and Clement were hurt and there weren’t a lot of options.

That made Sanders the first Eagle since McCoy in 2014 with consecutive 25-touch games and the first rookie since Steve Van Buren.

But those 25-touch games are going to be the exception. 

Sanders can do a lot of damage with 18 to 20 touches per game. Anything less isn't enough Miles. Anything more puts him at risk.

Getting the most out of Sanders in the long run means being careful how much you use him in the short run.

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Eagles mailbag: What is the ceiling for Miles Sanders?

Eagles mailbag: What is the ceiling for Miles Sanders?

I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend. I’m hoping you’re reading this on the beach or somewhere where you’re having fun. 

As always, you guys came through with questions, so I split them up. 

Part 1 is here

Let’s get to Part 2: 

I don’t think he has one. 

Last week, I put together my ranking of the top 32 starting running backs in the NFL and put Sanders at No. 11. That might seem high to some people, but I think the kid is special. 

As a reminder, in his first NFL season, Sanders had 1,327 scrimmage yards to set a franchise rookie record. And he didn’t even become the full-time starter until Jordan Howard went down. And you’ll also remember that he averaged 112 scrimmage yards per game in the Eagles’ final four games of 2019 to get them into the playoffs. 

Without Howard on the roster in 2020, I expect Sanders to be the Eagles’ first true feature back in Doug Pederson’s five years as head coach. 

(That doesn’t mean Boston Scott and others won’t get carries, but it means that Sanders is the clearly defined No. 1.) 

Last year, Sanders had 818 rushing yards and 509 receiving yards. 

So a 1,000-yard rushing season is not only in play, but I expect it. And even if he can’t duplicate that pretty incredible season as a receiver, he should be able to duplicate his scrimmage yards total. There have been just seven players in Eagles history to have back-to-back seasons with 1,300-plus scrimmage yards: LeSean McCoy (twice), Brian Westbrook, Duce Staley, Ricky Watters, Herschel Walker, Wilbert Montgomery and Timmy Brown. 

I fully expect Sanders to join that list in 2020. 

I still think there’s a small chance Peters returns to the Eagles, but I’m not convinced it would be to play right guard. I think Peters could probably do the job but asking him to change positions and sides of the line after a full Hall of Fame career at left tackle is a tough ask. 

My understanding about the Peters situation is that the Eagles thought he was going to sign pretty quickly and they were fully prepared to move forward with Andre Dillard. But now it’s nearly July and Peters still doesn’t have a team. If his price drops to a certain point and he can’t find a job, the Eagles would be foolish not to bring him back, at the very least for depth purposes. 

Since he was drafted in 2018, Mailata hasn’t even played in a real game. He has been active just three times and didn’t get on the field. So the goal with him is still to bring him along as an offensive tackle. 

I get why everyone wants to put him at running back. You go back and watch his rugby tape and it’s impressive. But he still has so much on his plate learning the sport and the tackle positions, that adding running back responsibilities wouldn’t be fair. Maybe down the line that could become a possibility. The Eagles are a creative offensive team and they’ve seen the rugby videos too. But that’s not something we’ve ever heard them talk about. 

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