Last season did not go according to plan for the Eagles offense- especially in the running game. Philly recorded just 1,570 rushing yards on the season. The putrid amount not only registered as the fifth-fewest in the entire NFL but was nearly a 600-yard drop-off from the Super Bowl campaign the season prior.
As one might expect from such a lackluster year, the rushing offense also suffered through a lack of big plays last season. Philly ranked 29th in the league in both rushes of 20+ yards with seven and rushes of 40+ yards with…zero. One season removed from finishing in the top ten in both categories, including leading the entire NFL in rushes of 20+ yards, the Eagles were anxious to return to their dominant form in the ground game.
Their aforementioned desire for an explosive running game prompted them to draft the dynamic halfback Miles Sanders 53rd overall in the second round this past draft- the highest draft capital they’ve used on a running back since taking franchise rushing leader LeSean McCoy at the same slot in 2009.
Like Shady McCoy before him, Sanders is an incredibly elusive halfback with an innate ability to create additional yardage out of seemingly nowhere. In his last collegiate season at Penn State (and first as a starter), Sanders forced 47 missed tackles(!) in just 13 games. Additionally, among the 55 FBS backs with 200+ touches last season, the former five-star recruit ranked 20th in forced missed tackles per touch (0.202), according to PFF. His shiftiness and blinding speed made him a handful for opposing defenses as he routinely danced around would-be tacklers en route to a big gain.
Sanders isn’t a one-trick pony, either, and possesses incredible power and balance in addition to his superb elusiveness. Hardly ever going down on initial contact, Sanders recorded 845 yards after contact(!)- good for seventh in the entire nation. The former Nittany Lion also ranked eighth in the nation in average yards after contact with 3.68 per touch.
Here’s what the Eagles brass had to say about Sanders and his elite ability after drafting him back in May:
“Miles was a staff favorite, a coaching staff favorite, a personnel staff favorite, all of us, front office favorite,” Eagles GM Howie Roseman said. “Really that guy, he reminded us of some other players we’ve had around here. He has great lateral quickness. He was behind, obviously, a great back in Saquon [Barkley] and really took the opportunity to take it over when he had it.”
The high praise didn’t end with Roseman, either, as ex-Eagles VP Joe Douglas also spoke glowingly about the talent of Sanders. “We talk about production and production matters, but we also talk about ability, the ability that you see on tape and Howie hit on it: You see a guy with great feet, great balance, lateral quickness,” former vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. “He has quick-strike ability. We’re very excited about Miles.”
As I’ve stated before, Sanders isn’t just a good running back, he is an elite specimen at the position. He routinely makes plays that other backs simply couldn’t dream of, such as his extraordinary touchdown run against Michigan State last season:
For those keeping score at home, Sanders managed to break six(!) tackles on this touchdown sprint despite the initial contact coming at the line of scrimmage- a common theme during his time at PSU. Amazingly, when contacted behind or at the line of scrimmage, Sanders totaled 322 yards after said contact across 81 carries in 2018.
After frequently having their running game stymied last year, the Eagles may turn to Sanders in an effort to not leave any meat on the bone in the ground game this season. Rushing behind the best offensive line in football, that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the talented rookie.