So far this offseason, the Eagles have undergone a ton of change.
Former Eagles safety and defensive captain Malcolm Jenkins was allowed to walk into free agency, the offensive staff was completely revamped, the quarterback room looks drastically different, and even longtime Eagle Jason Peters may wind up in a new uniform next season.
All in all, the Eagles have acquired 16 new players via free agency and the draft. Notably, not one acquisition involved a running back outside of two undrafted free agents who would be signed later.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, though, as 2019 second-rounder Miles Sanders performed admirably in his rookie campaign. After playing behind standout halfback Saquon Barkley at Penn State, Sanders was drafted to take on a much larger role in Philadelphia.
A hard, elusive runner, the Eagles envisioned a Shady McCoy-esque impact when they took Sanders 53rd overall and rightfully so after he enjoyed such a highly-productive college career.
In his final 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.
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.
Possessor of such an excellent blend of power, speed, and balance, Sanders was the ideal candidate to try to revitalize a struggling Eagles ground game that finished 28th in rushing yards in 2018.
“Miles was a staff favorite, a coaching staff favorite, a personnel staff favorite, all of us, front office favorite,” Eagles GM Howie Roseman said following the 2019 draft. “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.”
Former Eagles VP Joe Douglas wasn’t short on enthusiasm when discussing the potential of Sanders, either.
“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.”
It took Sanders a little while to find his footing and finally fend off former Pro Bowler Jordan Howard for the lead role in Doug Pederson’s offense. Once he did, however, he proved to be the dynamic player the team envisioned on draft day.
From Week 7 and beyond, Sanders was one of just eight running backs to average 5+ yards per carry. Additionally, he and Aaron Jones were the only two to do so while also compiling 250+ receiving yards. By season’s end, Sanders was one of just six players to record 500+ rushing and receiving yards- Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, and Austin Ekeler being the others.
In fact, between the Seattle game and week 17 against the Giants, Sanders averaged 4.8 yards per rush on 92 carries and was even more lethal in the passing game: 29 receptions, 6.8 yards pr reception. All of that with 4 touchdowns.
This is an incredibly impressive feat, especially for a rookie, and highlights the type of dual-threat impact Sanders brings to the offense.
After setting the new record for most rushing yards by an Eagles rookie, Sanders seems primed for an even heavier workload in 2020.
As I mentioned earlier, the Eagles haven’t added a single (non-UDFA) running back this offseason. Their lack of urgency in addressing the position suggests the team has a hefty amount of confidence in Sanders thriving as the bell-cow back.
Letting Sanders serve as the lead back would be a bit against the grain for the Birds, as the offense has deployed a committee rushing attack since Doug Pederson took over in 2016.
If there is ever a player to buck the trend for, though, it would be Sanders, who finished eighth in the NFL in all-purpose yards with 1,641 in his inaugural season.
Could the Birds add another back before camp? Perhaps a bruiser for short-yardage situations? Sure. But Sanders’ spot atop the running back depth chart likely won’t be threatened anytime soon.
After watching his college teammate blossom into a star running back in New York, Sanders seems primed for a similar evolution in Philly.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports