Ever since the Philadelphia Eagles selected running back Miles Sanders in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the expectations were set high. This was the successor of Saquon Barkley at Penn. State, the next best thing from an esteemed program.
And sure, Sanders has flashed some real promise. But he has yet to finish as the RB1 people continually draft him as. That won’t change in 2021.
His efficiency improved in terms of yards per carry (ypc) from a solid 4.57 in 2019 to an impressive 5.29 in 2020. Having a rushing quarterback like Jalen Hurts has led Sanders truthers to believe that this efficiency is maintainable.
However, there were seven running backs, including Sanders, who rushed for over five yards per carry in 2019. Just two of them repeated that feat in 2020 — Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry both of which command a strong workload when on the field.
That workload isn’t something that Sanders is guaranteed. Follow the money — the Eagles have made every move possible to limit Sanders’ fantasy upside. They signed Jordan Howard, a veteran with a history in the organization. They drafted Kenneth Gainwell, a dynamic pass-catcher out of Memphis who can be explosive on outside runs. They claimed Kerryon Johnson, who may not be a threat himself but the fact that the Eagles spent their waiver priority on him speaks volumes.
Sanders will not receive a three-down role. So, scratch a huge workload.
The next thing an RB1 needs, particularly without immense volume, is receiving work. That’s where the addition of Gainwell and retention of Boston Scott, who the Eagles resigned using the exclusive rights tender, factor in. Both are skilled pass catchers who will be used over Sanders.
Beyond the investment the team made in both Gainwell and Scott, Sanders just isn’t that good as a receiver. He caught just 28 of his 52 targets, which is unforgivable for a running back. The former Nittany Lion received a receiving grade of 33.9 in 2020, which ranked second-to-last among running backs. Sanders got his shot at the role and didn’t perform.
Plus, factor in new head coach Nick Sirianni, who utilized Nyheim Hines rather than Jonathan Taylor in the receiving game to great success. You can bet the house that Sirianni wants Gainwell to be his new Hines, especially as Taylor is a better receiver than Sanders.
So, without an extreme workload or receiving work, Sanders needs to rely on extreme efficiency, which is unlikely based on history with running backs who hit the five ypc mark, or touchdowns.
Now, the latter is hard to predict. Some running backs benefit from a rushing quarterback, like Mark Ingram who racked in 15 rushing and receiving touchdowns in 2019 with the run-heavy Ravens. Other systems don’t help their running backs, like New England or Buffalo in 2020. Rushing quarterbacks tend to vulture touchdowns through QB sneaks, designed runs or bootlegs. Cam Newton has been denying his running backs rushing scores for a decade. While Hurts is closer to Lamar Jackson as a rusher than Newton, it’s still a big concern given past precedent. Touchdowns have always been a volatile stat to predict.
There’s also the worry of game script. The Eagles seem destined to lose most of their games, and if Sanders isn’t on the field to catch passes, then he won’t be on the field at all. An inefficient offense hurts touchdown upside as well as volume availability. An unproven quarterback with a first-year head coach and minimal weapons won’t get the Eagles far, particularly in the NFC East which features strong defenses in New York and Washington.
All these concerns don’t mean that Sanders won’t produce. It just relegates him to a middling RB2, a player you certainly shouldn’t spend a third-round pick on. He’s currently the 29th player off the board. He also has a Week 14 bye — the odds he stays healthy for 13 consecutive weeks of football is low.
It’s time to stop waiting for the breakout. Sanders won’t be worth a third-round selection in redraft formats this year, particularly in PPR leagues.