Miles Sanders: Appreciating a Diamond in the Rough
When analyzing young players, I fall back on the fact that NFL franchises are simply businesses that attempt to maximize performance in every facet of the industry. Whether it be financial stability through contracts or the play that we say just a mere 17 weeks out of the year, the NFL is predicated on preparation for the future. The best way to measure a player’s future is by using the “Three P’s: Production, Progression, and Personality.”
Miles Sanders was drafted in the Second Round with the 53rd overall pick in 2019. Since then, Sanders has proved that he is truly a diamond in the rough.
Sanders’ first NFL start came last year in a Week 2 match up against the Falcons, since then he has never looked back. Miles ended up playing in every game of the 2019 season while just starting in 11 of these contests. He finished his rookie year with 818 rushing yards and 509 receiving yards. There have only been two rookie running backs over the last ten years that have finished their rookie season with 800+ rushing yards and 500+ receiving yards: Miles Sanders and Saquon Barkley. Sanders averaged 4.57 yards per rush which ranked him at 10th among NFL running backs (min. 150 rushes). He also averaged 10.18 yards per reception which ranked him at 2nd among NFL running backs trailing Chargers’ Austin Ekeler who averaged 10.80 yards per reception. In addition to Miles’ rushing and receiving statistics, he added 314 yards in the return game, bringing his 2019 all-purpose yards tally to 1,641 yards. That was good enough to rank him at 7th in running back all-purpose yards; the six backs with more: Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette, and Dalvin Cook. That is an elite group to have your name mentioned with. Miles was also one of only two NFL rookies to have produced 1,300+ scrimmage yards and 300+ yards in the return game in the last 11 seasons, the other: Alvin Kamara.
Not only did Sanders have a great year compared to the rest of the NFL’s running backs, he also penciled his name into the Eagles’ franchise record books. Herman Hunter (1985) held the franchise record for most all-purpose yards by a rookie with 1,579 yards until Sanders came to town. He also broke DeSean Jackson‘s record (1,008) for most scrimmage yards by an Eagles rookie with 1,327 yards. Lastly, Sanders broke the record for rushing yards by a rookie with 818 yards; the record was previously held by LeSean McCoy and his 637 rushing yards.
Miles Sanders’ rookie season’s production was monumental, however five of Sanders’ eight most productive games came within the second half of the season. This brings us to our next point, progression.
It is common for NFL rookies to start out strong during their first year and slowly start to fizzle out as they are not used to the wear and tear of a 16 game NFL season. GMs and coaches would much rather see a full year progression which results in a rookie being more acclimated to the NFL, and this is exactly what Miles Sanders did. Although Sanders did improve statistically, progression is not solely based off of having better numbers in the later half on an NFL season. Much more goes into a young running back’s ability to become a better football player: reading blocks, pass protecting, field vision and awareness, etc.
Sanders improved in every facet of his role and he ultimately improved the team’s season, which should be the main goal of any first year player. This video really shows how he transformed from a young back to a more explosive and experienced ball-carrier:
Miles Sanders’ (@BoobieMilesXXIV) 2019 progression was impressive. During the 1st half of the year he was adapting to the NFL’s speed and was an apprehensive ballcarrier. As the season went on (1:00 mark) he became more patient and delivered contact. #FlyEaglesFly #NFL #FilmRoom pic.twitter.com/hjSTY718Kj
— Let’s Talk Sports: Philly – Podcast (@LTS_Philly) March 27, 2020
Statistically speaking, Sanders’ production started to grow exponentially throughout the season. Throughout the final seven weeks of the season, Miles was just one of six players in the NFL to have 650+ scrimmage yards and 4+ touchdowns. Through his first eight games Sanders had 294 rushing yards on 4.45 yards per rush; during his final eight games Miles ran for 524 yards on 4.64 yards per rush. He kept getting better and that is a testament to his ability to be coachable and learn from one of the best running back coaches in the league, Duce Staley. This brings us to the final measurable, personality.
Rookies often get caught up in all of the wrong things that being a young superstar produces: money, fame, social media presence, etc. Sanders has done the opposite and he has adopted the mentality that is required to be successful early and often. You look at guys like Johnny Manziel, Trent Richardson, Yannick Ngakoue, even Dalvin Cook and you see some red flags. These players were all star studded coming out of college, but there are factors that have either inflicted their play or have damaged relationships with their respective franchises.
Miles Sanders could not be any opposite. He has been heralded by his coaching staff and his teammates as one of the hardest workers on the team, and that speaks volumes to what his future will look like with the Eagles. Whether it be his endless amounts of workout videos or his comments about how he wants to be the best teammate he can be, I have full faith that Miles Sanders is here to stay in Philadelphia. He understands what it means to, “bring his hard hat and lunch pail to work everyday”; Miles is from a smaller, lower income neighborhood situated in Pittsburgh and grew up in a household with his two brothers and his single mother. There is no other player that the City of Philadelphia would rather have representing them than the workhorse, Miles Sanders. His attitude and humbled up-bringing, without a doubt, play a huge role in his future with the Eagles.
Now go have that MVP year you are promising us, Boobie!
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) May 20, 2020