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How good can Miles Sanders really be?


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How good can Miles Sanders really be?


We know he’s really good. A slick, elusive runner, a threat as a receiver, a home-run threat every time he’s got the ball in his hands.

The question now with Miles Sanders is whether he can be more than really good. Can he be elite? Can he be a star? 

There’s reason to believe he can be and also reason to wonder.

Sanders has certainly shown the talent is there. His 4.9 rushing average is 4th-highest in the NFL over the last two years among running backs with at least 300 carries. His 1,685 scrimmage yards are 12th-most among RBs since he came into the league. And his 9.0 yards per catch is 6th-highest among RBs with at least 50 receptions since 2019.

He’s the only back in the NFL with three 70-yard runs since opening day of 2019 - they were all last year. Only five other backs have more than one.

This is all impressive, no question about it. And for a team that’s generally cobbled together a running game with journeymen, fading veterans and late-round picks since Chip Kelly banished LeSean McCoy to Buffalo after the 2014 season, Sanders has looked at times like a budding star.

But there are question marks. There is reason to ask whether Sanders will take that next step toward greatness.

He’s been hurt a lot, and while that’s true of most running backs, it is a concern when you consider whether he can be the bell-cow running back the Eagles drafted him to be. 

And he’s never been a high-volume runner. He’s had just seven games in his career with 16 carries, and he hasn’t yet had a stretch of several big games in a row. He’s never averaged 4.0 yards a carry for three straight weeks.

What made Sanders special his rookie year was his ability to make plays as both a runner and a receiver. But those receiving numbers plummeted this past year as he struggled with drops and teams changed the way they covered him. 

And as exciting as all those 70-yard runs were, he’s not going to pop three of those every year. And they were his only runs in 2020 of at least 30 yards. If he’s not making big plays in the passing game - and his 20-yard catches dropped from eight as a rookie to three last year - and he’s not a high-volume runner, that really limits the ways he can make plays. 

Now, it’s really hard to evaluate anybody from last year’s offense, just because the whole thing was a disaster, from play calling to quarterback play to offensive line injuries. So you don’t want to go overboard with what Sanders didn’t do.  

And it’s not like Sanders wasn’t effective. His 5.3 rushing average was second-highest in franchise history behind Timmy Brown’s 5.5 average back in 1965. The kid has shown he can be electrifying. And, honestly, it’s tough to evaluate any running back under Doug Pederson just because he tended to abandon the running game so early and so often.

The question with Sanders is really how good can he be and how consistent can he be? Can he take that next step from very good to great? Can he be the type of player the Eagles can rely on for steady production week after week? Can he stay healthy enough to give the Eagles a full season or close to it?

We’ve seen big games. We’ve seen big plays. We’ve seen signs that Sanders is something special. We just haven’t seen it quite often enough or quite consistently enough.

This is Year 3, and it's a big year for Sanders. His rookie contract only runs through 2022, so the point where the Eagles will have to make a decision on his future isn't all that far off.

Can he make the jump from very good to elite?  

I like the moves the Eagles have made to strengthen the running back room. Kenny Gainwell has a chance to be a factor and a healthy Kerryon Johnson would be huge. Boston Scott is a capable receiver and goal-line runner and who knows what Jordan Howard we’ll get, but if he’s close to his 2019 form he can help, too. 

I’m guessing Nick Sirianni will run the ball five or six times more per game than Pederson. Enough to keep defenses honest, which wasn’t always the case the last few years.

So this should be the Eagles' deepest and most effective group of backs since Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement and the Super Bowl season.

Sanders just turned 24 and has shown enough flashes of brilliance that my hunch is in a more balanced, more functional offense the big-time production will be there. It’s hard to be consistent when nothing is consistent around you.

On an offense with a bunch of young, unproven receivers, a 22-year-old quarterback with four career starts and a star tight end who’s likely to be traded, the Eagles need Sanders to be more than just very good. 

They need him to be a star and I expect that this year he’ll show that’s exactly what he is.


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