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How much better can Sanders get?


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How much better can Sanders get?


When new Eagles running backs coach Jamel Singleton talks about Miles Sanders, he doesn’t talk about all his rushing yards or the big plays or all his fancy stats. 

He only talks about how Sanders can get better.

And that’s a good sign because Sanders may be one of the Eagles’ best players and we all see the potential for greatness is there, but he's not there yet.

And he’s got a ways to go. 

Sanders is coming off an up-and-down Year 2 and after losing running backs coach Duce Staley – whom Sanders referred to as a "father figure” – it looks like Sanders once again has a position coach who’ll push him the way he needs to be pushed.

"We’ve seen flashes that Miles has got some good ability,” Singleton said recently. "I can’t wait to work with him and see him grow even more and get him, hopefully, to another level.”

Sanders goes into his third NFL season as a bit of a mystery.

How good can he be? How good will he be?

Can he be the type of lead running back that Nick Sirianni had last year with Salem High School graduate Jonathan Taylor in Indianapolis? Or will injuries and inconsistency continue to limit him?

Statistically, Sanders’ first two seasons have been eye-opening.  

- He’s one of only eight players in NFL history with 1,500 rushing yards, 700 receiving yards and a 4.9 rushing average after two seasons;

- He’s one of only 11 players with at least 800 rushing yards, 25 catches and a 4.5 average or higher in each of his first two seasons;

- He’s one of only four players in the last 30 years to average over 4.8 yards per carry and 9.0 yards per catch (minimum 300 carries, 75 catches). The others are Jerious Norwood, Derrick Henry and Brian Mitchell.

It’s tough to evaluate Sanders’ 2020 season just because the offense was such a mess. Doug Pederson often stopped calling running plays as games went on no matter what the score was, the offense line was an injured wreck, the quarterback play was shaky and injuries slowed Sanders down throughout the season.

He did rush for 867 yards and a 5.3 average, but 27 percent of those rushing yards came on three carries, and the consistency we saw in 2019 just wasn’t there. 

Sanders had trouble getting open and catching the football, his receiving stats plunged from 50-for-509 as a rookie to 28-for-197 (in 12 games), and his blocking dropped off as well. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry in four of his last five games. He’s never averaged 4.0 yards per carry three straight weeks. 

Sanders has shown signs of greatness, but he’s not a top-10 back. 

Singleton’s job is to make him one.

"He was a guy coming out in the draft that I actually went to his pro day and worked him out and met with him and watched all his tapes, so I knew a lot about the young man, to be honest with you, from his college days and all that stuff,” Singleton said. "So I had a little bit of understanding of who he was as a player, then I went in and just looked at all the things that he had done since he’d been in the NFL and that’s part of helping him become a better player … 

"And really what I always find is there’s not a lot of wholesale things that you’re trying to do differently with a player, but it’s just being able to identify one little thing. Maybe it’s just his toe point on an outside zone, maybe it’s just his shoulder level when he’s running inside zone, and just some of those little things. … My job as a coach (is) to take what he brings to the table and help him improve on those things.”

Pro Football Reference recently ranked Sanders 19th among all NFL running backs going into 2021. And that’s fair. 

He’s got a ways to go to catch guys like Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, Aaron Jones, Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, Chris Carson, Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, Taylor and Sanders’ former college teammate, Saquon Barkley (if he’s healthy).

"We can’t control what’s happened in the past, but we can definitely help what’s going on in the future,” Singleton said. "Working with him, he has a skill set that’s got a lot of abilities to it and working on each one of those abilities from his route running to his pass catching to his running the football, all those things you’re going to work on with all your backs. I’m excited to see it.” 


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