NFL 2020 Breakout Players: Miles Sanders

Introduction

Miles SandersThe injury to starting running Jordan Howard gave Miles Sanders the opportunity to become the leading back for the Eagles in 2019. As a rookie, Sanders delivered big-time and was a crucial part of the Eagles playoff surge. Entering his sophomore season, Sanders is the Eagles’ feature back. However, many are questioning whether the young back is ready for the spotlight. However, I disagree. This article will talk about why I believe Sanders is primed to have a breakout season.

2019 Stats

RUSH YDSRUSH TDSRECREC YDSREC TDS
8183505093

As a rookie in 2019, Miles Sanders started off very slow. In his first 7 games, Sanders was given only 63 carries. Out of those carries, the back only produced 220 yards for an average of 3.4 yards per carry. However, a shoulder injury to Jordan Howard and a multitude of injuries to the Eagle’s receiving core forced Sanders to become a focal point in the Eagles offense. As a result, Sanders turned things around in the second half of the season. Averaging over 5 yards per carry and also having an impact in the receiving game, Sanders silenced all critics. In total, Sanders finished the 2019 season with 818 rushing yards for three rushing touchdowns. As a receiver, Sanders finished with 50 receptions for 509 yards and three receiving touchdowns.

Player Skillset

What makes Miles Sanders such an intriguing candidate for a breakout season is his versatility. While Sanders entered the league struggling to rush in-between the tackles, Sanders steadily improved. By the end of the season, Sanders looked comfortable running in between the tackles. While he still occasionally missed holes and still has room for improvement, I believe a whole offseason to study film combined with his work ethic (put on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason) will make Sanders a better play in 2020.

Also, Sanders showed an ability to catch out of the backfield. With the Eagles’ wide-receiver position still in murky waters, expect Sanders to be a critical player in the passing game. This ability to run and catch gives Sanders the versatility to keep defensive coaches guessing on play calls. With already great hands, I expect the bulkier frame will help him break more tackles in the open field. As a result, his yardage in the passing game should improve.

What makes Sanders special is his elite agility and acceleration. On tape, his start-stop motions are fluid allowing him to beat linebackers to the edge and pump fake opposing cornerbacks on the edge. He’s not afraid of contact either, he understands how to run low to the ground to leverage his strength. While only running a 4.49 40-yard dash, Sanders has an underrated speed that complements his game. Overall, Sanders has the potential to be an above-average running back at all levels of the game. Coupled with his fresh legs – backup to Saquon Barkley in college and only rush for 179 attempts in 2019 – Sanders will be ready for 2020.

Depth Chart

The depth chart at the running back position is questionable behind Miles Sanders. After Sanders is emerging practice squad back Boston Scott and NFL journeyman Corey Clement. Both backups don’t inspire a lot of confidence in the running game which leads me to believe that Sanders will be the focal point of the running game.

Furthermore, Boston Scott is more of a Darren Sproles type of running back. He’s a back that is expected to catch out of the backfield and run gadget plays. However, he won’t be getting the between-the-tackles carries. Corey Clement doesn’t do anything particularly well, so expect him to perform a lot of roles. But I don’t these roles will take away from Miles Sanders’s production. With the running back free-agent market looking slim, the Eagles are expected to just ride out Miles Sanders as their feature back.

Philadelphia Eagles Offense

The reason I think Miles Sanders will have a breakout season is due to the Philadelphia Eagles offense. Head coach Doug Pederson is an aggressive play-caller who knows how to maximize his offensive weapons. He’s a coach known to make adjustments throughout the season to put his guys in the best scenario to make plays. Furthermore, Doug Pederson loves to stay balanced and hardly ever strays from the run. Despite the lack of depth at the position, the Eagles will continue to ground and pound the running game.

In addition, the Eagles have a top-five offensive line. With their only question marks being Andre Dillard at left tackle and Jason Peters adjusting to guard, I am confident that the Eagles offensive line will be a strength for this team. This only helps Miles Sanders. Being able to play behind Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, and Jason Peters will naturally open holes most offensive lines couldn’t produce. Expect this to elevate Miles Sanders’s level of play.

Lastly, the receiving core for the Eagles was not solidified in the 2020 offseason. Alshon Jeffrey is still recovering from Lisfranc surgery. He’s not expected to return until after week 8. Desean Jackson returns healthy, but his recent actions on social media and his inability to stay healthy pose risks for this unit. Jalen Reagor is an incoming 1st-round rookie wide-receiver. However, the lack of an official NFL offseason makes me believe his impact won’t be as large. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has major concerns given his struggles in 2019. Coupled with Coach Pederson’s desire to remain a balanced offense, expect the Eagles to lean on Miles Sanders early in the season.

Schedule

Another reason I expect Sanders to have a breakout season is because of the Eagles schedule. With games against division rivals, Redskins, Cowboys, and Giants, all of whom have suspect defenses, Sanders should have quality performances against these teams. In addition, the Eagles play the Bengals, Browns Seahawks, Cardinals, and Rams, all of whom also have below-average defenses. With 11/16 games against below-average defenses, I expect Sanders to make the most out of these opportunities. The schedule won’t hold Sanders back from reaching his true potential.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Miles Sanders is in a fantastic position to have a breakout season. The second-year running back showed flashes of greatness his rookie season, and with an entire offseason to overcome his deficiencies, I expect the running back to eclipse 1000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving.

What makes Sanders so appealing this season is that he fits perfectly in the Eagles offensive system. He has the versatility to be an option in every type of play call from catching out of the backfield to running in between the tackles. Doug Pederson is an excellent coach that knows how to utilize his player’s strengths. I expect no difference when it comes to Miles Sanders.

Second, the Eagles’ offensive line is stacked with hall-of-fame talent. Mainstays like Jason Kelce, Jason Peters, and Lane Johnson will ensure that the unit remains top-five in the league. With this strength, Miles Sanders should have no issue finding lanes and holes. Unlike the LeVeon Bell situation, the Eagles offensive line should enhance Miles Sanders’s play.

Lastly, a suspect receiving core and lack of running back depth makes it clear that Sanders will be a focal point in the Eagles offense. Guys like Boston Scott and Corey Clement won’t compete for rushing attempts. As a result, I expect Sanders to get 15+ rushing attempts per game and 200+ attempts for the season. At 4.6 yards per carry last season, and fresh legs, expect Sanders to remain consistent or improve upon this number. Sanders will breakout.

  
Miles Jasper is an incoming law student studying employment and labor law. Miles’ passions lie within the salary cap, collective bargaining, and labor relations between leagues and their players. He also likes to analyze college prospects and participate in fantasy sports. In his free time, Miles is an avid runner who also enjoys poker, cooking, and watching movies.

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