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Plenty of pressure on Eagles' rookie Miles Sanders

Eliot Shorr-Parks
July 21, 2019 - 1:56 pm
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Eagles general manager Howie Roseman knew it was a big deal when he selected Penn State running back Miles Sanders in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. 

The Eagles had not selected a running back in the second round in 10 years. Roseman had never used a pick higher than the third-round on a running back and never signed a big-name running back free agent. Roseman, like most smart general managers, knew investing big-time resources in a running back is not the way to run a franchise. 

That is why Roseman taking Sanders as high as he did was a big deal, and he immediately joked about it when discussing the Sanders pick. Roseman went at length to explain why he and the Eagles’ staff thinks Sanders is a difference-maker at the position. Chances are the Eagles believe — and expect — Sanders to make a bigger impact than they would a second-round rookie at another position. Receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, for example, doesn’t face much pressure next season. 

Roseman didn’t draft Sanders with the plan of developing him to play down-the-road like he did Andre Dillard. Roseman drafted Sanders because he believes Sanders will outperform his relatively low rookie salary for the next four seasons. Then, Roseman can decide if he wants to pay a running back like Sanders a significant contract.

The question is, what are fair expectations for Sanders next season? Recent history shows the Eagles should, and likely are, expecting quite a bit. 

In the last 10 drafts, 28 running backs have been selected in the second round. Not including Derrius Guice, who has yet to play due to injury, those 27 running backs averaged 143 total touches their rookie season for an average of 677 yards and 3.6 touchdowns. 

To put those numbers in perspective, no running back on the Eagles last year topped 143 touches or 677 total yards, and just one (Wendell Smallwood) went over four touchdowns. 

Of the 27, eight went over 1,000 total yards and 10 were under 500 total yards. Of the 10 that didn’t top 500 total yards, only one of them — Dalvin Cook — can be considered a legitimate, contributing NFL running back. You can check out the full list below, but if Sanders doesn’t top 500 total yards, there might be reason to have concern after just one season. That should be considered the minimum from Sanders this season considering the draft capital invested in him. 

Sanders, however, enters a unique situation. 

He has Jordan Howard, a veteran player who has been very productive, ahead of him on the depth chart. Newly signed Darren Sproles might be ahead of Sanders as well. Third-year running back Corey Clement is likely expecting to play a fairly significant role as well. Not many running backs selected in the second round walk into a situation where they aren’t basically guaranteed a large amount of snaps. Sanders is. 

Making matters worse is that Sanders missed almost all of OTAs and minicamps with a lower-body injury. Although the injury isn’t considered serious, missing basically all of the offseason practices is, especially for a rookie. Sanders is entering training camp without the amount of reps in the offense he should have. 

There is also the question of what role Sanders will play, considering Howard will likely dominate the carries on the ground and Sanders did not show in college he was a great receiver out of the backfield. 

Sanders had 34 targets last season at Penn State, which was 23rd in the FBS among running backs, per Sports Info Solutions. So although 34 targets isn’t a large sample size, he was in the top 25 among running backs. His numbers with those 34 targets were not impressive, grabbing 24 of the 34 targets for 139 yards and no touchdowns. 

Outside of just his fumbling issues, Sanders had issues holding onto the ball as a receiver as well, as he finished 2018 with three drops and a drop rate of 10.7% on those targets. Among the running backs that had at least 34 targets last season, only three had a higher drop rate. Of the top 50 running backs in targets last season in the FBS, only six had a higher drop rate than Sanders. So while the Eagles are confident he can be a playmaker out of the backfield in the passing game, his hands left a lot to be desired last season in college. 

Normally, rookies are afforded a season to adjust to the league. Sanders, fair or not, isn’t really going to be given that. He needs to outplay his rookie deal almost right away to be worth the pick. He needs to show why he was the first running back this franchise has selected in the second round in 10 years. He needs to show why Roseman went against the normal value he places on running backs. 

Chances are we will all know by watching Sanders play, regardless of how many touches he gets, whether he can play or not. There is no denying, however, that the pressure is on Sanders to produce this season. 

*** List of running backs selected in the 2nd round the last 10 seasons, and what they did their rookie year **

2018:

Nick Chubb: 212 touches, 1,145 yards, 10 touchdowns

Ronald Jones: 30 touches, 77 yards, 1 touchdown 

Kerryon Johnson: 150 touches, 854 yards, 4 touchdowns

Derrius Guice: Injured 

2017:

Dalvin Cook: 85 touches, 444 yards, 2 touchdowns

Joe Mixon: 208 touches, 913 yards, 4 touchdowns

2016:

Derrick Henry: 123 touches, 627 yards, 5 touchdowns

2015:

T.J. Yeldon: 218 touches, 1,019 yards, 3 touchdowns

Ameer Abdullah: 168 touches, 780 yards, 3 touchdowns

2014:

Bishop Sankey: 170 touches, 702 yards, 2 touchdowns

Jeremy Hill: 249 touches, 1,339 yards, 9 touchdowns

Carlos Hyde: 95 touches, 401 yards, 4 touchdowns

2013:

Giovani Bernard: 226 touches, 1,209 yards, 8 touchdowns

Le’Veon Bell: 289 touches, 1,259 yards, 8 touchdowns

Monte Ball: 140 touches, 704 yards, 4 touchdowns

Eddie Lacy: 319 touches, 1,435 yards, 11 touchdowns 

Christine Micheal: 18 touches, 79 yards, 0 touchdowns

2012:

Isiah Pead: 13 touches, 70 yards, 0 touchdowns

LaMichael James: 30 touches, 154 yards, 0 touchdowns

2011:

Ryan Williams: 65 touches, 208 yards, 0 touchdowns

Shane Vereen: 15 touches, 57 yards, 1 touchdown

Mikel LeShoure: 249 touches, 1,012 yards, 9 touchdowns

Daniel Thomas: 177 touches, 653 yards, 1 touchdown 

2010:

Dexter McCluster: 39 touches, 280 yards, 1 touchdown

Toby Gerhert: 102 touches, 489 yards, 1 touchdown 

Ben Tate: 188 touches, 1,040 yards, 4 touchdowns 

Montario Hardesty: 102 touches, 388 yards, 0 touchdowns

2009:

LeSean McCoy: 195 touches, 945 yards, 4 touchdowns 

You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!

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