This week, I’ll be taking a closer look at five young Eagles who have a chance to enjoy a “breakout season” in 2019. We have already looked at Derek Barnett, Dallas Goedert, Avonte Maddox and Kamu Grugier-Hill.
Up today: Miles Sanders
How acquired: 2019 second-round pick
Entering: Rookie season
It was much less than ideal that Sanders’ rookie campaign began by missing the entirety of spring practices with a nagging hamstring injury. He missed valuable time. No doubt.
He could still have a huge rookie season.
“I fully expect him to come in ready, come in healthy, ready to go,” head coach Doug Pederson said about his expectations for Sanders heading into training camp. “We have to get him in the mix early. Definitely have to see exactly where he is mentally from all the mental reps he took this spring and slowly work him into the mix and see just how he can help us on game day.”
Sanders will be able to help the Eagles immediately. Sure, they have Jordan Howard, but Sanders has a chance to grow into a big complementary piece and take over as the true feature back in 2020. So maybe it’s a little premature to list him as a breakout candidate in 2019, but he can be that, too.
Take a look at the top rookie rushers in Eagles’ history:
LeSean McCoy (2009): 637
Correll Buckhalter (2001): 586
Keith Byars (1986): 577
Po James (1972): 565
Bryce Brown (2012): 564
Mike Hogan (1976): 561
Billy Ray Barnes (1957): 529
Josh Adams (2018): 511
Clarence Peaks (1957): 495
Steve Van Buren (1944): 444
I have no doubt, barring a major injury, that Sanders will find himself somewhere on that list after the 2019 season is over. There’s a decent chance he could be at the top of it.
I guess the big question becomes how much will Duce Staley trust his rookie back. After all, Howard and Corey Clement will be on the roster, so if Sanders is on the field, he’ll be taking snaps from one of those guys. One thing Sanders will need to prove is that he can hold on to the football. He had a fumbling problem at Penn State, where he fumbled 10 times in three years and lost seven. Staley needs to fix that.
And as much as Sanders has been focused on proving that he can be a dynamic receiver out of the backfield, he really needs to prove he can be an adequate pass protector. If he can do that, he should warrant some third-down snaps as a rookie. It’s a shame Darren Sproles isn’t still around to help Sanders with that area of his game; Sproles was always a very good pass protector despite his size. No running back is getting on the field on third downs if he can’t block.
The interesting thing here is that the Eagles are clearly in win-now mode. They have a roster that should compete for a championship this season. So where other teams might prioritize using their second-round rookie over the veteran (Howard) on an expiring contract, the Eagles simply have to play the guy who gives them the best chance to win. So Sanders shouldn’t steal snaps simply because he’s a second-round pick. I think he’s going to get snaps because he’s a talented player and running back is one position in which players can thrive as rookies.
Even with Howard ahead of him, Sanders should be able to carve out a significant role in his rookie season.
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