Miles Sanders just looks different.
And if you don’t think so, go back and watch some tape of Sanders in his first or second year.
Watch him dance around and kick things outside, free-lancing as he tries to slam a home run.
Then watch him this year taking the ball and just moving forward.
Both versions of Miles Sanders are extremely talented. The current version is much more effective.
“Just keeping it simple, just reading and reacting to my reads,” Sanders said Thursday. “It’s that simple. Knowing what my read is and reacting to it and being more decisive.”
Two games in, Sanders is seventh in the NFL in rushing with 88 yards per game and fourth with 5.9 yards per carry. He's 10th in attempts but fifth in first downs.
But maybe the most impressive number is three. That’s how many carries of no yards or less Sanders has on 30 carries. He’s got two carries for minus-one yard and one for minus-two.
He’s gradually lowered his percentage of negative runs from 18 percent as a rookie to 16 percent in 2020 to 12 percent to 10 percent this year.
He’s really transformed the way he runs, and while he hasn’t hit the big runs like he used to, he’s become a better back.
In two years playing in Doug Pederson’s offense, Sanders had five runs of at least 40 yards. He doesn’t have any in two years in Nick Sirianni’s offense.
Yet he averaged 4.9 yards per carry his first two years and 5.6 the last two years.
It’s like he’s gone from a slugger who slams 30 homers but hits .227 to a .320 hitter who sprays the ball into the alleys.
“He's been tremendous,” offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “It starts up front with that offensive line, but (the key is) his patience and his vision to hit it and get those yards when it's tight.
“Sometimes it's tight in there, the line of scrimmage. He does a nice job of just sticking his foot in the ground and getting through those voids. It might be an ugly two or three yards, but it's not a negative run.”
What clicked for Sanders? No one thing. He said it’s mainly been growing more comfortable as an NFL player and self-scouting.
“Film a little bit, but mostly just being in the league for my fourth year and having a feel for a lot of the plays I’ve been running,” he said. “It’s really simple. I keep it as simple as possible. Read and react to my reads and that’s what’s giving me success.”
Jason Kelce has played center in every professional game Sanders has played, the good, the bad and everything in between.
He’s seen Sanders’ growth up close.
“You see him get more and more comfortable and his vision has accelerated more and more every year,” Kelce said.
“He’s always had the talent, he’s always been an incredibly gifted player and you just see that. The more you rep something and the more times you do something, the more confident you become and usually the more confident you become the quicker decisions are made, and that probably plays a large factor in it.
“And also we’re just a better running team in general than when he was young in his career. Not that we were bad back then, but right now – especially with the quarterback we have – we get a lot of advantageous looks as well.”
Sanders, who rushed for 90 yards against the Lions and 82 vs. the Vikings, registered his 500th career carry Monday night, and his 5.1 career average is now highest by a running back in franchise history, trailing only Randall Cunningham (6.6) and Donovan McNabb (5.7).
His 5.6 average over the last two years is tied for highest in the NFL with Jalen Hurts and Nick Chubb (before Thursday night).
His 5.1 career mark is tied 7th-highest in NFL history among running backs and higher than every Hall of Famer other than Bobby Mitchell and Jim Brown.
And he’s still getting better.
“Obviously, I want to make the right read every time and you’ve got to be patient sometimes,” he said.
“These last two games, I actually have been rushing some runs and I’ve left some yards out there just watching film but still ending up with the amount of yards I’ve had each game. Just got to keep getting a feel and learning exactly what the line wants to do as far as blocking and marinate it as far as one read and execute the play.”