Last year, rookie running back Miles Sanders joined his in-state Eagles via Penn State University. Contributing in all 16 games, Sanders flashed big-time playmaking ability. This article is laser-focused on breaking down that first-year performance and what it means for Sanders’ 2020 fantasy football outlook.
Sanders’ rookie year:
A tale of two halves
Miles Sanders averaged only 8.25 carries through the first eight games of the year. This is to be expected for a rookie running back, as they are asked to earn trust early through strong displays of pass blocking and ball security. In the season’s second half, Sanders was given almost twice as many opportunities; roughly 14 carries per game.
A pivotal week 8 performance
A turning point in Sanders’ rookie campaign was an insanely efficient performance against the Buffalo Bills in week eight. Out of a mere six total touches, Sanders contributed 74 yards on the ground and 44 yards through the air. That’s three carries and three targets that all turned into receptions. Most prominent in this performance was the 65-yard touchdown run he added in the third quarter, seen below. This play gave the Eagles a two-possession lead and wound up being Sanders’ longest play from scrimmage on the year.
The burst that Sanders showed in this one play, leaving Buffalo defenders in his dust, was a clear call for more opportunities and for more trust in Doug Pederson’s offense. The potential to take it to the house on any given play involving their new back was something that the Eagles had not seen in a couple of seasons. Former backs LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Josh Adams, and Jordan Howard simply didn’t possess that game breaking ability.
Through the season, the dynamic and developing Sanders saw the play-time pendulum swing his way. After only starting four of the Eagles’ first eight games, he started seven of the final eight.
What to expect in 2020:
This offseason saw the departures of Jordan Howard, a productive one-year investment for the Eagles, and Darren Sproles, a veteran many Eagles fans expected to retire for a couple of years now. The decision to not invest in running backs besides undrafted free agents indicates the Eagles’ confidence in Miles Sanders as their new featured back.
Depth chart comparison:
Adrian Killins Jr.
As things currently stand, fantasy owners can expect Boston Scott to serve as the pass-receiving back. Scott also showed up strong late last year and will be a solid change of pace. A fully healthy Corey Clement could also produce for the Eagles backfield, similar to his 2017 role. Outside of those two and Sanders, it will be a three-man battle for RB4 between Elijah Holyfield, Michael Warren, and Adrian Killins Jr. Holyfield and Warren would provide power back options in the mold of Jordan Howard. Killins Jr. offers a much more similar skill set to Scott and Sproles.
2020 fantasy outlook
No Eagles running back has averaged more than 12 carries per game in the Doug Pederson era. With that being said, no running back has carried the ball more times in a single season for Pederson’s offense than Miles Sanders did his rookie year. Considering the expanded role Sanders earned in Philadelphia’s offense, he is commonly being drafted within the first 25 picks. This gives him a ranking around 12th amongst running backs being selected in most leagues. Although this is a fair projection, 12 seems like a floor for Sanders who could easily be a top 10 scoring back.
For comparable performances from last season, look to none other than last year’s conveniently 12th ranked (in yardage) running back Aaron Jones. Jones shined in his third year with the Packers under similar conditions to Sanders coming into this year. Personnel wise, the presence of Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and Jamaal Williams can be seen as comparable to the Eagles’ cast of Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz, and Boston Scott. Obviously these are two totally different offenses, but the high volume targets in Ertz and Adams, coupled with a clear lead back/pass catching back situation is similar enough to glean some insight.
Both Jones and Sanders averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2019, yet Jones was given 57 more carries on the year, scoring 13 more times than Sanders with a league-leading 16 touchdowns. By no means should we be expecting a touchdown per game out of Sanders, however, the opportunity should certainly be there.
2019 Miles Sanders stat line:
- 11 games started, 179 carries, 50 receptions,
- 818 rushing yards, 509 receiving yards, 6 total TD’s
With more playing time and a full slate of games, Sanders is more than capable of producing a true dual threat season. Based on the opportunity, expect his 2020 stats to look like the below:
- 16 games started, 240 carries, 56 receptions,
- 1,095 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards, 14 total TD’s
Those are the numbers of a player that can deliver 12+ points weekly in standard leagues, and is well worth the second or third round investment.