The Philadelphia Eagles finally got a running back early in the 2019 NFL Draft. Are they going to be confident in his ability at the next level despite having a small sample size of production at Penn State?
It’s been ages since the Philadelphia Eagles drafted what you would call a franchise running back. And I’m not talking about getting a mid-round prospect or signing an undrafted rookie. I’m talking about taking a chance on a guy with a pick that’s almost within the Top-50 of rookies. A decade ago was the last time the Eagles drafted somebody they viewed as a franchise running back. That was LeSean McCoy out of Pittsburgh. Fortunately, the Birds hit on that pick.
For a while, the Eagles have been linked to early-round backs, but they never pulled the trigger. Dalvin Cook and Derrius Guice are the first two that come to mind that have been connected with the Eagles but they couldn’t or wouldn’t pick them. This year, the pre-draft stories were no different. However, the difference in this year’s decisions was that the Eagles actually pulled the trigger on a selection. With the 53rd overall pick, the Eagles took Penn State’s, Miles Sanders.
It all started at the Penn Staters’ pro day. Sanders was initially viewed as a third-to-fourth round pick until he put on a show for talent evaluators and coaches during his scouting process. That’s when Sanders stock shot up to being a second-round valued prospect.
As one of the teams who was highly impressed by Sanders, the Eagles didn’t hesitate to take him when it was their turn in the second round. While everybody involved with the pick, including the Philly fan base is excited, as always a bit of doubt could seem to creep in – especially since Sanders’ sample size in college isn’t exactly a long history of work.
A quick look at what we learned last year
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Sanders wrapped up his Junior season with Penn State rushing for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns. His third and final year with the Nittany Lions turned out to be his only starting season in college since his first two years were spent in Saquon Barkley’s shadow.
While there is a positive in Sanders’ lack of carries, since he has less tread on him – there is also a negative since we’re unaware of how consistently productive he could be with another year under his belt as a starter. And instead of remaining in college to develop, he will look to his NFL coaches to help him out in that department now.
There’s no denying Sanders’ ability as a running back in the NFL. However, he has his concerns. As a pass-protector, Sanders joins the company of Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood, who were of no help protecting the Eagles’ quarterbacks last year. And remember the complaints about Josh Adams’ fumbling issues during his rookie year? Well, don’t expect to get a breath of fresh air with Sanders, because he has his fair share of struggles in that department as well.
How are the Eagles approaching Sanders’ rookie year?
As we’ve learned in the past, the Philadelphia Eagles love a good backfield rotation. While Sanders will be viewed as a premier back for the Birds, don’t be shocked to see Jordan Howard and Corey Clement dip into his carries. Sanders might’ve been a high pick, but that won’t switch up the strategy. “We are always trying to look for complementary guys on our roster, but by the same token,” Howie Roseman told the media after the selection.
Although Sanders has been dubbed as back with ‘three-down’ ability by his teams’ executives, the rookie running back has no issue with splitting carries as he’s done that in both, High School and College. Before he gets the keys to the backfield, Sanders will have to prove he can do it all, including blocking and securing the ball.
Are the Eagles confident about changing the bad habits? You bet. Roseman mentioned both LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook as examples. Before McCoy entered the NFL, he had his issues with fumbling as well, which he improved a bit at the next level. And as for Westbrook, he was a guy who didn’t block that great until he learned from his NFL coaches as well.
Seeing the similarity between the two former greats and Sanders, the Eagles have no concerns about Sanders future as the Eagles franchise running back. After all, they believe that if he played his senior season at Penn State, he would undoubtedly be a Top-50 pick.