Six-week grades for Philadelphia Eagles top three running backs

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports) /

There’s quite a three-headed monster growing in the Philadelphia Eagles backfield. Miles Sanders is coming along. Kenneth Gainwell, Philly’s fifth-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, continues to prove himself. We’ve always known that Boston Scott can ball. With six games in our rear-view mirror, we have a better understanding of where these guys are.

At various points of his development, Sanders has struggled as a receiver and in pass protection, skills that every third-down back much possess. Gainwell has proven himself as a strong inside runner. He proved that versus the New York Jets as a rookie. He’s done it during multiple games this season.

Shane Steichen’s offense is a unique combination of option offenses: read option, triple option, run-pass option, etc. In this offense, running backs need to both be patient to get to the mesh point and aggressive and explosive once they cross the line of scrimmage.

Miles Sanders is explosive in open space and is a great fit for Steichen’s RPO scheme (run/pass option). The Eagles are changing their offense to lessen Sanders’ responsibilities to focus on what he’s great at. Typically, modern running backs are required to be patient and explosive as runners while still being strong receivers out of the backfield and good in pass pro. Number 26 seems to be coming along.

Let’s grade the Philadelphia Eagles’ top three tailbacks following six weeks of action.

The questions about Gainwell stem from concerns about his ability as a receiver out of the backfield and his limitations in pass protection. Those are the areas that will prevent him from evolving into the third-down back that everyone wants him to be.

According to Pro Football Focus, Miles Sanders has a 59.6 receiving grade. Gainwell, on the other hand, earns a grade of 40.2. Though Trey Sermon (71.7 rushing grade/no targets as a receiver) and Boston Scott (60.7 rushing grade, 53.0 receiving grade) lack the reps, both are better receiving options. Hopefully, they’ll get more looks in that role.

PFF is only one source. Even if you aren’t a fan of their statistical engine, they do present value. Gainwell has never been an off-the-charts receiver or pass protector. That will come in time. For now, he has no fear of running between the tackles. He’s both physical and a change of pace.

Perhaps Gainwell, Scott, and Sanders could earn a few reps as boundary receivers, especially when the Philadelphia Eagles run empty sets (meaning no tailbacks are in the backfield). This alignment gives Jalen Hurts a pre-snap tell in terms of man or zone coverage, and regardless of who lines up versus his tailbacks, Philadelphia, more often than not, will have a matchup advantage if they choose to exploit it.

Final grades:

Miles Sanders

  • Field vision: A+
  • Ball security: A+
  • Receiving: A-
  • Blocking: B
  • Overall: A

Boston Scott

  • Field vision: A
  • Ball security: A+
  • Receiving: A (one target, one reception)
  • Blocking: A
  • Overall: A

Kenneth Gainwell

  • Field vision: A-
  • Ball security: A
  • Receiving: B
  • Blocking: B+
  • Overall: A-

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