The Eagles’ rushing attack in 2018 sucked. Like really sucked, there’s no nice way to put it. Partly due to injuries (Ajayi, Sproles, and Clement all missed extended parts of the season), but overall just having a lack of quality backs, the Eagles found themselves staring at a potential league worst rushing offense heading into the playoffs. In the regular season last year, the Eagles ranked 28th in total rushing yards, 30th in average yards per carry, 20th in total rushing TDs, and 29th in carries of 20+ yards. In case you couldn’t tell, that’s kinda bad.
This glaring hole in the birds’ roster was further highlighted in the postseason, as Eagles running backs combined for just 80 total yards in the two games they played. Yes you read that right, 80 total yards. Given all this, it was no surprise that Howie Roseman and the Philly front office prioritized the halfback position this offseason. First acquiring Jordan Howard in a trade, then drafting Miles Sanders high (second round), and finally re-signing a guy like Sproles to further contribute as a veteran.
As I’m writing this, the Philadelphia Eagles are officially less than ten days away from their highly anticipated season opener against the Washington Redskins. Expectations are through the roof for our Eagles this season, and for good reason. The roster is stacked, key players are healthy, and we have one of if not the best coaching/managerial staffs in the entire NFL.
So, what does all this have to do with our newly acquired Pennsylvania-native rookie Miles Sanders. Well as I’m sure you all know by now, I’m fairly active on Philly Twitter, and a common sentiment I’ve seen this offseason is the notion that Miles Sanders is far and wide the most talented running back on the roster. I’ve seen people call for him to be the RB1 as soon as next weekend, I’ve seen him compared to Shady McCoy, I’ve even seen some fans go as far as saying we should already TRADE Jordan Howard.
— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) August 20, 2019
Look I love Miles “Boobie” Sanders as much as the next guy, he was actually my #1 ranked RB in this most recent draft class. However, I believe we as a fanbase might just be falling into a trap here, one that could lead to some serious disappointment in a few months…
We’re Talking About Practice
Miles Sanders has not played a single real NFL snap yet. Let that sink in for a second. One of my closest friends is a diehard Miami Dolphins fans, and one of his favorite things to do this time of the year is hype up “practice squad level” players based off some cute clips on Twitter. I’ve heard at least 50 times in the month of August alone that UDFA Preston Williams is going to be a beast this season because he’s looked good in Fins’ practice.
Miles has absolutely looked great this offseason, in both practice and the limited time he saw in preseason. However, just like I brush off my friends’ Dolphins comments, I have to keep that same consistency when it comes to the Eagles. It really is just practice at the end of the day. For the most part preseason is full of below average rookies and aging vets, I would be more shocked if a top RB out of Penn State looked bad, rather than looked elite. Until Sanders takes the field Week 1 against the Skins, we’ll have no idea what he can truly do.
In 2017 Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles saw a ton of success using the “running back by committee” approach. No back on the roster saw more than 173 carries, and the percentage of carries were pretty spread out. LeGarrette Blount (the RB1) saw just 44% of the total touches, and key guys like Clement and Ajayi both saw under 20% of the touches. My point with these statistics is to show that even if Sanders is everything we expected and more, he simply won’t get enough touches to prove that. The NFL is a changing league, gone are the days of the standard *three down back*. Injuries are too common and rushing talent is too accessible for teams to be content with just one singular back.
To put this into perspective, let’s take a look at LeSean McCoy and his statistics (since Miles draws a fair amount of comparisons to him). In Shady’s best season as an Eagle, he received a whopping 314 carries. That’s almost DOUBLE what Blount got in our Super Bowl winning year. In McCoy’s worst season as an Eagle (his rookie year) he received 155 carries, just 18 less than Blount did in 2017, and still significantly more than guys like Ajayi and Clement got.
Maybe Sanders is just so absurdly good for us this year that Doug is forced to give him 200+ carries (which would be awesome don’t get me wrong). However, if I was a betting man, given how loaded our RB group is this season, I would guess Miles’ touches settle more around the 100-ish range.
The Eagles most talented football player on the roster is Carson Wentz. This a sentiment that not everyone will agree with, but it’s a sentiment that Doug Pederson and the rest of the Eagles staff firmly believes in (proven by that fat extension they handed out to him). The birds’ offense will be primarily built around the concept of throwing the football A LOT. Add in the fact that the acquisition of Desean Jackson pretty much gives Philly the best receiving offense in the NFL, I would expect an extremely pass-heavy system from the Eagles.
This is a good thing, we should all want Carson throwing the football as much as humanly possible this year. The biggest reason the Eagles were so good in 2017 was simply because Wentz aired out the ball a ton that year. However, specifically when looking at Miles Sanders in this scenario, the pass-heavy nature our offense will operate with in 2019 will seemingly reduce his touches even more.
I still like Miles Sanders a ton and firmly believe he’s the RB1 of the future for our Philadelphia Eagles. And as much fun as it would be to buy into the hype of calling him Shady 2.0 or the next Brian Westbrook, I feel a slight responsibility as a writer to help bring everyone back down to earth a bit. As of this very moment Miles is simply a rookie with something to prove, if that changes mid-season, I’ll be the first one to let y’all know. In the meantime, check out some freaking awesome highlights from the 22 year old out of Penn State.
— NFL (@NFL) August 15, 2019
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 13, 2018
-David Esser via Philly Sports Insider
~image via theathletic.com~