Miles Sanders was drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft out of Penn State by the Eagles. Sanders is a hometown kid - he was born in Pittsburgh and played high school ball at Woodland Hills in Pennsylvania. I loved Sanders' profile coming out of Penn State with his field vision, lateral quickness, and fluidity as a ball-carrier. Philadelphia wasn't the best landing spot initially with their stable of running backs in place, but he was really impressive in his rookie season and has awesome potential going forward.
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Sanders finished as the 15th-highest scorer among running backs in fantasy football, which was particularly impressive when you consider he was outside the 20 backs with the most touches in the league. Sanders had plenty of competition in the backfield - Jordan Howard (129), Boston Scott (85), and Darren Sproles (23) combined for 237 touches, leaving Sanders with less than a 50% share in the backfield work. The Penn State product improved as the season went on, and was particularly impressive as a receiver where he finished with a 79.4% catch rate and 8.1 yards per target; based on his yard per target average, we can see it wasn't just checkdowns.
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Darren Sproles retired this offseason and Jordan Howard went to the Miami Dolphins, leaving plenty of backfield work up for grabs. Head coach Doug Pederson has shown a preference for a running-back-by-committee approach, but the team didn't sign any running backs this offseason. The Eagles could opt to grab a running back late in this draft class, but even if they do, Sanders should be in line for at least 60% of the backfield touches this season. Sanders should pick up some of Howard's red-zone work as well as additional receiving work.
ADP & Auction Value
Auction value: $31
Sanders is seeing a huge jump in his ADP, and deservedly so after flashing his talent as a rookie - but is it possible he's still being under drafted? In the middle of the 3rd round, he would be about the 15th running back off the board, which is right where he finished last season WITH additional competition in the backfield. I'm a huge fan of this draft spot for him with the type of upside he could have if the Eagles give him the workload his talent deserves.
The Eagles had a top-15 offensive line in run-blocking last year and return all of their starters, so there shouldn't be any concerns with their blocking. The team's defense should also be significantly improved after bringing in a handful of new players in free agency, including former Pro Bowl corner Darius Slay - their improvements on that end will lend themselves to a solid baseline rush total for Sanders, provided he's able to stay healthy. In limited work last season, Sanders finished as the #15 running back in fantasy, and it's hard to imagine him doing much worse than that with his expected involvement in the red zone and receiving game.
Pederson's history suggests more of an RBBC, but the Eagles have a ton of touches up for grabs. If Sanders gets 70% of the red-zone work that Howard left behind and maintains his 33% scoring rate from last season, he would be projected for 15 (!!) rushing touchdowns. If he gets 60 more carries than he did last season, about half of what Howard left behind, and maintains his 4.6 yards per carry from last year, he could work his way to close to 1,200 rushing yards. His realistic ceiling could be somewhere around 1,100 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns with 60 receptions and 500 receiving yards - that would make him a borderline top-five player at his position in 2020.
Philadelphia Eagles Offense
The Eagles finished with the 12th-highest-scoring offense in 2020 despite none of their top receivers (Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor) being able to stay healthy for the whole season. They will likely play more games in 2020, so the efficiency of the passing game should improve, but Carson Wentz was top-five in passing attempts last season so it's not like they didn't still rely on the air game. If anything, an improvement in the passing game would create more red-zone opportunities, which Sanders will likely see a fair share of. Zach Ertz is still the team's primary offensive target, finishing last season with 88 receptions for 916 yards and 6 touchdowns. Between Doug Pederson (head coach), Mike Groh (offensive coordinator), and Marty Morniwheg (offensive consultant), there's plenty of brainpower to go around and create one of the highest-octane offenses in 2020.
Strength of Schedule
The Eagles play in the NFC East, which houses the Redskins and Giants - two teams who were in the bottom 8 overall against the run in 2019 (per Football Outsiders). Those teams also allowed among the 15-most fantasy points to the running back position. The Cowboys didn't fare all that much better, ranking 23rd in run defense last season. The Eagles have the good fortune of playing all three of those teams twice next season. Beyond those six games, the Eagles' schedule features some other soft run defenses in the Cardinals, Bengals, and Browns - all of whom allowed among the 12 most total fantasy points to running backs in 2019. Unfortunately, the Philly schedule also has its fair share of tough matchups - the Ravens, Steelers, Saints, and 49ers were among the eight teams who gave up the fewest points to running backs in fantasy. The Packers and Seahawks were middle-of-the-pack in terms of defending running backs last season. It's a bit of feast or famine for the Eagles' schedule, but Sanders should have some opportunities for some massive games to stabilize his season-long statistics.
There may not be a running back in fantasy who has benefited more from this past offseason, and I think Miles Sanders has a chance to be a steal even at his inflated 3rd-round draft price. He does everything you want out of a running back, and with his 3-down skillset, there should be no reason for him to leave the field very much other than to give change-of-pace back Boston Scott a chance to spell him. The Eagles will be a team to watch during the draft in terms of drafting a running back, but if they stay put with what they have, Sanders has a chance to return top-five value in 2020. Even if they do, his floor is likely high enough to make him a valuable fantasy selection this season.