Will Miles Sanders Get a Fantasy-Friendly Workload with Eagles?

Will Miles Sanders Get a Fantasy-Friendly Workload with Eagles? article feature image
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Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Miles Sanders

  • Will the Philadelphia Eagles give running back Miles Sanders a three-down workload as a rookie?
  • Ian Hartitz analyzes whether Sanders will be an elite fantasy football producer.

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The Philadelphia Eagles suffered a fairly mild Super Bowl hangover in 2018, capturing a playoff win in Chicago thanks to a double doink before ultimately losing to New Orleans in the divisional round. Still, the offense underwhelmed as a whole and failed to consistently create big plays through the air and on the ground.

Howie Roseman and the Eagles’ front office have taken plenty of steps toward fixing the holes in last season’s roster.

Field-stretcher? Hello DeSean Jackson.

Better interior line play? Here’s $30 million over three years, Malik Jackson.

Consistent three-down running back? Meet Miles Sanders.

Let’s breakdown what to expect from Sanders in 2019.

Miles Sanders Has an Explosive Three-Down Skill-Set

There’s a lot to like about Sanders as a prospect in terms of production and athleticism. Together, these traits helped make the former Penn State Nittany Lion one of college football’s toughest running backs to get to the ground in 2018.

Miles Sanders’ Ranks Among Draft Eligible RBs (per Pro Football Focus)

  • Forced missed tackles: 47 (tied eighth)
  • Yards after contact: 845 (seventh)
  • 10-plus yard runs: 38 (tied fifth)
  • Yards after contact per rush: 3.8 (13th)

Put simply: The man is difficult to tackle.

Sanders had only 64 total touches as a freshman and sophomore while serving as the backup for some guy named Saquon Barkley. The former five-star recruit went on to post 220-1,274-9 rushing and 24-139-0 receiving lines in 2018 during his first and only collegiate season as a full-time starter.

One concern for Sanders remains holding onto the football: He fumbled five times in 2018 and 10 times in 38 career college games. We also don’t have mountains of evidence of Sanders thriving as a receiver and pass blocker.

Still, more than half of the battle in fantasy football is simply figuring out who is going to get the ball the most.

The good news: The Eagles certainly seem to love their new running back.

Eagles’ GM Howie Roseman on Philadelphia’s second-round pick, Penn St. RB Miles Sanders: “Miles was a staff favorite, a coaching staff favorite, a personnel staff favorite, all of us, front office favorite….We think he's a special talent and a perfect fit for our offense.”

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 27, 2019

Sanders brings more to the table than probably any other running back the Eagles have had in years.

Sanders Might Be Eagles’ Best RB of the Doug Pederson Era

Numerous teams have proven that it’s not necessary to have a workhorse running back in order to win a Super Bowl, but the Eagles have taken the idea of a committee backfield to a new level over the past three seasons.

No Eagles RB has come close to receiving a 50% snap share with Doug Pederson:

2016: Sproles (45% snaps), Mathews (25%), Smallwood (15%)
2017: Blount (31%), Clement (23%), Ajayi (17%), Smallwood (15%)
2018: Smallwood (30%), Adams (23%), Clement (22%), Sproles (14%), Ajayi (11%)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) April 27, 2019

This could mean one of two things:

  1. Head coach Doug Pederson prefers multi-back committees.
  2. Or, Philadelphia hasn’t had a back worthy of a three-down workload.

After much thought and deliberation, I’m leaning toward Option No. 2.

Let’s take a closer look at the backs who failed to receive a majority role in the Eagles’ backfield:

  • Darren Sproles deserves nothing but respect for balling out for this long. Still, the Eagles never envisioned him as a three-down player, even when they signed the then-31-year-old all the way back in 2014.
  • Ryan Mathews was a holdover from the Chip Kelly era and never played more than 50% of snaps in a game under Pederson. Matthews has been out of football since 2016.
  • Wendell Smallwood was a fifth-round draft pick in 2016 draft and has posted 211-850-5 rushing and 47-388-2 receiving lines in 37 games over the past three seasons. He’s had more than a few chances to capture the offense’s featured back role, and mostly failed to impress in all of them.
  • LeGarrette Blount served as the Eagles’ early-down grinder during their 2017 Super Bowl run before averaging 2.7 yards per rush with the Lions in 2018. The 32-year-old remains a free agent at the moment.
Wendell-Smallwood-Corey-Clement
Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement
  • Corey Clement offers theoretical three-down size (5-foot-10 and 220 pounds) and flashed his receiving chops as a rookie with four receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown during the Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots. Still, the 2017 undrafted free agent underwhelmed in 2018 with 68-259-2 rushing and 22-192-0 receiving lines before missing the team’s final five games due to a sprained knee.
  • Josh Adams is another undrafted free agent who was given the opportunity to earn the Eagles’ three-down role in 2018. The rookie had double-digit carries in five of the Eagles’ last six regular-season games, but had just one touch in the playoffs and posted a putrid season-long 7-58-0 receiving line.
  • Jay Ajayi is the only real back that the Eagles have really invested much of anything in before Sanders. They traded a fourth-round pick for his services in 2017 and fed him at least 12 touches in six of their final seven games (including playoffs). Still, he served in a three-back committee with Blount and Clement in 2017 and was injured in 2018 before having a chance to earn the featured job.

This brings us to Sanders, who the Eagles drafted with the No. 53 overall pick. Running backs drafted in the top three rounds have historically been the types of rookies we should look to target in fantasy football:

Sanders might even have added value in 2019 if the Philadelphia offense can fulfill its sky-high potential.

The 2019 Eagles’ Offense Sure Looks Good on Paper

The Eagles filling most of their glaring needs (with the exception of cornerback) has them sitting pretty as favorites to win the NFC East.

Also helping matters is the potential for a slightly healthier offensive line.

  • Left tackle Jason Peters was returning from a torn ACL and MCL while also battling quadriceps and biceps injuries.
  • Left guard Isaac Seumalo missed three games due to a pectoral injury.
  • Center Jason Kelce told reporters after the 2018 season that he played through a Grade 2 MCL sprain, broken foot and a torn elbow.
  • Right guard Brandon Brooks played in all 16 regular-season games before tearing his Achilles during the Eagles’ divisional round loss to the Saints.
  • Right tackle Lane Johnson missed one game with a Grade 2 MCL sprain before toughing out the injury for the rest of the season.

Carson Wentz’s ability to regain his once-elite play could be the Eagles’ biggest X-factor, but we also shouldn’t underestimate the Day 1 impact from new playmakers like Sanders and D-Jax.

There’s a possibility that Jordan Howard serves as a 2019 version of Blount and Sanders never quite fully seizes control of early-down and goal-line work. Still, the Eagles didn’t invest as heavily in Ajayi as they did in Sanders, and Ajayi managed to work as the PPR RB32 during his seven regular-season games in Philadelphia.

Sanders offers tantalizing upside for zero-RB drafters with a current RB31 average draft position in PPR leagues, as he still figures to see a solid amount of work even if a consistent three-down role never pans out.

And if everything works out? Sanders offers league-winning upside being drafted outside of the top-30 running backs as a potential workhorse on what figures to be one of the league’s better offenses.

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