Ask anyone with knowledge of the current state of the football scene in Philadelphia and they’ll tell you that the title of the player with the most pressure on his shoulders heading into the 2022 season belongs to Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.
But another player facing a similar situation heading into the 2022 season is running back Miles Sanders.
Sanders is heading into the final year of his rookie deal, after being drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft. He has yet to amass over 1,000 rushing yards in a season. Sanders has also never started a full season’s worth of games in his three-year career.
After his rookie season in which he led all rookies in all-purpose yards and rushed for the most yards by a rookie in Philadelphia Eagles history (818), things looked bright for Sanders. He was a dynamic weapon in both the rushing and passing game. And at the conclusion of his sophomore year, while he saw a 312-yard dip in receiving yardage, he upped his rushing production from the aforementioned 818 yards to 867.
With the arrival of Nick Sirianni, who helped engineer one of the most efficient rushing attacks in the NFL during his time with the Indianapolis Colts, Sanders seemed prime to take another step forward in his development in the 2021 season.
The 25-year-old Penn State product would go on to finish last season with 754 rushing yards on 137 touches and zero touchdowns, all career lows.
Injuries and inconsistencies have plagued Sanders since entering the league. And he’s aware of it.
"I was nowhere near as satisfied with how I played or my availability. So all that stuff means a lot to me. Being the top guy in the running back room, I’ve got to hold the standard....That’s being healthy and being able to produce.” Miles Sanders
But things haven’t been all bad for Sanders. Since entering the league in 2019, he ranks third in the NFL among all running backs with 5.08 yards per carry. Sanders’ ability isn’t in doubt, the ability to consistently produce is the task at hand.
The Eagles have undertaken a committee approach to the running back room over the last few seasons, with Sanders typically leading that rotation. But Sanders wasn’t drafted to be part of a committee.
Sanders was the first running back drafted by the Eagles in the first two rounds since the team selected franchise-leading rusher LeSean McCoy in the second round of the 2009 draft.
Sanders was drafted to be a feature back.
“Miles is a guy, he can play all three downs,” Eagles Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman said after selecting Sanders in 2019.
Sanders knows he needs touches to be as consistent as both he and the organization want him to be, but heading into the 2022 season, there are some hurdles in his way.
After producing the league’s top rushing offense in 2021, the Eagles have added wide receiver, A.J. Brown. In all likelihood, this signals that an emphasis will be placed on the passing game in 2022.
Add in the emergence of 2nd-year back Kenneth Gainwell who finished his rookie season with 544 total yards and six touchdowns, and Sanders will have to make the most of any opportunities that come his way in the 2022 season.
This offseason, the Eagles organization has given Sanders a vote of confidence evidenced by the fact that they didn’t address the running back position in free agency or the draft, outside of UDFA signing Kennedy Brooks out of Oklahoma. They’re depending on Sanders to have a big year.
According to Sanders, he’s out for his ‘respect’ in 2022. He’s clearly entering 2022 with something to prove and if there was ever a time to put it all together in Philadelphia and get the respect he feels he deserves, it will be this season.
Behind a stout offensive line along with a quarterback that opposing teams have to account for in the running game, it’s essentially the perfect situation for Sanders to become the player he believes (and the player the Eagles believed they were getting when they drafted him) he can be in 2022.
Cover Image Credit: Mitchell Leff – Getty Images