PHILADELPHIA – Before the 2022 season began it was tough envisioning Miles Sanders earning a second contract with the Eagles.
Sanders had proven to be a good player through his first three NFL seasons but one who fell short of unrealistic expectations after a rookie season that was arguably his best.
The thought was that If things clicked in 2022 for Sanders, the Penn State product could probably garner more money on the open market at a position the Eagles don’t typically put a lot of financial heft into, and if he underperformed Philadelphia would just turn the page and churn the running back position with a younger option on a more cost-effective rookie deal.
Sanders understood all of that in the offseason and went into it with a chip on his shoulder, something that’s shown during the Eagles’ impressive 6-0 start. He’s running the football well, leading the team and ranking fourth in the entire NFL with 485 yards on 105 carries with four touchdowns after failing to reach the end zone in 2021.
Sanders is on a pace to shatter his career-best season of 867 yards if he stays healthy. Currently averaging 80.8 rushing yards per game, that would equate to 1,374 through 17 games.
Health, of course, has been an issue for Sanders over the past two seasons in which he missed a total of nine games. He also regressed as a pass catcher after a surprising rookie season, has been average to below average in pass protection, and had not exhibited the best ball security at times.
It’s evident that Sanders is never going to be an elite outlet receiver and perhaps that’s not even needed when Jalen Hurts, along with his imposing off-schedule offense, is the quarterback. That said, Sanders has really elevated the other two problem areas, ranking No. 5 among halfbacks when it comes to pass pro, according to Pro Football Focus, and taking care of the football with no fumbles lost, a big ingredient to the Eagles’ plus-12 NFL-leading turnover ratio.
“Miles has been tremendous through this first six weeks,” said offensive coordinator Shane Steichen on Tuesday. “Averaging 4.6 yards a carry. He’s running hard. He’s got great vision. The biggest thing, too, besides that and his speed and his power and all those things that he has, the ball security is huge. We’ve had no fumbles this year, knock on wood.
“And we’ve only had two turnovers.”
The Eagles’ coaches consistently preach about the so-called double-positives: turnovers and explosive plays.
“I think when you go back to our big thing and what we look over is winning the turnover battle and winning the explosive play battle, I think it’s proven over the first six weeks,” Steichen said. “We’ve got to continue to do that. Hats off to Miles. What he’s done so far has been tremendous.”
GM Howie Roseman has a lot of work to do when it comes to the future with Hurts eligible for a big-money extension after the season and much of the team’s defense on the final years of their contracts so tough decisions will have to be made.
Sanders wasn’t expected to be in that tough-decision category but he’s playing himself into it.
“Yeah, man, trying to be here for a long time,” Sanders said after the 26-17 win over Dallas. “That’s all. Trying to make the case.”