For years, the Eagles have had to put a lot of thought into the running back position.
They leaned on a committee. They had certain packages for certain players. They pieced together the position each year, making the backfield a collection of new draft picks, trade targets and free agent signings.
This year, the plan is pretty simple.
“You put him in,” running back coach Duce Staley said, “and you let him go.”
Welcome to the Miles Sanders Era.
While a good portion of the attention (rightfully so) was on quarterback Carson Wentz’s finish to the 2019 season, what shouldn’t be overlooked is how huge Sanders was in the Eagles run to the NFC East crown, and how his role in the offense changed.
In his first 12 games, Sanders averaged 14 touches per game. Over the last four, with the season on the line, Sanders averaged just over 20 touches. He went from playing around 30% of the snaps each week to begin on the field for at least 70% of the snaps in five of the last seven games.
The results were impressive.
Over the last four weeks of the season, only six running backs in the entire league had more total yards than the 448 that Sanders did. He did damage on the ground and through the passing game, as only five running backs had more than the 150 yards Sanders complied in the final four weeks, and only seven had more rushing yards than Sanders’ 298.
Sanders coming out party was in Washington, when he totaled 122 yards on the ground and 50 through the air, including two touchdowns, in a must-win game for the Eagles. It isn’t a stretch to say if Sanders isn’t in the backfield that day, the Eagles don’t win, and their late-season playoff run doesn’t end with a division title.
Watching Sanders handle the heavy workload over the final weeks, and carry the offense for long stretches, sounds like a plan the Eagles plan to duplicate in 2020.
“I don’t think you have to be careful with him. He is one of those guys where it is hard to get a hit on him. You have to careful with the guys that can’t make people miss. So if you put a big workload on those type of guys, this is a violent league,” Staley said. “Injuries we know can happen at anytime, but if you got a guy that can make people miss and is kind of special like Miles, the injury percentage goes down. I think he can go out there and handle that part of it. He showed last year, he flashed last year.”
Now the question is what Sanders will do next year. There is little reason to think he isn’t set for an encore performance.
While Sanders last four weeks were the highlight of his rookie season, he was actually pretty consistent throughout the year. Sanders finished 2019 ninth in yards-per-carry and seventh in total receiving yards among running backs. If Sanders plays at the same level he did last season, and averages the 20 touches he did over the last four weeks, he will finish with 1,856 yards on 320 touches.
If he improves? The sky could the limit for Sanders, who very well could end up being the No. 1 option in the Eagles’ offense.
“He worked hard, he got to know the offense. The passing game and the running game. Running route also out of the backfield. His hands got better. You saw a kid get better every week,” Staley said. “Coming into camp, for a lot of these rookies coming into camp, it is night-and-day. They don’t know what to expect. From the verbiage, how we practice, to the demand we want from them — it is different. For him to be able to come in and be able to get all that and be successful, I was happy.”