The Miles Sanders Anomaly: ‘We Draft Running Backs in Philadelphia’
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles interest in Penn State running back Miles Sanders wasn't exactly a secret but the hope that Saquon Barkley's successor in Happy Valley would be there for Philadelphia in the second round was waning as the draft approached.
NFL Network analyst and former Eagles scout Daniel Jeremiah even surmised that Sanders had "too much juice on him" around the league to get to No. 53 overall.
Turns out that summation had some merit but was incorrect because Sanders was indeed the second RB off the board after Alabama's Josh Jacobs but that didn't happen until 53 with the league as a whole devaluing the position in a draft deep with far more top-level talent at other positions.
"Guess what, guys," a giddy Howie Roseman joked to reporters after getting his guy. "We got a running back. We draft running backs in Philadelphia."
Occasionally. Sanders is the first running back taken by the Eagles in the premium rounds of the draft since 2009 when the organization drafted LeSean McCoy, also in the second round.
“We were patient, we let the board come to us," Roseman explained.
The Eagles’ interest in Sanders, who rushed for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns with the Nittany Lions last season, can be traced to a well-rounded skill set which could develop into the elusive three-down option Philadelphia has been searching for during the Doug Pederson era.
For now, the Pittsburgh-area native is expected to complement trade acquisition Jordan Howard in a newly-minted backfield.
"Miles was a staff favorite," Roseman admitted. "A coaching staff favorite. A personnel staff favorite. A front-office favorite. He reminded us of some other players we’ve had around here. ...This is a guy, we got together two weeks ago as a staff and put together some hypotheticals. We joked about Miles falling to us like he did today. I went to (running backs) coach (Duce) Staley’s office and I said, ‘Let’s get some good karma. Maybe Miles will fall.'"
And fall Sanders did, all the way to South Philadelphia, which he's already familiar with after a top-30 visit that included over an hour with his new position coach Duce Staley.
"I met with the whole coaching staff, really. The offensive coordinator [Mike Groh] and the head coach [Doug Pederson] and then spent a lot of time with coach Staley for about an hour, almost an hour and a half or two hours just talking ball," Sanders said. "I really like the way he teaches. ... I look forward to and I’m excited to work with him."
Once Sanders went off the board, a little bit of a RB run started with five more being selected before Friday night was over. The Los Angeles Rams, in need of a backup for Todd Gurley, were ready to snare Sanders at No. 56 overall and dropped back a bit after losing out before taking Washington safety Taylor Rapp at 61 and then finally getting a RB in the third round, Memphis' Darrell Henderson.
"Every dog has his day with that," Roseman said of the board falling the way it did.
The Eagles were 28th in rushing last season at 98.1 yards per game, particularly struggling after Jay Ajayi was lost for the season with a knee injury. Howard, a proven two-down runner, was acquired in a trade with Chicago last month to lead a committee approach with Sanders starting off as the caddy and perhaps third-down back due to his versatility.
"I am very familiar with [Howard's] game," Sanders said. "He is a great running back. Going on to his second contract. He’s been in this league for a good amount of time, his fourth or fifth year and he’s done a lot in this league. Great running back like I said. I can’t wait to work with all the running backs in that room; [Corey] Clement, [Wendell] Smallwood and Josh Adams. I can’t wait to get in there and learn from them and I’m ready to compete with them. The only goal is to get a Super Bowl."
When it comes to Sanders specifically the Eagles goal, presumably by 2020, is what has been missing over the past three years, that ever-elusive three-down option.
"Miles is a guy, he can play all three downs," Roseman assessed. "... You have these guys that can do different things. Coach is looking for guys that have different skill-sets so he can provide different looks to the defense. It’s a matchup league. That’s what we’re looking to provide our coaching staff with. Guys who can win one-on-one matchups."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen