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May 28, 2020

John McMullen: Miles Sanders for MVP? In-person NFL minicamps next month?

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Miles-Sanders_010620_Kate-Frese Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles running back Miles Sanders.

Eagles second-year running back Miles Sanders got the fanbase a little juiced up last week by talking about things like MVPs and being “the best running back slash receiver ever.”

There are a couple of things to work through there, starting with the context of what Sanders really said which was “I am trying to be the best running back slash receiver ever.”

More importantly, there is the obvious point that there is nothing wrong with an athlete showing confidence. In fact, it’s a necessity toward reaching goals and it’s a positive development that the second-year player didn’t back away from placing high expectations on himself.

“My confidence is through the roof and I know what I can do for this team, I ain’t apologizing for saying that, just don’t be surprised when it happen!” Sanders wrote on Twitter.

With the help of league personnel sources, I did a recent series for Sports Illustrated examining the talent in the NFC East and noted that running back is an embarrassment of riches in the division.

There is a consistent All-Pro-level player in Ezekiel Elliott, perhaps the most physically-gifted option in the game in Saquon Barkley, and a slam dunk future Hall of Famer in Adrian Peterson among the lead backs. None of those reside in Philadelphia, of course, but Sanders may be on the verge of being the best RB in the Doug Pederson era.

That said, there has also been a bit of revisionist history when it comes to Sanders’ rookie season. 

The Eagles were so intrigued by Sanders’ explosiveness that they pulled the trigger too early, inserting Sanders as the lead back instead of veteran trade pickup Jordan Howard. That turned out to be a mistake and Sanders struggled with the little things like hitting his landmarks in the passing game as an outlet receiver while also running tentatively at times and trying to bounce too much outside to hit the home run.

As ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky likes to say “you can’t fool the quarterback” and ultimately when things didn’t pick up the decision was made to flip the committee with Howard taking over as the lead back, something that went very well for a few weeks until a shoulder injury essentially derailed the rest of the season for the veteran.

To Sanders’ credit, he embraced the step back to breathe and took to the tutoring of Duce Staley returning to the lead role as a more confident player which allowed his natural gifts to take over. 

As far as MVPs, understand the last back to do it was Peterson in 2012 and even that is ancient history in the ever-evolving spread-and-shred modern NFL. Furthermore, even with a historic, never mind generational talent like Peterson, the path to MVP glory was paved by the presence of a poor quarterback in Christian Ponder.

In other words, an MVP season for Sanders would include poor QB play baked in and that’s something that’s not going to happen unless Carson Wentz is injured and certainly something no Eagles fan should crave.

Finally, there’s common sense. Take Fletcher Cox, for instance, a beast of a player for the Eagles who has never been the best player at defensive tackle despite a consistently high level of production. To think Sanders can ever be Christian McCaffrey, an All-Pro at two positions, is probably specious. Expecting it in Year 2 is just unfair.


Skipping ahead to minicamp

Pre-Memorial Day it would have been laughable to suggest that on-field minicamps around the NFL could be an option.

By Tuesday when so many returned from their endless three-day weekends to makeshift offices with the only traffic to deal with being the kids and the family dog, it was being workshopped with the help of YAHOO!’s Charles Robinson.

Doom-and-Gloom forecasts turned into coaches back at facilities by next week and perhaps even on-field work commencing by the end of June with mandatory minicamps, a potential boon for those trying to teach rookies and younger players through an MS Teams virtual platform.

So how did ride the brakes in the most conservative fashion possible turn into the pedal to the metal so quickly?

The short answer is frustration from many around the country manifesting itself into pressure on local politicians, the latest of which being Governors Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania.

Murphy sounded the all-clear for professional sports teams based in the Garden State to return to training and even competition without facing obstacles from the state government on Tuesday. From an NFL perspective, that means both the New York Giants and New York Jets, whose team facilities are in North Jersey, as well as local pro teams like the Sixers and Flyers, who train in Camden and Voorhees respectively, can choose to move forward.

“We have been in constant discussions with teams about necessary protocols to protect the health and safety of players, coaches, and personnel,” Murphy said in a short statement released on social media Tuesday morning.

New Jersey, specifically North Jersey, has been a COVID-19 hot spot and Murphy’s decision was a big one when it comes to the political hurdles of restarting professional sports in the wake of the pandemic. It was also a domino, in that it came on the heels of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo taking a similar path days earlier.

Wolf almost had to follow and did so just over 24 hours later, a necessity for the Eagles to get back to work at the NovaCare Complex. Swimming upstream and taking a hardline stance after his neighbors, which have been far harder hit, began to ease restrictions was untenable for Wolf, who will now allow pro sports teams to resume in both the yellow and green phases of his reopening without fans as long as the plans are approved by the PA Dept of Health. The yellow phase in the Philadelphia-area has been set for June 5.

Behind the scenes, the NFL has been insistent that no coaches or players (other than those rehabbing injuries) will be allowed back until all 32 teams are permitted with California being the biggest concern, according to a league source.

Is any of this the right decision?

For many that depends on their own echo chambers and whether the color of their favorite ideology is blue or red.

The real answer is no one really knows. The COVID-19 situation is so fluid that the CDC itself often shifts recommendations and offers clarification on a weekly and sometimes daily basis

Really smart people know what they don’t know and understand the wisdom behind an old Yiddish adage loosely translated to “Man plans and God laughs.”

As mortals, we are bound by the human condition and the only thing we can do is plan and adjust accordingly.

Unlike the NBA, the NHL and MLB, the NFL has been graced with at least some time between the end of its 2019-20 season and Septemeber. Roger Goodell has stressed avoiding hypotheticals consistently and normalcy while keeping the contingencies behind closed doors.

However, now is not the time to speed up to get a meaningless three days of Doug Pederson-coined “grass time” before the jointly-negotiated June 26 end to the virtual offseason.

Pushing things that quickly because you can is probably not a good idea and skipping steps in what is a very complicated formula. Waiting it out will almost assuredly mean a clearer picture along with additional pressure placed on state and local governments to ramp up, a landscape that would enable training camps around the country to begin on time no matter the political tint of the local government.


MORE: McMullen: Unlike Nick Foles, Jalen Hurts could bring real QB controversy to Eagles


John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

You can listen to John during the week every Monday and Friday on @SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on @SBNationRadio, and daily on your favorite podcast platform for "Extending the Play." 

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