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June 18, 2019

Eagles rookie NFL player comparisons: Miles Sanders

During this dead period of the offseason, we'll be comparing each of the Eagles' rookies to current NFL players. Previously, we started with first-round pick Andre Dillard. Today we'll take a look at second-round running back Miles Sanders.

First, who did Sanders pattern his game after?

"There are a lot of good running backs in the league," Sanders said. "Ezekiel. Saquon, being teammates with him, I think my game is pretty similar. There's Alvin Kamara, Marlon Mack, all types of running backs. I don't really compare myself to anybody, but I like to watch film and see different things that they do and put different tools in my toolbox."

When asked what he likes about those backs, Sanders said, "They're physical, they run hard, and finish. They're scoring a lot so that's probably the main thing."

Who does Sanders remind me of?

The player I landed on as the closest comparison to Sanders was Patriots 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel.

To begin, Sanders and Michel have nearly identical height-weight measurements. Both are exactly 5’10 5/8, and Michel is three pounds heavier. Sanders’ athletic measurables are slightly better:

 MeasurableMiles Sanders Sony Michel 
Height 5'10 5/8 5'10 5/8 
Weight 211 214 
40 yard dash 4.49 4.54 
 20 yard shuttle4.19 4.21 
 Bench press20 reps 22 reps 

Sanders' and Michel's college experiences were also quite similar, in that both played most of their college careers with other excellent running backs. Michel played second fiddle at Georgia to Nick Chubb, while Sanders had to sit for two years behind Saquon Barkley. 

Their rushing numbers were also similar, in that they (a) had a low number of career carries, and (b) had almost the same yards per carry average:

Player Rush Yards YPC TD 
 Miles Sanders (PSU)276 1649 6.0 12 
 Sony Michel (Georgia)590 3613 6.1 33 

Michel ran 209 times for 931 yards (4.5 YPC) and 6 TDs as a rookie. As runners, both players are 
physical enough to run between the tackles, while also possessing the ability to stretch the field on outside zone runs. Here's a taste of Michel's best runs as a rookie: 

As you'll see, Sanders' running style is similar. Both players have good-not-great speed, and while they're both on the slighter side at around 210-215 pounds apiece, they run through arm tackles and typically fall forward when they're tackled. I'll give Sanders the edge on "wiggle."

As receivers, both players lacked impressive production in college

Player Rec Yards YPC TD 
 Miles Sanders (PSU)32 193 6.0 
 Sony Michel (Georgia)64 621 9.7 

However, the belief was that they could both do it in the pros. As we've noted in the past, the Eagles have had mixed success with running backs lacking receiving numbers in college that they thought would become passing game weapons in the pros. Corey Clement proved them right. Wendell Smallwood proved them wrong. To note, Michel only had 7 receptions as a rookie in 2018 in an offense that loves to utilize their running backs in the passing game.

It's also noteworthy that both players had fumbling issues in college. Michel had 12 career fumbles at Georgia. That was one fumble for every 54.5 touches, which is bad. Sanders had a fumble every 30.8 touches, which is awful. Michel cleaned it up as a rookie, fumbling just once on 216 touches.

The one area where Sanders is definitively behind Michel entering the pros is in pass protection, where Michel was thought of as a polished back in that regard.

Heading into his rookie season, Sanders has three issues to clean up:

  1. Ball security
  2. Pass protection
  3. Receiving ability

Sanders is a little behind having missed all of spring practices with a nagging hamstring injury, but if he can make strides in training camp in all three of the above concern areas, most importantly ball security, he could play as much as a rookie as Michel did a year ago with the Pats.

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