March 02, 2022
Depending on how you look at it, the Eagles running game is either something you are absolutely, positively confident in, or it is an under the radar concern heading into 2022.
Yes, their offensive line is still loaded, and assuming Jason Kelce returns to anchor the unit at center (Nick Sirianni expressed his intense desire to bring the veteran back by sending a keg to his house, courtesy of Lower Merion Beverage) the hogs up front should be among the best in the NFL next year.
But the team's running attack setting records and leading the entire league could be an anomaly. Will Jalen Hurts run for 784 yards and 10 touchdowns next season? Most quarterbacks actually rush less often as their careers progress, so the Eagles will need to be prepared for more pocket passing from their soon to be third-year signal-caller.
Their running success is of course, attributable to the line play, the coach's scheming and to the running backs, but they played some terrible defenses in 2021 and got some spectacular play from — let's face it — a rag tag unit of no name running backs.
No name running backs and Miles Sanders that is.
Sanders led the team's backs in rushing with 754 yards but did not find the end zone. He also missed five games due to injury, and was limited to 26 catches out of the backfield, his lowest total as a pro (he had 50 his rookie season).
|2019||179, 818 yards (4.6 ypc)||50, 509 yards||6|
|2020||164, 867 yards (5.3 ypc)||28, 197 yards||6|
|2021||137, 756 yards (5.5 ypc)||26, 158 yards||0|
Sanders has missed nine games over the last two years, which helps to explain his drop in touches each season. Interestingly, his efficiency has gotten better every year.
Philadelphia's RB1 is in a contract year, playing out the final installment of his rookie four-year pact. The team has yet to extend him, and when Eagles' GM Howie Roseman was asked about that at the NFL Combine Wednesday afternoon, he sidestepped the question, hoping to respect the player's privacy. But he did have some kind words for the Penn State product.
"Miles is a heck of a player, heck of a person," Eagles GM Howie Roseman said. "I think you saw a lot, too, we had guys who were in their fourth year last year, whether you go back and you look at Sweaty [Josh Sweat] and you look at Dallas [Goedert] and you look at Avonte [Maddox] and you look at Jordan [Mailata], guys like that. Maybe I'm missing a couple guys, who even became better in their fourth year in the league."
Those four players are interesting comparisons for a few reasons. Yes, all four had standout years in 2022. But they also all signed in-season extensions, not offseason ones. It sounds as though Roseman might be implying that a good start to the year for Sanders could earn him another deal with the Birds.
No pressure, right?
"We haven't even seen everything Miles can give this team," Roseman said. "Obviously he has been productive. He wants to get in the end zone as well, but I think the best is yet to come for Miles."
As we have seen in recent years from the top running backs in football, second contracts can be a big waste of dough. Christian McCaffery hit a wall of injuries these past two seasons and Alvin Kamara is showing signs of age as well. And Eagles rival RB Ezekiel Elliott, too, is slowing down pretty substantially. There are a lot more examples of it too.
Sanders doesn't have the same kind of tread on his tires as those three backs did at his age, but unless he can be retained for a bargain, the team might be looking to draft a replacement or go with a committee approach in the future, to avoid committing a ton of money to a position that can become a bad investment quickly.
In 2021, the Eagles led all 32 teams in rushing yards while spending a grand total of $3.6 million on running backs, according to overthecap.com — the second fewest in football (behind the Falcons).
Next season, they are currently committed to just three running backs, Sanders, Jason Huntley and sophomore receiving back Kenny Gainwell. Jordan Howard comes off the books as a free agent and Boston Scott is a RFA (who will probably return for around $1 million).
That quartet could be enough to dominate on the ground again in 2022, but for 2023 and beyond they'll need some kind of strategy. Will they bring Howard back for another year as the power back? Will they draft a back to be Sanders' understudy? Could they kick the tires on a veteran in free agency, like Cordarrelle Patterson, Leonard Fournette, Marlon Mack, Melvin Gordon or a variety of others?
A lot more is up in the air on the ground than you might think. We'll have to see — and likely won't until the fall — if the team wants to keep Sanders in its long term plans, or try and create a running back factory to rush behind their elite o-line.
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