Why Eagles’ Miles Sanders was so disappointed with his performance last year

Why Eagles' Miles Sanders was so disappointed with his performance last year

He had the highest rushing average of his career. He had the second-highest rushing average among running backs. He became the first Eagle in seven years with back-to-back 120-yard games. He became only the third running back in NFL history to begin his career with three seasons of 750 rushing yards, a 4.5 average and at least 25 catches.

Miles Sanders was terrific last year.

Just not nearly terrific enough to be satisfied.

Sanders said Wednesday he’s taken the offseason “a little personal” as he tries to finally pay off on his vast potential.

“Just the type of year I had last year, I wasn’t anywhere near satisfied how I played or my availability too,” he said. “All that stuff means a lot to me, so just being the top guy in the running back room, I’ve just got to hold a standard and just keep going with that standard and that’s being healthy and being able to produce.

“I didn’t like the way the season went personally for me.”

What does he need to improve on?

“Just my playing overall,” he said. “There’s some stuff I can improve on and with the injuries. It’s as simple as that. …

“Just all-around playing. I didn’t catch the ball as well as I should have, made wrong reads sometimes. I watch a lot of film, too, so I’m just trying to be a better player all over and just be more consistent. That’s all I really want to be is consistent with my health and my playing.”

The first three seasons of Sanders’ career have all taken similar trajectories. Terrific production, hints of greatness and lots of injuries.

As a rookie, he led all rookie running backs with 1,327 scrimmage yards. In 2020, he recorded three of the nine-longest runs from scrimmage in Eagles history. And last year, he set a franchise record for running backs with 5.5 yards per carry.

But … in 2019, he hurt his ankle in the regular-season finale and wasn’t healthy for the Seattle playoff game, although he tried to play. In 2020, he missed a game with a hamstring injury and two more with a knee. And this past year, he missed three games with an ankle injury and two with a broken hand.

Sanders hasn’t played more than six games in a row without getting hurt since his rookie year.

So while he has the 2nd-highest rushing average in the NFL over the last two years among running backs, he only ranks 16th with 23 starts.

The injuries are the one thing that’s really prevented him from establishing himself as one of the NFL’s elite backs.

“You can’t really control what happens,” he said. “Broken hand, ankle issues, you can’t control that stuff, it’s all part of the game. Just doing my best to keep my body healthy as possible.”

The undercurrent to Sanders’ health and performance is his contract.

His four-year, $5.35 million rookie deal is up after this season, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back after this season.

The Eagles don’t have another Miles Sanders on the roster, but Boston Scott has a 4.4 rushing average, 62 catches, 15 touchdowns and 1,491 scrimmage yards the last three seasons on very few touches – 6.4 per game – and Kenny Gainwell had a promising rookie year, becoming only the seventh rookie in the last 35 years drafted in the fifth round or later with 250 yards both rushing and receiving.

If the Eagles are going to commit financially to Sanders, he’s going to have to produce like he has the last few years but also find a way to stay healthy.

Top-10 running backs start at $7 million per year. Top-20 running backs start at about $4.5 million.

“I’m not really worried about the contract,” he said. “Not as much as you guys think I should (be). I’m not really worried about that. Just trying to keep it focused on the season and what we have around the team and the guys that we’ve added.

“We’ve got a great team and we’re just trying to put all the pieces together and build a foundation. Just trying to focus on the season and not that other stuff.”

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