PHILADELPHIA - Miles Sanders averaged a career-best 5.5 yards-per-carry in 2021, a number that could make Jim Brown blush, yet the fourth-year pro is entering his potential walk year in Philadelphia with a chip on his shoulder.
That's because injuries, namely a troublesome ankle and a broken hand, limited Sanders to 12 games and a career-low 754 yards. Meanwhile, his trademark home-run ability went south and Sanders didn’t find the end zone for the first time as an NFL player.
While the aches and pains were the main culprits to Sanders’ disappointment, the talented Penn State star is taking accountability for other aspects of his game that weren’t up to snuff.
“I didn’t catch the ball as well as I should have, and I made the wrong reads sometimes,” Sanders said on Wednesday. “I’m just trying to be a better player overall and be more consistent.
"All I want to do is be consistent with my health and play.”
Critics will say the knocks on Sanders have stayed the same since he was a rookie and the failure to sharpen up certain areas while gaining experience is troubling. The little things have remained concerns, things like making the right decision in pass protection, hitting his landmarks as an outlet receiver, and taking what's blocked while running the football.
The good news is that he is taking the constructive critiques and doing everything in his power to make sure stagnant is not going to be any kind of description moving forward.
Sanders was working out diligently in Houston before returning to Philadelphia for the Eagles' offseason work.
“I’m taking this year a little personal,” he said. “The type of year I had last year, I was nowhere near satisfied with how I played or my availability. All that stuff means a lot to me.
"Being a top guy in the running back room, I have to hold the standard and keep going with that standard, and that’s being healthy and being able to produce.”
The stakes are raised with Sanders entering the final year of his rookie contract as a 2019 second-round pick and there is no heir apparent after the moves to get defensive tackle Jordan Davis and receiver A.J. Brown on Day 1 of the draft lessened the Eagles’ volume in the later rounds.
Running back was never addressed absent the signing of undrafted free agent Kennedy Brooks out of Oklahoma.
For now, the depth chart reads Sanders, veteran Boston Scott, second-year pro Kenny Gainwell and the speedy Jason Huntley ahead of Brooks. None of the options behind Sanders project as a bell cow, however, leaving the door ajar for the current starter.
“The contract [situation] is there, but no, I don’t go into the season thinking about that,” Sanders said. “I have to let that take care of itself and let my playing take care of it and know that whatever happens, happens.
“I just have to focus on the season.”
The addition of the playmaking Brown to pair with the emerging DeVonta Smith at WR coupled with star tight end Dallas Goedert should improve the Eagles’ passing game and, in theory, make things even easier for one of the NFL’s best offensive lines to open up holes for the backs.
"We've got a lot of talent on this offense," Sanders said. "We're putting it all together. Adding a guy like A.J. Brown is going to make our offense that much better. ... I definitely think the receiving corps we have is going to make the running game even better.”
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen