Kaye’s Take: Eagles RB Miles Sanders’ 2022 success should be measured beyond his numbers

This week's Kaye's Take discusses Philadelphia Eagles RB Miles Sanders as he enters a contract year after famously not scoring a TD in 2021.

Miles Sanders is a big play waiting to happen. While his usage in Philadelphia has been inconsistent — at best — during his three-year career, the Eagles’ top running back has another opportunity to prove that he can be a dynamic do-it-all back this upcoming season.

That said, Sanders’ success can’t be measured or compared to most of his peers because of how the Eagles use their running backs. Sanders, 25, is set to lead a rotation that’ll be complemented by intriguing dual-threat playmaker Kenny Gainwell and reliable ground-and-pound pinball Boston Scott.

Sanders wants to be fed. Unfortunately for him, with the way the Eagles use their backfield, he is going to be forced to capitalize on the limited touches he’s grown accustomed to.

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NFL news and rumors: Eagles RB Miles Sanders’ 2022 success can’t be measured by numbers alone

Sanders recently spoke with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark on the “Take Off” podcast. During the interview, Clark asked Sanders what he needed to accomplish to be considered among the upper echelon of tailbacks.

“Being more consistent,” Sanders said (via ProFootballTalk). “I’m going to be honest: opportunities. I’ll just say it simple like that. I need to be more consistent, but I need more opportunities.”

Sanders has a point. While he has dealt with his fair share of injury woes, his lack of usage — despite his notable production when he does receive the rock — has been a lingering storyline in Philadelphia that extends beyond the first year of the Nick Sirianni era.

Sanders averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season. Despite that play-by-play production, he averaged just 11.4 carries per game. His career average is 12 carries per game, which pales in comparison to most of his peers, and he was shockingly held without a touchdown last season, despite playing in 12 games.

Sanders’ usage, over the past two seasons in particular, has been limited due to a rash of injuries and the success of his complementary counterparts. The Eagles led the league in rushing yards last season after Scott and Jordan Howard made of the most of their carries in Sanders’ injury absence. With Scott, Howard, and Gainwell all thriving, it became harder to keep them off the field when Sanders returned, despite the lead back’s big-play ability.

Entering this offseason, while Howard is no longer on the roster, Scott and Gainwell remain. Scott is likely to be pegged for short-yardage duty, while Gainwell is an interchangeable weapon who could eventually succeed Sanders as the top back in the rotation. It’ll be on Sanders to stay healthy and keep up his explosive production to hold off Gainwell’s surge up the depth chart.

Sanders will also have to overcome the ascension of DeVonta Smith and the acquisition of A.J. Brown. While the Eagles focused heavily on their running game last year, they want to be a pass-first offense. And that duo will be fed pretty regularly by QB Jalen Hurts this season.

Sanders recently told CBS Sports that the Eagles felt like an all-star team in practice. While all-star teams can rack up wins, the distribution of talent creates more mouths to feed on offense, so Sanders isn’t likely to see a massive uptick in carries or targets, despite his talent.

With that said, Sanders, who has never eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in a season, can’t focus on pushing past a numbers goal. He needs to be an effective cog in the machine as opposed to the face of the offense. Consistency will be the key for Sanders, as he stated to Clark, because that’ll keep his numbers up and his playing time in place.

The Eagles are so good at rotating talent in the backfield that they aren’t likely to offer Sanders a new deal next offseason unless he finds a way to be effective as a role player. And if that’s the case, the offer might not be to Sanders’ liking, as the Eagles aren’t going to dish out huge money to a lead back with Gainwell waiting in the wings and the ever-dependable Scott available at an affordable cost.

So, in a contract year, Sanders will have to make the most of whatever touches he’s allotted. With an added emphasis on the passing game and the emergence of Gainwell, Sanders’ opportunities could dry up even further. In order to prove himself to his current franchise and the rest of the league, he will need to continue to average over 5.0 yards per carry and be the home-run hitter that he’s shown glimpses of being over the past three years.

Sanders has a lot going against him as an individual playmaker because of the Eagles’ backfield philosophy, which have proven to be effective. The NFL and Sanders both understand that philosophy, so whether or not he eclipses 1,000 yards isn’t particularly essential to his evaluation. Instead, Sanders proving that he can consistently contribute when his number is called is the real test.

Sanders has to block well, prove his struggles with drops are behind him, and ultimately run well between the tackles. He also needs to stay healthy, as his recent availability — or lack thereof — has mitigated his success in the league.

Sanders wants more touches and a new deal. But he also wants to win. And the Eagles’ success this season — with the former second-round pick leading the backfield — could help him eventually reach those goals in Philly or elsewhere.

Mike Kaye is the Lead NFL Reporter for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @mike_e_kaye.

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