Miles Sanders — who stepped out of Saquon Barkley’s shadow to become Penn State’s bell-cow back in 2018 — is following in his predecessor’s footsteps.
Sanders declared for the 2019 NFL draft on Thursday, choosing to forgo his senior season in Happy Valley and turn pro. The junior tailback announced his decision on Twitter.
“I love these guys. I chose this school for a reason,” Sanders said after the Citrus Bowl. “I put my all out there.”
Where Sanders is slotted to go in the draft is up in the air. ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. listed the Pittsburgh native as his No. 6 running back prospect in November. DraftTek.com analysts ranked him No. 40 overall on their big board and the No. 4 back, behind Alabama’s Damien Harris, Iowa State’s David Montgomery and Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Steve Muench projected Sanders as a fifth-round pick, possibly higher if the back shows out at the NFL Combine.
Now, Sanders wasn’t always considered a candidate to leave early; he told the CDT in October that he never thought of leaving for the NFL entering the 2018 season. But the first-year starter’s north-south running and willingness to fight off or evade initial tacklers impressed. The second-team All-Big Ten selection racked up 1,223 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season. Against Kentucky, Sanders logged 51 yards on 13 carries.
It capped a solid season for Sanders, who rarely wowed like Barkley did, but was more consistent. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound ball-carrier rushed for 85 yards or more eight times in the regular season. He carried Penn State’s struggling offense down the stretch, too, averaging 125 rushing yards per game in wins against Wisconsin, Rutgers and Maryland.
Next year, it will be up to Ricky Slade, Devyn Ford, Noah Cain and Journey Brown to guide the Nittany Lions’ offense, especially with captain and quarterback Trace McSorley departing. Slade, a true freshman, scored six touchdowns on 41 carries in the 2018 regular season. Ford and Cain are the Nos. 5 and 7 running backs in the 2019 class, respectively, per 247 Sports.
Like Slade, Ford and Cain; Sanders — a former five-star prospect out of Woodland Hills — came to Penn State with a lot of hype. When he signed, Sanders was the second highest-ranked offensive recruit Penn State secured in over a decade. He chose the Nittany Lions over Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State and more.
After rushing for 4,573 yards over four years in high school, Sanders arrived at Penn State expecting to play — just as any five-star prospect would. But the back got in sparingly as a true freshman and the same was true in 2017. Sanders’ mother, Marlene, told the CDT in early December that she preached patience to her son throughout those two trying years, sitting behind Barkley.
“That was very difficult for him,” Marlene Sanders said. “But he had me in his ear to let him know, your time is not God’s time, and God’s time is not your time. Even though you had to sit, the script was already written. And maybe that’s how it was supposed to play out.”
Craig Williams, Sanders’ youth league coach and now a mentor, talked to the back frequently.
“I wanted him to play. His mom wanted him to play. But we understood how things worked,” Williams told the CDT. “Be patient, let things play out, and when it’s your opportunity, don’t squander it. Make the best of it. Show them you’re Miles Sanders.”
Sanders did that at Penn State. Now, he’s looking to do the same in the NFL.