Penn State Football

Why the Philadelphia Eagles ‘really wanted’ Penn State RB Miles Sanders: Q&A with Eagles beat writer

Miles Sanders — the Philadelphia Eagles’ new running back — is a bit of an outlier.

The last time the Eagles drafted a tailback as high as Sanders (No. 53 overall on Friday night) was LeSean McCoy in 2009, oddly enough, at No. 53 overall. Philadelphia also rarely drafts Penn State players; the last Nittany Lion to be selected by the Keystone State franchise was running back Tony Hunt in 2007.

But Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson identified Sanders as someone they needed. Roseman said in a Saturday press conference that the former Nittany Lion is a “special talent” and “perfect fit” for Philadelphia’s offense.

To break down Sanders’ immediate and future fit in Philly, we spoke to Eagles beat writer Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News.

CDT: You previously reported that the Eagles liked Miles “a lot.” Were you surprised that the Eagles went running back that high, though?

Domowitch: I wasn’t surprised. I thought they were going to go running back in the second round with one of those two picks. I just didn’t think it would be Sanders because I didn’t think he’d still be on the board. And they really didn’t have the wherewithal to trade up because they already sacrificed two picks to move up in the first round to get (Washington State tackle) Andre Dillard. And they’re trying to accumulate picks because — looking at a situation down the road here when Carson Wentz signs his next deal — they’re going to have to increase the number of young players on rookie contracts around him so they can hit their cap.

I knew they weren’t going to give up their only other fourth-round pick to move up and get him. If he hadn’t fallen to them, I think they would have taken Justice Hill, the running back from Oklahoma State. But Miles is the guy they really wanted. ... Howie (Roseman) loves him. They see a lot of (Brian) Westbrook and McCoy in him.

CDT: Looking at Philly’s current situation, there’s a bunch of running backs in that room. They acquired Jordan Howard this offseason and still have Corey Clement, Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood in there. How do you see that split shaking out in 2019?

Domowitch: There’s never going to be a 20-carry per game guy in this offense. That’s the way Doug (Pederson) likes it. Howard, they got to improve their first-down rushing success. Two years ago when they had LeGarrette Blount, they finished second in first-down rush average, which put them in a lot of good second-down, third-down situations. Last year, that didn’t happen. They finished 25th in first-down average. That’s why they got Howard. ... Whereas Sanders is a three-down back. He’s what they need in this offseason, kind of an Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, the kind of guy you can throw the ball to. They can operate in space.

That’s what they see in Sanders. His first year, a lot is going to depend on showing he can protect the passer. Duce Staley, the running backs coach, doesn’t let anyone out there unless he has confidence that they’re not going to let Carson Wentz get killed. ... But I think you’re going to see a lot of him as a rookie. They’re excited about how they can use him in this offense, how they can move him around and get him in space. They see him as the weapon that they’re missing.

CDT: That’s interesting because Penn State didn’t use him nearly as much as they probably should have as a pass-catcher.

Domowitch: So much of it is projection. Even Corey Clement, who the Eagles signed as an undrafted free agent two years ago, had 13 catches at Wisconsin. But in the workouts and at the Combine, they concluded that his hands were fine and he could help them there. He ended up having 100 receiving yards in the Super Bowl and that incredible touchdown catch.

CDT: Looking ahead a bit, Jordan Howard’s contract is up after one year. Do you see a situation where Jordan Howard could be one-and-done, and Sanders could take over as the guy in 2020?

Domowitch: Absolutely. But a lot will depend on how Howard does. I could see a scenario where they sign Howard to a three-year deal and find a way to work them both. There are very few teams that do the Ezekiel Elliott thing, where you have a guy who’s your workhorse. The Eagles do a lot of situational stuff and try to find matchups. They’re gonna use two or three backs this year regardless of how Miles does and how Howard does. There will be plenty of opportunities for both of them going forward. But that’s very possible. That could happen.