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Fantasy football player profile: Miles Sanders

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(As fantasy football dives headlong into draft season, some players warrant a little extra attention. All August, Dom Cintorino and Adam Pfeifer will do deep dives into some of the notable names. Follow along with our player profiles series. Today’s profile: Miles Sanders)

Fantasy football value 2021 – Miles Sanders

Entering the 2020 fantasy season, there weren’t many players with more hype surrounding them than Sanders. And honestly, who could blame anyone for being excited? The Penn State product finished his rookie campaign in 2019 on an extremely high note, establishing himself as the Eagles lead back. From Weeks 12 on that year, Sanders was the RB5 in all of fantasy, averaging 15.3 carries and 4.3 receptions per game. He was also extremely productive as a pass-catcher.

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Because of his terrific end to the year, Sanders’ stock was on the rise heading into 2020. In fact, his ADP climbed all the way to the early second round in most fantasy drafts last summer. Of course, he didn’t live up to the hype, as Sanders finished his sophomore season as the RB23 in PPR leagues — he did miss four games due to injury, but he was also just the RB19 in points per game. However, Sanders was pretty efficient as a runner, averaging a career-best 5.31 yards per carry, sixth among all running backs with at least 50 carries. He was also inside the top 10 among running backs in yards per touch. Sanders showed the ability to rip off long runs, as per FTN’s advanced rushing numbers, his 33.3% explosive run rate was good enough for sixth among all running backs with at least 100 carries. And that was behind an Eagles offensive line that had the most combination of starting units in the NFL last season. Getting Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard back will go a long way for Sanders and if (emphasis on the if) this unit can stay healthy, they can return to being a top-five offensive line.

Let’s take a look at what Sanders did down the stretch of last season, since we know the Eagles offense changed. Jalen Hurts took over at quarterback, and we saw this offense install way more RPOs, and when you have a quarterback with Hurts’ dual-threat ability, running backs tend to benefit. And that was the case with Sanders, as the Eagles — despite missing so many players on the offensive line — were second in the league in yards before contact per attempt. Sanders, himself, meanwhile, averaged 3.0 yards before contact per rush, which was good for fifth among all running backs. And during Weeks 14-16 alongside Hurts, Sanders was the RB5 in fantasy, led by his 14-carry, 115-yard, two-touchdown outing against the Saints elite run defense. He also saw a healthy 13 targets during that stretch with Hurts under center, which was encouraging. But the question remains whether Sanders will produce in the passing game.

Sanders was an outstanding pass-catcher both in college and during his rookie year but fell off a cliff in that department last season. He hauled in just 28 of his 52 targets and his 53% catch rate was easily the lowest mark among all running backs with at least 30 targets a season ago. Meanwhile, only Melvin Gordon and Derrick Henry had a lower yards-per-target average than Sanders’ 3.79, while his eight drops paced the position. Philadelphia selected Kenneth Gainwell in the draft, arguably the top pass-catching back in this class, while also adding Kerryon Johnson during the offseason. Meanwhile, Boston Scott is still very much in the mix, and we have seen new head coach Nick Sirianni use multiple running backs in the past, including last year as the offensive coordinator for the Colts. Sanders will enter the season as the lead back, but it shouldn’t shock anyone if we saw him come off the field more often on passing downs this season. Sanders still has potential and is just 24 years old. but if his passing role is decreased and he loses touchdowns to Hurts from in close, there could certainly be some underwhelming moments in 2021.

Fantasy football ADP stock watch – Miles Sanders

Per FTN’s ADP tool, Sanders is currently being drafted as the RB17, right around David Montgomery, Chris Carson and Josh Jacobs. He is coming off the board in between the middle of the fourth and beginning of the fifth round … and there is definitely a path where he outperforms that ADP. Again, this is still a very talented running back in a scheme and offense that will more than likely be more conducive to success this season. Of course, the reason he is in this range is the fact that the backfield in Philadelphia is relatively crowded, while I question the pass-catching upside. 

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NFL fantasy football ranking – Miles Sanders

Sanders’ consensus ranking in FTN’s 0.5 PPR rankings is RB20, so we’re on the same page as ADP. The highest you’ll find him is RB18 and the lowest is RB21. Every season there are a handful of players who truly have a very wide range of outcomes, and Sanders falls into that category for me. I could see Philadelphia’s rushing attack being very efficient and if his passing game returns to the 2019 form, Sanders could legitimately finish as a top-10 running back in fantasy. But I could also see him getting 12-15 touches per game with limited pass-catching and goal line work, which would severely limit his upside. 

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