Eagles mailbag: Expectations for Miles Sanders in contract year

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Eagles mailbag: Expectations for Miles Sanders in contract year originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

We finally made it! The Eagles start training camp this week.

The Birds will report for camp on Tuesday and will take the field on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. for the first time this summer. I can’t wait.

As always, thanks for all your questions. I won’t get to all of them so I apologize if if missed yours. But we’ll do more mailbags this summer as we get ready for the 2022 season. We answered a bunch already this weekend:

Part 1.

Part 2.

And here’s Part 3:

Got a few questions about Miles Sanders, who is entering his fourth season in the NFL in 2022. This is also a contract year.

Let’s start with the first one. Yes, Sanders is still the top running back on this roster. That doesn’t mean he’ll take every snap but he’s the top guy in a rotation that will also include Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott. Not entirely sure how much Scott will play this upcoming season but Gainwell will absolutely have a role. As a rookie fifth-round pick last year, Gainwell had 544 yards from scrimmage and 6 total touchdowns. He’s such a smooth receiver out of the backfield that his change-of-pace style will be a part of the Eagles’ offense.

But Sanders is still the top guy. He’ll get more playing time than the other two.

Although, in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark this summer, Sanders brought up his role in the offense when asked what he needs to do to take the next step in his career.

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

Staying healthy would certainly help. Sanders has missed nine games over the past two years with various injuries. But I get his point. Sanders averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season but averaged just 11.4 carries per game played and 2.8 targets per game. He feels like he could help even more with a larger role and he might be right. In any case, he’s still “the guy” at the position for the Eagles in 2022.

That does come with pressure. Especially in a contract season. The first thing Sanders has to prove is that he can stay healthy. Sure, some of those injuries have been flukey but a team isn’t going to shell out major money for a running back who has missed significant time in three straight seasons.

After that, it would really help if Sanders can show some of the ability to catch the ball we saw from him as a rookie in 2019. Not saying he has to go for 500 yards through the air again but displaying that dual-threat ability will only help him earn some extra money.

This is one of the most important questions going into the 2022 season. The Eagles had a playoff season in 2021 but they were able to fly under the radar. They were coming off a four-win year in 2020 and had a new head coach and a quasi-rookie starting quarterback. And after that 2-5 start, no one expected anything so they were able to storm back in anonymity.

This year, folks have paid attention to how improved this roster is. They won’t surprise anyone anymore. When there’s a bunch of hype like this it’s really important that players don’t buy into it too much. They haven’t done anything yet. That’s where veteran leadership is needed. Good news for the Eagles: They have plenty of veteran leaders on this team. On offense, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson have been together for nearly a decade and have seen all kinds of different seasons. And Jalen Hurts doesn’t seem like the kind of quarterback to let his teammates get overtaken by the hype. On defense, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Darius Slay have a ton of experience too. They’ll miss Rodney McLeod’s leadership but there are still a bunch of vets to help fill in.

OK, I guess I haven’t really answered your question. I expect the Eagles to live up to the hype to a certain extent. This won’t be a disastrous year. They have too much talent and the schedule is too easy for that to happen. I’m not booking my flight to the Super Bowl, but this is a playoff team. A lot of their success will hinge on the play of Jalen Hurts and the effectiveness of the coaching staff.

Here’s a list of Eagles who ended last season on IR: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Davion Taylor, Brandon Graham, Isaac Seumalo, Jack Driscoll, Brett Toth, Brandon Brooks, Tyree Jackson, Jason Croom and Joe Ostman.

Of those 10, Croom and Ostman are no longer on the roster and Brooks has retired. I’m going to consider Graham and Seumalo starters (Seumalo is getting the first crack at the RG position) so they don’t count by your criteria. That leaves JJAW, Taylor, Driscoll, Toth and Jackson. I expect Toth and Jackson to be on PUP as they both come back from ACL tears late in the 2021 season. JJAW is a long shot to make the roster as he transitions from WR to TE. Taylor and Driscoll feel like very safe bets to make the 53-man roster.

The Eagles would really have to get blown away by a trade offer or Strong would have to perform exceptionally well in training camp. For now, I think it’s likely that Gardner Minshew remains on the roster this season as a backup QB. The Eagles have realistic playoff hopes in 2022 and that backup QB spot matters. They might need Minshew to win a game or two. So if they were to trade him, two things would need to happen: They’d need to get a great trade offer and Strong would have to be outstanding in training camp. Not impossible but I think Minshew is here for Week 1.

Nah, the job belongs to Hurts.

It will likely be a combination of Jack Stoll and Grant Calcaterra. Stoll is a solid blocker and handled the No. 2 role well, although he caught just four passes. And Calcaterra offers some upside as a receiving tight end. They’ll both have their roles as they continue to get stronger in their areas of weakness.

Jackson is still recovering from that torn ACL he suffered in Week 18. So he won’t have any role until he’s healthy again. And with the addition of Calcaterra, the room is a little more crowded. My best guess here is that Jackson begins the season on the PUP list and once he’s healthy, the Eagles can re-assess where they are at the position. But I know they were certainly intrigued by Jackson, who had an impressive training camp last summer.

I’d like to see him on the field first, but Tartt can help. He does have experience and was fun to watch in San Francisco. If nothing else, it helps the depth at that position and the Eagles needed that. I’m in agreement with you about Marcus Epps. He’s the guy who should be on the field no matter what. He earned that with his play last year and if he looks like that again in training camp, he should be a starter. Harris has a level of familiarity with Jonathan Gannon and that matters, but he was just OK in 2021. A three-man rotation might be the route they go.

Sure, on occasion the Eagles can let Davis rush from the edge. But they shouldn’t do it too often. A change-up isn’t a bad idea but they drafted him to clog the middle.

Backstory: Driving to MetLife Stadium for the preseason game last year and my car got struck as I went through the tollbooth. Weird day.

Answer to the question: Not yet.

Key word: Yet.

The Eagles report for training camp on Tuesday but the first practice of the summer is Wednesday. So live tweets on Wednesday. I hope my super power is to have the ability to tweet a play while simultaneously watching the next play.

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