NAME: Miles Sanders
SCHOOL: Penn State
POSITION: Running Back
JERSEY: No. 24
RECRUITMENT RATING: 5-star
WT: 211 lbs
Vision – At his best when reading power concepts and working with pullers, or in other slow-developing man-blocking concepts like Iso and Duo. Has some solid flashes when working inside zone, especially when he’s able to quickly hit a backside cut upfield. Outside zone reads are really rough: ends up in his blocker’s backs, pushing to create space where there is none, and working into the hands of the defense. Second-level vision to string moves together and anticipate angles is impressive.
Burst – Springy young fellow. Takes big, powerful, urgent strides when looking to build up steam — doesn’t have that immediate boost, but 5-yard acceleration is generally solid. At his best when sticking his foot in the ground and exploding out of a cut, but that trait doesn’t marry well with his poor outside zone vision. Tends to play not at full speed, which allows him to use sudden bursts in second and third level to manipulate defenders.
Change of Direction – A joy to watch in this are. Can drop his hips low and jump cut to anywhere the eye can see. Works unorthodox footwork and angles into surprising redirections that catch defenders out of position. Has super silky hips that allow him to weave and slice when working with clean runways to the second level, which he didn’t get often behind a poor offensive line. Sets up his second move with his first move. Illustrates a hesitation/stutter step that can be devastating against flow.
Power – Leaves a bit to be desired. Can lower his pads, duck his head, and careen into contact blindly, but doesn’t bring the sort of leg churn and tackle-breaking ability you’d like to see from a back his size. Can be dragged down around the waist. Doesn’t generate much forward displacement when working through a pile. There’s no aversion to contact or lacking body mass, he just doesn’t have a great power running profile.
2nd Level Speed – A bit of a question mark given play style: is a patient, pick-at-you runner who likes to vary speeds at all three levels. At times seemingly running at full speed when working to get to the boundary, but still seems to be running with a sense of timing and control. Athletic testing and flashes seem to indicate a great speed profile, but breakaway runs are limited on tape.
Contact Balance – Above average. Has a wide base as a runner and ability to sink hips low serves him well in this regard. Stays tethered to the ground through the first level with quick and explosive cuts, and has the ability to pinball off of contact as he works his way through tight gaps. Can get over-interested in his own footwork and accordingly leave himself susceptible to backside pursuit tackles.
Decision-making – Lacking in great instinct, which can be partially excused because of his role as a first-time starter. Does not yet understand how to fully maximize his explosiveness and cutting ability by working backside/into space on zone flow. Ability to read and manipulate second level defenders seems inconsistent: will get locked into sunlight at times and burrow his way into a modest gain, and at other times look to bounce outside when he’s clearly contained.
Pass Catching – Was heavily involved in the passing game and regularly lined up in the slot. Ran a full gamut of routes for a college running back with a good degree of success. Cuts are a bit lazy and underdeveloped, but then again, he isn’t really a slot receiver, is he? Effort on passing patterns can be a question mark at times. Shows the ability to hands catch away from his frame and create after the catch.
Pass Protection – Very willing and involved, though technically he’s a bit of a wild stallion. Better picking up edge blitzes as compared to interior ones. Does well to pick a half-man and steer a blitzer beyond the peak of the pocket, instead of trying to win square. Gets low and delivers a strike with his hands; will reset his feet occasionally, but more consistency would be nice. Tries to stonewall interior rushers with launching body shots that regularly miss and relinquish pressure.
BEST TRAIT – Change of Direction
WORST TRAIT – Decision-making
RED FLAGS – None
PLAYER COMPARISON – None yet
Miles Sanders is a player who likely would have benefitted from returning to school, to develop as a player, but you can understand why he decided to declare and get his. In his first year of starting, Sanders illustrated the body control, effortless explosive cuts, and penchant for stringing moves together that reminded Penn State fans of Saquon Barkley, who they lost last season.
However, even where Barkley was lacking in terms of vision and decision-making, Sanders has more significant issues. He struggles to interpret zone flow, manipulate second level defenders, and make split-second decisions when faced with backside pursuit. His eyes and his mind are not yet in perfect tune with his body, which is why his tape is peppered with one electric long run for every two plays that could have been so. Miles Sanders projects as a Year 3 starter in the NFL who can only handle some change-of-pace responsibilities in Year 1.
Vision –He can be hit or miss, at times he’ll carry himself directly into the backs of OL who don’t get any push up front. That said, his sense for a developing hole and ability to cut back across the LOS is strong and instinct in this area stands out as something that can be harnessed.
Feet/Change of Direction –High, hard stepper who gets his feet up and down with a purpose. I like the way his feet chop as he’s pressing into traffic and enables him to sustain his balance in pivot as needed. Shows great lateral reach with his foot to collect and then explode up into a gap.
Durability –Low mileage back who was boxed in behind Saquon Barkley for several seasons. His ability to carry the load was proven in 2018 for the first time and he did well, despite not really being offered a chance to grind out a lot of games and wear on opponents.
Balance –Carries himself through his cuts extremely well, can string his moves together and carries his speed at a surreal rate as he’s facing defenders in head up situations. Little issue challenging his pace with a hard cut and putting himself on a string to fool tacklers.
Pass Protection –He’s pretty passive when stepping into first contact and doesn’t show very good habits with his hands to secure the block. Instead, delivers a body blow in hopes of jolting the defender out of place and allowing him to re-square.
Elusiveness –Nightmare in space. He’s big, thicker than he looks and yet still brings a lot of speed to his lateral cuts in one on one situations. He’s elevated over tacklers with their heads down too. He can win with burst, hard angled cuts or raw power.
Receiving Ability –Soft hands, does really well on swing passes. Occasionally flexed into the slot but he makes his hay as a pass catcher on check downs in the flats. Really comfortable catching the football away from his frame before flipping eyes up the field.
Short Yardage Skill –He can elevate and get over the top of the pile in short yardage situations. He shows good foot drive and leverage to duck his shoulder and push the pile. He’s not a true bulldozer but he does enough to churn through congested areas with good success rate.
Football Intelligence – Consistency was something of an issue against stout run fits, but his general feel for navigating the backfield is promising. He will need some development, particularly in pass pro before he’s really able to shine in an every down capacity.
Effort – Runs hard and violent. Will have no issues with short yardage, early downs, etc…can do it all. He’s been used as a blocker on jet motions as well, so there’s a good track record of supplementary role and quality effort to fulfill it.
BEST TRAIT – Feet/COD
WORST TRAIT – Pass Protection
BEST FILM – Michigan State (2018)
WORST FILM – Michigan (2018)
RED FLAGS – None
Miles Sanders is definitely a pro prospect who can handle the responsibility of being a featured back at the NFL level. Sanders has springy cuts, an explosive second gear and soft hands to help him perform as a check down receiver. Sanders’ best fit is in an inside zone rushing system, where his confident feet can allow him to explode through gaps as they develop and continue to stress the second level. Needs to get better at pass protection to make an impact early.