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.
ROUND GRADE - Round 4