Even though it may be an unpopular opinion, former Penn State running back Miles Sanders is the best running back in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Heading into the 2019 NFL Draft, the consensus is that former Alabama running back Josh Jacobs is the best running back in the draft class. With no disrespect to Jacobs, who is a solid running back and will have a successful NFL career, I am not part of that consensus. Jacobs is the second best running back in the class. Former Penn State running back Miles Sanders sits above him.
For starters, Sanders had to live under the shadows of former Penn State running back, first-round pick and 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Saquon Barkley. Instead of staying in the shadows, Sanders burst onto the scene, rushing for 1,298 yards and nine touchdowns.
He had nine fewer touchdowns than Barkley did the year he entered the draft, but Sanders actually had three more rushing yards. Sanders made a name for himself at Penn State and showed that he, along with Barkley, is a dude.
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When you turn on the tape, Sanders flashes elite ability at the position. He can hit the hole like he is shot out of a cannon, but can stop on a dime to make a defender miss. Sanders is able to bounce the run outside if he has to, but doesn’t rely on bouncing. He is comfortable rushing between the tackles and shows the grit and tenacity you want to see at the point of contact.
He is able to pick up hidden yardage by moving the pile, but he is also able to make the guy miss and make a big play. He is extremely instinctive and seems to always make the right cut. There is just something about how he glides and reads a hole. It is so smooth and crisp and you can tell he just has “it.”
Nitpicking Sanders for anything, it would be his lack of touches through the passing game. However, that likely had more to do with Penn State than it did with Sanders. Also, at his pro day, Sanders showed everyone that he can be a weapon in the passing game. So, there should be no worries if he can be a three-down back in the NFL.
He will need to improve in pass-protection, but he is willing and able, so that’s not a cause for concern either. Another knock for me was his breakaway speed. On film this season, it looked as if Sanders did not have that elite speed to break the big one. He then ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash, which was faster than expected, but some questions lingered about his long speed.
However, recently in an interview with Mike Kaye of NJ.com, Sanders told Kaye:
“I think I’ve always — in my opinion — been that fast and had that speed. I was a little banged up with my ankle during the season so that kind of held me back and kind of switched up my game.”
Many people may see that as an excuse, but I’m inclined to believe him.
The last knock is that he had five fumbles (four lost) this year and 10 total fumbles (seven lost) in his three-year career at Penn State. That will be something he needs to make sure he has in-check in the NFL because they are the best of the best at stripping the ball away. Sanders will need to really take pride in having ball security in the NFL and make it a priority for his game.
When you look at the strengths and weaknesses after watching his film, you understand that this kid is a legitimate NFL running back. He has all the traits to be a starter in the league and give the NFL team that drafts him a running back they can lean on for years.
In my most recent Philadelphia Eagles seven-round mock draft, I have the Eagles trading back in the first round and select Sanders at No. 32. I may be the only person that has Sanders mocked in the first round, but I believe that Sanders has cemented himself as a top-40 pick after his dominant NFL Combine and pro day.
Look at the 2018 NFL Draft, where former San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny was projected to be a Day 2 pick, but made his way into the first round. The Seahawks picked him at No. 27. NFL Network’s Daniel Jerimiah, one of the best in the game when it comes to draft opinions, had Penny ranked as his 47th best player in the draft. He currently has Sanders as his 43rd best player.
So, Sanders going in the first round may sound crazy, but when you look at last year, you see there is a chance. And then when you turn on his film and actually watch him play, you see that it could likely happen and is trending upward to happen. It will be interesting to see how early Jacobs gets drafted because if he goes early, Sanders has an even better shot to hear his name early too. And, as the best running back in the 2019 NFL Draft, he should.