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Miles Sanders needs to put the antennas down

Miles Sanders was fun to cover in the media at Woodland Hills High School. The Wolverines are perennial state championship contenders. At their hub when he played there was Sanders. He was explosive. He was a potential home run hitter every time he touched the ball. He couldn’t be stopped. He was (and still is) a great young man with a great future.

And he was confident.

Somewhere from then and now, that seems to have changed.

No. 4 in Carolina blue, or even No. 24 in Penn State blue and white, would have laughed then if anyone mentioned he was running with “the second team.”

He might not have even paid attention to it.

This version, No. 26, has.

On Friday, Sanders was asked by the gathered media what his expectations are for his upcoming fourth season in the NFL. The Eagles’ 5-foot-11, 211-pound starting tailback referred to some accounts the previous day that he was running with the “2s.” To which Sanders asked, “Who made that article?” Later, he responded to additional questions with … “Just get the respect that I finally deserve,” followed by “Stop making articles about me being on second team,” which must be noted Sanders was laughing when he said it.

On Saturday, Sanders was back with the ones.

Sanders is a better-than-average NFL tailback. He’s going to be the Eagles’ go-to back. This is a contract year for Sanders, who has yet to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and is coming off his second-straight 12-game season in which he was hampered by injuries. With Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott battling for increased roles, and a team poised to make serious inroads in the NFC this season, you would think Sanders would have more concerns greater than catching glimpses of media mentions of him practicing with the second team, which can sometimes happen when coaches rotate players in and out during training camp drills.

So what.

Sanders could be among the top 10 running backs in the NFL. The operative word being “could.”

The ability is there. The work ethic is there. The offensive line is certainly there. Sanders must trust them.

Sanders needs to find No. 4 again—the running back who had fun and played with zeal.

That version of Sanders did not care about getting “respect.” He knew he had it every time he touched the ball.

Sanders has been a polarizing figure among the Eagles’ fanbase since he arrived as a second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He showed signs of being special his rookie season, rushing for 818 yards, with a career-high 229 touches in a career-best 16 games, and scoring six touchdowns, including three receiving.

In his sophomore NFL season came mistakes. He dropped the ball, he fumbled, and his antennas began going up. He took to social media with “Don’t be a fan later. Either with us or not. The whole way!” After a deluge of fan backlash, Sanders recoiled with, “I love our fans, as a team we are sticking together, we just want you guys to stick with us too. All Love!”

Compounding that was not hitting the holes he should have and not following his blocks, seemingly not trusting what the guys up front were doing. Last season, he finished the year without scoring a touchdown, after 20 Red Zone touches gaining 27 yards, with 10 touches coming inside the 10 for four yards. In comparison, Scott had 19 touches for 52 yards and 7 TDs, which included 16 coming inside the 10, where Scott scored all his TDs. Scott took 27.8% of the Eagles’ touches inside the 10 in 2021. Sanders took 13.9% of those plays.

Since his rookie season, his receiving production has gone down. He was targeted 63 times as a rookie, to 52, to 34 last season, playing 11 games or more each year. He went from catching three touchdown passes and had 19 first down receptions his rookie year to 0 touchdowns and 14 first down receptions combined the last two seasons.

On Saturday, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said, “Miles is our guy.” Later in drills, Sirianni had to make a playful point shouting for the media to hear that “He’s in with the ones!”

Miles Sanders was fun to cover at Woodland Hills in high school. The Wolverines are perennial state championship contenders. At their hub when he played there was Sanders. He was explosive. He was a potential home run hitter every time he touched the ball. He couldn’t be stopped. He was (and still is) a great young man with a great future.

And he was confident.

That version of Sanders did not care about getting “respect.” He knew he had it every time he touched the ball.


Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.