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Reasons to be excited about the Panthers new running back Miles Sanders

The former Eagle is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and is poised to make a huge impact in Carolina.

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer has overseen a virtually flawless free agency period with signings that will bolster both sides of the ball. The free agency acquisition that could have the most impact of them all is the signing of former Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders.

Yes, I know in recent years that running back has been deemed to be the most replaceable position in football, but it’s also still a critically important piece to the offense. Most starting running backs will handle the ball somewhere between 200 and 300 times in a season, giving them an outsized opportunity to impact the game.

Over his four years in Philly, Miles Sanders made a big impact on the Eagles offense.

Panthers fans should be excited.

College career and rookie season

Before joining the Eagles, the 5-foot-11, 211 pound running back played three seasons at Penn State from 2016 to 2018. He was lightly used as a freshman and sophomore with just 56 carries for 375 yards during his first two seasons. But as a junior he broke out with 220 carries for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns. He also had 24 receptions for 139 yards that year. He declared for the NFL draft after his junior season.

The Eagles drafted Sanders in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft. He had an impressive rookie season with 818 rushing yards (4.6 YPC) and three touchdowns to go along with 50 receptions for 509 yards and three more scores. He set franchise rookie records for both rushing and all-purpose yards.

2020 and 2021: The king of yards per carry

In 2020, his second NFL season, Sanders appeared in 12 games with 164 carries for 867 yards (5.3 YPC) and six touchdowns. The only running backs with at least 150 carries who averaged more yards per carry than Miles Sanders were Nick Chubb (5.6 YPC), Aaron Jones (5.5 YPC), and Derrick Henry (5.4 YPC). That’s pretty good company for a second year running back.

But in 2020 Sanders’s role as a pass catcher diminished with just 28 receptions for 197 yards.

In 2021, his third season in Philly, Sanders put up 137 carries for 754 yards (an impressive 5.5 YPC) plus 26 receptions for 158 yards. The only running back with more carries than Sanders who also averaged more yards per carry was Nick Chubb at 5.52 yards per carry.

In summary, between 2020 and 2021 Miles Sanders had 301 carries for 1,621 yards, or an elite 5.4 yards per carry.

Panthers fans should be exited.

His 2022 Pro Bowl campaign

Last year was Sanders’s breakout season. He was a 2022 Pro Bowler after rushing for 1,269 yards (4.9 YPC) with 11 touchdowns, though he caught just 20 passes for 78 yards.

Yes, Miles won the lottery playing behind the NFL’s best offensive line in 2022, per PFF, but as witnessed by his career 5.0 yards per carry average, he still knows how to read the defense, hit holes, and churn out yards.

Now, what’s concerning about his 2022 season is he averaged a career low 1.7 yards after contact per attempt which ranked just 27th of 41 qualified running backs. He had averaged at least 2.1 yards after contact in each of his first three seasons, so the 2022 dip could simply be the result of having more carries, and therefore more fatigue, than he had in previous seasons.

But still, the Panthers just signed a Pro Bowler at a critical offensive position who turns just 26 this offseason.

Panthers fans should be excited.

The contract and the future

Kudos to Scott Fitterer for the contract he designed to get Sanders to Carolina.

The four-year, $25.4 million contract with $13 million guaranteed is a team-friendly deal for a Pro Bowl running back just entering his prime. Per Spotrac, Sanders’s cap hit in 2023 is just $2.8 million before jumping to $7.7 million in 2024. The Panthers can get out of the contract after just two seasons, if necessary. Releasing Sanders after the 2024 season would result in $5.2 million in cap savings in 2025.

But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

The obvious concern with most running backs is they’re going to wear out and break down quickly, and that’s a valid fear. Panthers fans should be optimistic about the relatively low mileage on Sanders’s odometer.

Despite being an established four-year veteran, he still only has 739 carries in 57 career games, or an average of about 13 carries per game. Even when he played more of a lead back role last year with 259 carries over 17 games, he still only averaged 15.2 attempts per contest. He should still have a lot of good football ahead of him.

Once again, Panthers fans should be excited.