It didn’t happen exactly like we planned, but Miles Sanders did come on in the second half of his rookie season, ending the year with 1,327 total yards and six touchdowns. Many fantasy players expected the Penn State product to simply overtake Jordan Howard — a one-dimensional runner who lacked the sterling profile of the second-round pick Sanders — over the course of the season, but Howard was the clear lead back in Philadelphia for the first half of the season. However, Howard suffered a lingering nerve injury around midseason, and Sanders got the job and never looked back.
Among rookie running backs who played six or more games, Sanders finished:
- Fourth in rushing attempts per game and rushing yards per game
- Third in expected fantasy points per game as a runner (ruEP)
- 11th in rushing Fantasy Points Over Expectation (ruFPOE) per game
- First in targets per game, receiving yards per game, receiving expected points per game (reEP), and receiving Fantasy Points Over Expectation (reFPOE) per game
- Second in fantasy points per game
Put simply, he was an extremely effective receiver in his rookie campaign. Some of that is due to the Eagles being incredibly thin at wide receiver in the second half of the season, but it’s still a good sign for Sanders’ career prospects that he can contribute in both facets. It’s also a good sign that Sanders finished the season with positive total FPOE (19.7) even though he had negative ruFPOE (-5.6), as Blair Andrews has shown that rookie-year efficiency is an important predictor of future success for RBs.
Fantasy players have high expectations for Sanders in Year 2, and he’s coming off the board in the middle of the second round of early best ball drafts. As the clear lead back in one of the NFL’s better offenses, it’s easy to see why many are so high on the former Nittany Lion. Let’s dive into his historical comps to gauge whether he’s worth his current ADP.
Using inputs of rushing volume and production, receiving volume, efficiency, age, draft position, size, and games played, I used the RotoViz Screener to identify players who looked similar to Sanders after their rookie season.
It’s not a horrible list, but it’s not really what you’re hoping for if you’re spending a second-round pick. Joseph Addai, Kevin Smith, Knowshon Moreno, and Giovani Bernard all had multiple fantasy-relevant years, but none of them were true workhorses for an extended period of time.
With that said, you shouldn’t panic about Sanders just yet. Let’s take a look at how these guys did in Year 2 because that’s what is most relevant for this upcoming season.
How Did They Do in Year 2?
Addai was by far the most successful, totaling 1,436 total yards and 15 touchdowns en route to an RB4 finish on a per-game basis. The next three names on the list finished as fringe RB1s (again on a per-game basis because they all played just 13 games) – Bernard was RB12, Moreno RB13, and Smith RB16 – which is right around where Sanders’ positional ADP is right now. And then there’s Roy Helu, who played just three games and got just two total carries. It’s safe to assume that won’t be the case with Sanders, so the other four guys on the list are probably a better indicator of what you can expect from the Eagles’ runner in his sophomore season.
On the whole, Sanders’ comps don’t jump off the page as superstar names, but they were surprisingly productive in Year 2. At Sanders’ current RB13 ADP, a Smith-type season isn’t killing you, and an Addai-level year could win you your league.
What to Expect from Sanders in 2020
Currently going in the middle of the second round, fantasy owners clearly have high expectations for the second-year Penn State product. While Doug Pederson has always employed more of a committee approach rather than relying on just one guy, Sanders showed last year that he could post RB1 numbers while sharing some work with Boston Scott. His player comps aren’t the flashiest names, but every one of them except Helu posted numbers that would, at the very least, not hurt you too badly at Sanders’ current cost, and he has league-winning potential if he follows in Addai’s footsteps. He won’t be cheap and his comps indicate he’s not a massive bargain, but you should be open to taking Sanders at his current ADP in 2020 drafts.