It’ll be a popular strategy to deploy a ‘wait and see’ approach with the Eagles backfield early in the season with only one Philadelphia running back averaging more than a third of snaps in a season under Doug Pederson (Darren Sproles, 40% snap count in 2016). The Eagles also traded for Jordan Howard this offseason adding depth to a crowded backfield, which is another feasible reason to stay away. So why start Miles Sanders if he’s the youngest (and least proven) at the proverbial ‘RB dinner table’? Have a seat and I’ll tell you why.
Even though Doug Pederson came out on Thursday and said, “For us here, it’s worked. And we’ll continue to use it (a committee),” the Eagles still used a second-round draft pick to grab Sanders and traded away a cheap sixth round pick in the 2020 to grab Jordan Howard a month before the draft. Howard will be in the mix during the early stages of the season, there’s no denying it, but we’ve seen his yards per carry precipitously decline from 5.2 yards in his 2016 rookie campaign to a measly 3.7 over the last two seasons on roughly the same amount of attempts year-over-year. Sanders, on the other hand, averaged six yards per handle over his college career in a strong Big-Ten conference.
The matchup against Washington should be advantageous for the entire Eagles offense who are close to double-digit favorites at home. Their offense shouldn’t have issues dealing with a Washington run defense, who still have a young talent in Da’Ron Payne and a secondary captained by Landon Collins this year, but lost a key linebacker in Zach Brown this offseason. The Eagles running backs averaged 29.5 carries against Washington last season and should project to have the same amount this Sunday with Sanders getting the bulk of the carries. Howard should get first reps at the goal line, putting a cap on Sanders’ ceiling, but I’m still conservatively projecting 14 to 15 attempts, putting him in the RB2 category in what should be a solid early-season performance.