As you prepare for the 2022 NFL season, it's never too early to look at fantasy football average draft position data and mock draft strategy. It's important to stay up-to-date on the latest ADP trends as you participate in fantasy football drafts, best ball leagues, or dynasty rookie drafts. Now that we're into the month of June, the fantasy football rankings and NFL preseason projections become more meaningful with the 2022 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror and offseason workouts ongoing. In today's NFL player profile, we'll take a deep dive into Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders and his current average draft position in fantasy football mock drafts. Is he a value in fantasy football Underdog best ball drafts? Is he worth investing in dynasty fantasy football? How does he compare to other top fantasy football running backs? We'll answer all those questions and more!
Miles Sanders Fantasy Football Player Profile
Even in early fantasy football mock drafts and best ball tournaments, you can feel it creeping up on you. The famous section of running back ADP that tricked folks last year into drafting players like Myles Gaskin and Mike Davis. Yes, I’m talking about the terrifying RB DEAD ZONE!
For those unfamiliar, it’s a name given to the scary range of running backs after all the studs and bell-cows are drafted. Nearly every fantasy football league requires you to have two running backs and there simply aren’t 24 studs in the modern age of the NFL. So some folks are going to have to dabble in this part of the rankings. If you are participating in Underdog best ball drafts at this time of year, you are going to need to do more than dabble at the RB position. You'll need to draft between four and eight running backs, based on our research. If you aren’t doing Underdog drafts yet, you need to get your buns on over there, get signed up, and use promo code ALARM where they will match up to $100 in bonus credits. Then you’ll be well on your way to winning any number of their MILLION dollar prizes!
Now, football is a results-oriented game – and fantasy football is no different. No one ever won a fantasy league because they had the most “Expected Fantasy Points” or “Per Snap Advanced Metrics”. If that were the case, then Tony Pollard truthers would just win every league. But instead what they did was draft the RB28. That’s not to say that those per snap numbers or future hypotheticals don’t matter, but we can all agree that a guy like Miles Sanders has underperformed up to now with his season totals – regardless of what those numbers might say. So today we are going to get into what some of those problems might be and then we’ll figure out if there is any upside there where he’s being drafted, deep in the trenches of the Dead Zone.
The Problems with Sanders
This obviously needs to go at the top of the list. He’s gotten banged up every single year so far and, in the last two seasons, that caused him to miss multiple full games. Bill Belichick’s quote is famous for a reason – “availability is the best ability." If Sanders can’t manage to stay healthy, those expected fantasy points can’t materialize.
Sanders did manage to play 12 games last year, which is at least two-thirds of the season. Yet, he did not score a single touchdown. He went from nine touchdowns as a rookie to six as a sophomore to zero in 2021. It might not be a fluke, either. A big part of that is clearly the Eagles having a mobile quarterback in Jalen Hurts (10 rushing TDs) as well as the local vulture in Boston Scott (seven rushing TDs). Rookie Kenneth Gainwell scored five rush TDs and even veteran Jordan Howard scored three times. This is a big hurdle for Sanders to overcome.
We are deep into best ball season, so this isn’t as much of a problem for that format. But in your redraft fantasy football leagues, the big weeks don’t help you as badly as the down weeks hurt you. To win a championship, you need to put together consecutive weeks in the playoffs or you are out. It’s nice when a guy rushes for 120 yards, but you might not even have that guy in your lineup if he just put up two carries for 27 yards or seven carries for 13 yards in the games before that (something Sanders did last year). Miles Sanders has shown he’s capable of the big games, but he’s also shown he’s highly capable of disappearing. That inconsistency is a killer.
The Upside with Sanders
Injuries are outside of our control but, the honest truth in fantasy is that players labeled as “injury-prone” can present big opportunities. The moment you see folks start saying “he’s burned me before” or “he’ll probably play about two games," you should know there is value to be found there. Look at Joe Mixon last year. The exact “burned me before” narrative caused a ton of fantasy gamers to miss out on the RB3 of the 2021 fantasy football season. Julio Jones had the “injury-prone” label early on in his career, then rattled off six straight seasons of ~1,400+ yards receiving. If the underlying talent is there, we should be willing to make a bet that injuries are flukey at times – because they are. With that being said, Sanders has flashed the talent.
If you take every running back in the league right now who has had at least 400 career carries, here are the active leaders in career yards per rush:
The yards-per-carry for Sanders has actually increased each year from 4.6 YPC as a rookie to 5.3 in 2020 to 5.5 last year. As Eagles Insider Reuben Frank points out, only three running backs ever have started their career with three straight seasons of at least 750 rushing yards, an average of 4.5 yards-per-carry, and 25 catches. Coming out of Penn State, Sanders was touted as a versatile back with receiving chops. However, he struggled catching the football in his first couple of seasons with five and then eight drops. In 2021, however, he only dropped one pass and forced a career-high 11 missed tackles in the passing game.
We illustrated the touchdowns scored by Boston Scott and Jordan Howard above. When you break down the games into the ones Sanders was healthy in vs. the ones he either didn’t play or left with injury, though, it paints a different picture of who might have scored some of those.
Despite not scoring a TD last season, Miles Sanders dominated the red zone and goal-line touches when healthy. Boston Scott is back this year, but Jordan Howard is no longer with the team. From that consideration, the concern for us is less about other running backs in the red area and more about the quarterback taking those carries. Eagles backs combined for 40 carries inside of the 10-yard line last year while Jalen Hurts took 22 of them himself. There should still be opportunities for the lead dog, so it’s fairly unlikely Sanders doesn’t score again this year.
The other piece of competition that has to be mentioned is with Kenneth Gainwell in the passing game. Gainwell had 33 receptions on 50 targets last year while Sanders had 26 catches on 34 targets. That is a legitimate concern. When we look at the snap counts (courtesy of Fantasy Alarm’s Snap Count Tracker) for the early part of the season before Sanders injured his ankle, however, it paints a bit of a better picture.
In those first games, the snaps and carries were clearly in Sanders' favor and the targets were split – 21 for Sanders and 20 for Gainwell. The split is reminiscent of what we saw in past years in Green Bay with Aaron Jones being the primary back getting the running down work and then splitting half the passing down work with Jamaal Williams. Targets in those early games extrapolated out to a season would be 59-60 targets. You can’t simply extrapolate out a small sample size like that but this also clearly isn’t a Damien Harris situation where he’s likely to catch less than 20 balls. He got more targets than that in six games.
We know the barriers for this player. He has a mobile quarterback that can punch it in himself in the red zone. There’s also another back in town in Kenneth Gainwell who can catch passes. But the upside is there as well for Sanders. This is a guy that had back-to-back games of 120 and 131 rushing yards just last season. He's also averaged 5.1 yards-per-carry over his career and 5.5 yards last year. That, despite complementary pieces on the Eagles, does not threaten his starting job. Some folks predicted Philadelphia would draft a running back and that didn’t happen. Guys like Gainwell and Boston Scott are not taking that starting role outright.
In the games when Sanders was healthy, he was avaraing 39.6 snaps and 12.4 carries per game. That’s on pace for over 200 carries in a season. Even if his YPC comes down from the 5.5 yards we saw last year, 200+ carries are the sweet spot for production. We talked about the potential for 40-60 targets, which he’s seen before. Most importantly, these are the other running backs you are looking at in his ADP range – smack dab in this year’s Running Back Dead Zone.
Are many of these guys not facing the same conundrums as Sanders?
- Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, and Devin Singletary are in backfields where we predict more drastic splits
- AJ Dillon, Tony Pollard, and Kareem Hunt aren’t even starting running backs
- Cordarelle Patterson is a 32-year-old gadget back in a bad offense
- Kenneth Walker is a rookie RB on a team that signed Rashaad Penny and traded away Russell Wilson
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Elijah Mitchell, and Antonio Gibson all have similar injury concerns as well as competition within their backfield
It only gets worse as you move further down those ADP rankings. So, unless you loaded up on running backs early, you might need to pick someone from this group – warts and all – before it gets really ugly in the later rounds. Miles Sanders, to me, is a guy going in the RB3 range that should easily finish as an RB2 in fantasy football this season. If he finally harnesses the talents we’ve seen in spurts, the Eagles running back could possibly even have a higher upside than that. In comparison to the other options being drafted in the same range, taking Sanders presents pretty clear value. Sanders might be your last life preserver to grab before the Dead Sea of running backs washes over you.
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Related Fantasy Football Links:
- 2022 Fantasy Football ADP
- 2022 Fantasy Football Best Ball: Late-Round Running Back Targets - Melvin Gordon, James White & Miles Sanders
- FAmily Times Podcast: Early Running Back Fantasy Football ADP
- 2022 Fantasy Football Player Profile: Patrick Mahomes And His ADP
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