Everyone has an opinion this time of year, but some voices carry more sound than others. Especially when that critique comes from the mouth of a former All-Pro who once led the entire NFL in rushing (1,606 yards in 2011).
Former Jacksonville Jaguars’ great Maurice Jones-Drew recently unveiled his list of the “Top 32 Rushers” heading into the 2021 campaign. There weren’t too many squabbles with his first five picks: Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans), Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers), Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints), Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings), Nick Chubb (Cleveland Browns).
Then, the player-turned-analyst went off the rails a bit. Drew ranked Philadelphia Eagles starter Miles Sanders all the way down at No. 27, bypassing him for borderline backups like Chase Edmonds and Mike Davis. Ouch.
What was Drew’s reasoning for the massive disrespect? Here is what the three-time Pro Bowler wrote:
Sanders has shown flashes of being a really good player in both the run and pass games over his first two seasons. He was more productive as a runner in 2020, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, but wasn’t the pass-catching threat he was in his rookie season.
Sanders must show up and have a Saquon Barkley-esque impact on the offense to help alleviate pressure from second-year QB Jalen Hurts. I’m looking for more consistency here.
Never mind that Sanders has racked up 1,685 rushing yards on 343 touches over his first two seasons. That’s a pretty gaudy 4.9 yards-per-carry in an offense that did everything it could to not run the football. More impressively, Sanders is one of only two players in franchise history with 1,000-plus scrimmage yards in his first two years (2,391). The other guy? Future Eagles’ Hall of Famer DeSean Jackson.
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Jordan Howard’s Bubble Might Burst
The Eagles inked Jordan Howard to a one-year deal back in April for the veteran minimum of $990,000 with no guaranteed money. It was seen as a smart low-risk, high-ceiling move at the time. Howard is still only four years removed from his last 1,000-yard season (2017), plus “The Bulldozer” is only 26 years old.
But the Eagles added an insane amount of competition when they used a fifth-round pick on Memphis standout Kenneth Gainwell, then added former Detroit Lions standout Kerryon Johnson. It’s a very crowded backfield in Philly and Howard looks to be the odd man out. (For the record, ESPN ranked Johnson as the 25th-best backup in football — so, yes, more disrespect).
Other running backs fighting for roster spots include Boston Scott, Jason Huntley, Adrian Killins Jr, Elijah Holyfield. Scott should have an advantage over the bunch due to his value as a kick returner. Howard, who has 3,955 career rushing yards, will need a dominant training camp to make it onto the final 53-man roster.
Jason Huntley, The Forgotten Man
The Detroit Lions drafted Jason Huntley last year in the fifth round (172nd overall) and hoped to stash him on their practice squad. Nope. The Eagles stole him off waivers on cut-down day after the Lions left him off their final 53-man roster. Their plan was to pick him right back up, but Philly pounced on the burner from New Mexico State. While Huntley saw very limited reps for Philly in 2020 — five carries on 31 offensive snaps — the potential for greatness is there.
The 5-foot-9, 193-pounder racked up 2,197 rushing yards and 25 total touchdowns in 46 career games at New Mexico State. He finished with the seventh-most rushing yards in program history while earning All-American accolades in 2018. He gained 1,090 yards as a senior and his 7.1 yards-per-carry ranked fourth-best in the country. Huntley remains an intriguing prospect, one who was featured in a recent Instagram story from Miles Sanders.