There has been a lot of hype over Miles Sanders and JJ Arcega-Whiteside, the 2 rookies the Philadelphia Eagles chose in the 2nd round of this year’s NFL Draft. Not only were they looked at as key pieces for the long term, but they also provided depth at their respective positions for the short term. However, the injuries to Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Dallas Goedert have slightly altered that short term projection. If the team is to have any hope of winning these next couple of games Sanders and Arcega-Whiteside must step up.
Miles Sanders has been the Eagles’ lead back through 2 games but has yet to get things going. He has a total of 21 carries for 53 yards rushing (2.5 yards per carry) and 4 catches for 11 yards receiving. That’s not good. Even when you factor in his touchdown run in Week 1 that was negated by an erroneous holding penalty on Arcega-Whiteside it still doesn’t make his numbers that much better. Sanders hasn’t shown the discipline necessary to lead to consistent success. There’s little patience on some of his runs and he’s still learning when the right times are to bounce outside and when not to. But despite his early struggles, the coaches have still shown confidence in him and what he’s capable of.
Wiser run by Miles Sanders pic.twitter.com/rO1YyZb1T9
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 16, 2019
I’m expecting Doug Pederson to lean on the run game a good amount against the Detroit Lions. Will they be running the ball 50-55% of the time? That’s highly doubtful. But I am expecting the ratio to be around 40-45%, which is still very balanced in today’s NFL. I would like to see more runs out of the singleback formation and less in shotgun. I want Pederson to utilize different types of formation packages and run designs to show the Lions defense various looks and keep them off guard. But in the end, it doesn’t matter how he does it; what matters is that he finds a way to get the ground attack going. And to be clear, it’s not about running the ball more, it’s about running the ball better. Running it 30 times doesn’t help anything if you’re not running it efficiently. And that doesn’t just fall on Pederson; the players must execute much better than they did against the Atlanta Falcons. Averaging 2.3 yards a carry as a team isn’t going to cut it.
We know what Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles can do, but we have yet to see Miles Sanders live up to what he’s capable of. With him being the lead back, the offense can’t be successful on the ground if he continues to struggle. Howard and Sproles are veterans and have the nuances of the position down better than him right now. But Sanders provides a dynamic element that Howard simply doesn’t have, and Sproles will always be on a limited workload. The Eagles front office and coaching staff invested a 2nd round pick in Sanders for a reason. His explosive and versatile skillset is the ideal fit for what they want in a RB, so it should be no surprise to anyone that he’s already playing an important role in this offense as the lead back. But to hold onto that role, he has to start producing. He has to play better.
The Eagles’ other 2nd round pick, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, didn’t have many opportunities to contribute in Week 1 but that changed quickly in Week 2. With the injuries to Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson, JJAW was suddenly thrust into the starting lineup pretty much from the get-go. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good outing for the rookie WR. He was targeted 4 times and came away with only 1 reception for 4 yards. He struggled to get any type of separation all night and wasn’t on the same page as Carson Wentz. One play in particular almost resulted in an interception by Isaiah Oliver because JJAW ran a different route than Wentz anticipated him to. Those types of miscues can be cleaned up and fixed as JJAW gets more practice reps with the 1st team offense. But with the Eagles playing this Sunday and then the Thursday night to follow, he doesn’t have much time to get that timing and connection down.
“Me & Carson haven’t ran those (plays) ever together. So that kind of showed a little bit. That’s just going out to practice & working it. We’re not even worried about it because we know once we get that timing down, it’s over”
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) September 18, 2019
JJAW was drawing a lot of comparisons to Alshon Jeffery after he was selected by the Eagles. Although I wouldn’t say that their skillsets are identical to each other, I do see the similarities. Both are big-bodied receivers who use their size and leverage to win at the catch point. That’s the skill that each of them hangs their hat on the most. JJAW was especially incredible with that in college due to his basketball background. But he isn’t just a jump-ball guy that’s only effective in the red zone. JJAW is an underrated athlete for his size, and he’s a very smart route runner. He’s going to need all of that and then some for these next two games. There’s a chance he’ll be matched up against one of the best corners in the league in Darius Slay and then against an emerging star corner in Jaire Alexander.
It used to be the case that wide receivers rarely contributed in their rookie seasons and it would often take them a while to get the offense down comfortably. That isn’t the case as much in today’s NFL though. Some prospects still need a season or two to develop, but it’s now a common thing to see rookie wide receivers come out and be highly productive right away. And whether it’s fair or not, JJAW is expected to be a key contributor now that Jeffery and Jackson are hurt. Wentz can’t just throw to Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor all game. That’s the point of having depth at a position, having players who can step up when called upon.
Howie Roseman drafted 3 offensive players in this year’s NFL Draft to give Carson Wentz help and support for the future. Despite there being needs on the defensive side of the ball, he knows that the success of the team falls on the shoulders of the franchise QB. Therefore, stabilizing the LT position with Andre Dillard and then getting 2 offensive weapons in Sanders and Arcega-Whiteside was the right mindset to have. Now the opportunity for Sanders and JJAW comes this Sunday versus the Lions. We shall see what the two of them decide to do with that opportunity.