After the video made it’s rounds on Twitter, Sanders doubled down on his “MVP year” comments with this tweet:
There’s no doubt that the expectations will be high for Sanders entering his second season. Statistically, he had the best rookie season any Eagles running back has ever had. Sanders broke the Eagles rookie rushing record with 818 yards on the ground, and he also racked up 509 yards through the air on 50 receptions, leaving his scrimmage yards total at 1,327, which led all rookies.
But how realistic is an MVP caliber season out of Sanders this year? The last time a running back took home the award was in 2012 when Adrian Peterson rushed for over 2,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.
There have been running backs who’ve been in the MVP discussion over the past few seasons. Todd Gurley was in the running in 2018, accumulating 21 total touchdowns on the year; but it wasn’t enough to take the award from Patrick Mahomes, who tossed 50 touchdowns. Just last year, Christian McCaffrey made his case for the MVP award, going over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving; but again, it wasn’t enough to beat out the quarterback who had the best year, Lamar Jackson.
Running backs just don’t get the praise they used to. The game is so pass oriented, wide receivers are more dynamic than they ever have been, and in return we see quarterbacks garner all the spotlight. But any offensive coach will tell you, having a reliable rushing attack is the key to a successful offense.
Although head coach Doug Pederson has always had a running back by committee approach during his time in Philly, there’s reason to believe Sanders will get the overwhelming majority of touches out of the backfield.
First and foremost, Sanders is easily the most talented and complete back on the Eagles roster right now. In fact, he’s probably the best overall back Pederson has ever had to work with. Backs like LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles all had pretty defined roles within Pederson’s offense. Blount, Ajayi and Matthews were all considered the ‘power backs’ of Pederson’s backfield during their time here. It was very rare that these guys would be on the field in clear passing situations.
Guys like Sproles and Clement were always utilized more so in the passing game, only getting a handful of carries every game. Sanders is versatile enough to play all three downs — he’s shown to ability to be an in between the tackles runner as well as a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield.
Sanders has also showcased great efficiency when toting the rock, whether it’s by getting the ball on a carry or through the air. As a rookie, he finished the year with 5.8 yards per touch average and 10.2 yards per reception, both were good for third among all running backs in 2019.
Sanders compiled 229 total touches last season, the most any back has ever had under Doug Pederson, and that was with another legit back in Jordan Howard sharing the workload. While it’s fair to assume Boston Scott and Corey Clement will get their fair share of touches in 2020, neither will probably see the amount of touches Howard had last season (129), and he was hurt for essentially the entire latter half of the year.
With that being said, Sanders could come close to going over 300 touches in 2020, which would make him the first Eagles back to do so since LeSean McCoy in 2014. With 300 touches, Sanders would easily go over 2,000 scrimmage yards, which in turn would probably put him in the MVP discussion — or at least the NFC Offensive Player of the Year discussion.
Do I think Sanders can take home the MVP award? I think he’s certainly capable of having an MVP caliber season, but it’s hard to envision a running back taking home the award. To seriously be considered for the award as a running back, you’re either going to have to rush for over 2,000 yards or break one of the single season rushing records.
The current odds for Sanders to take home the MVP are 200-to-1, so there’s no reason not to throw some extra cash on it if you have it, even just five bucks would win you $1,000.
Sanders should be in for a big year in 2020, I just wouldn’t bank on him taking home the MVP award is all.