The Panthers made a big splash, topping out the free agent running back market by signing Miles Sanders to a 4-year, $25M deal.
Sanders’ four-year deal is the only long-term contract made so far with David Montgomery and Jamaal Williams getting three-year deals on their new teams.
This signing reunites Sanders with former Eagles/Lions RBs coach Duce Staley, who was a part of the staff when Sanders was drafted in 2019.
Miles Sanders fantasy football projection with Panthers
Carolina still has a lot of pieces yet to fall into place at quarterback, receiver, and along the offensive line – but this landing spot affords Sanders a huge chance to lead the Panthers backfield for the next two to three years (last year’s leading rusher, D’Onta Foreman, signed in Chicago).
Sanders’ counting stats were impressive enough – 259/1,269/11, finishing as RB18 (12.4 FPG) in 0.5 PPR leagues – but his numbers under the hood tell the full story.
Last year was his best individual season of his career, as Sanders ranked sixth in missed tackles forced per carry (0.25) and generated big plays consistently behind the Eagles' dominant offensive line. Sanders gained 10 or more yards on 13.1% of his carries, the eighth-best rate.
And, while the Eagles' offensive line is better than the Panthers’ – the drop-off likely isn’t as bad as you might think.
Per Fantasy Points Data, Philadelphia ranked eighth-best in yards before contact on RB carries (1.67) while Carolina was 10th-best (1.58).
Sanders will always be a boom-or-bust runner – it’s the way he’s always played – but he’s a phenomenal fit in HC Frank Reich’s outside-zone scheme.
Last year, Sanders averaged a strong 5.38 YPC on all of his off-tackle carries, which was fifth-best among all RBs: behind only Travis Etienne (6.46), Raheem Mostert (6.03), Nick Chubb (5.82), and Aaron Jones (5.53).
While there is a good chance Sanders gets close to, or even exceeds, his career-high total from last year (259) – we still have the overhanging concern about his involvement in the passing game.
Sanders split the passing-down snaps (205 to 179) with Kenny Gainwell last season, while his yards per reception average has fallen for four-straight seasons (10.2 > 7.0 > 6.2 > 3.9). I’d love to see him get involved in the passing game more, but until then, it’ll be the reason he remains a good fantasy RB2 and not a great one.
With Sanders moving on from the Eagles, this sets up Rashaad Penny for a potential massive role.
Rashaad Penny and the new-look Eagles backfield
If he’s fully healthy, Penny has massive upside as the “1A” runner in this Eagles backfield. He only got a one-year deal, but he is already healthy for off-season workouts after breaking his leg in Week 5 last year:
Rashaad Penny says he is medically cleared from the injury that ended his 2022 season.— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) March 16, 2023
Penny was legitimately dominant at the end of 2021, as he absolutely shredded defenses on the ground to the tune of 4.45 yards after contact per carry – by far the best clip in the league two years ago.
And, guess what? Penny was doing it again in Weeks 1-5 prior to injury last season. He led all RBs in that span in yards after contact (4.05 per carry). What’s more, he also averaged 9.50 YPC on runs on which he was not contacted in the backfield — second-highest in the entire NFL. That’s a really good stat for someone playing behind an elite offensive line now!
One time for his health.
Kenny Gainwell was a trendy late-round pick last year but didn’t show anything until the playoffs, when he rushed for 33/181/1. Gainwell will likely see an expanded role in 2023, but I suspect the Eagles will be eyeing some Day 2 or 3 running backs in the draft in April.