Routinely displays impressive contact balance (1:49, 1:57, 4:13, 7:11) and has enough speed to pay
if off from time to time. (3:39,
Enough athleticism to jump cut when he needs it (0:43, 0:53, 0:54, 4:03, 4:13) and more athleticism than
one might expect from a runner who typically runs with more
power than finesse. (0:53, 1:03, 1:06, 4:13)
Complements powerful inside running with impressive vision
and anticipation, which allows him to set up a second move and
get into the secondary on a semi-regular basis. (0:34,
0:46, 0:53, 0:55, 1:49, 4:13)
Only 308 college touches, 244 of which came in 2018.
Most effective on swing or flare passes but a natural catcher
of the ball who was used in a multitude of ways as a receiver
out of the backfield. (0:06, 3:34, 4:45)
Fumbled 10 times on 308 offensive touches while at Penn State,
losing seven of them.
For all the vision and anticipation he shows on plays in
which the line utilizes man blocking, it seems to betray him
from time to time on zone runs, sometimes resulting in him running
into or sticking his hand in the back of his linemen. (1:49,
Seems as though he is still trying to find the right balance
between avoiding unnecessary punishment and delivering the blow
(0:05, 1:03), which causes him to run reckless
at times. (0:05,
Guilty of trying to make something out of nothing (0:46, 3:01) and will get tunnel vision
and/or needlessly bounce a run on occasion. (0:26, 2:13)
Through no fault of his own (stuck behind Saquon Barkley
in 2016 and 2017), he enters the league after one year of being
"the man"; the bigger concern is that he was held
under 4.0 YPC five times in 2018, including three of his final
Hit-or-miss in blitz pickup; effort is there but he can be
slow to react or recognize his man off the edge. (0:24,
2:28. 4:30, 5:19)
Barkley was a generational talent by most accounts, so following
in his footsteps is a hard ask, even for a player who was the
top player at his position in his recruiting class like Sanders.
Especially in this year's season opener against Appalachian State,
it looked like Sanders felt the weight of living in Barkley's
shadow with some of the decisions he made as a runner. Sanders
obviously didn't have the same impact on the offense in 2018 as
his predecessor, but anyone judging his pro potential based solely
on that could miss out on a player who can easily make a case
he is the second-best prospect at his position in this draft class.
His combine testing numbers would suggest he is a more of a space
or finesse back instead of what he really is, which is a powerful
inside runner with sneaky athleticism. Per Pro Football Focus,
Sanders ranked eighth (out of 55 qualified backs) in yards after
contact per touch (3.68) and 20th in forced missed tackles per
touch (0.202). He even managed to total 322 yards after getting
contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage, ranking seventh
among the 96 FBS backs with 60 or more such carries.
It would be easy to place any and all blame for whatever shortcomings
Sanders has on the fact he was asked to do so little for two seasons.
While it is a valid reason for some of his concerns, it does not
explain others. For a player with such good vision and anticipation
as an inside runner, he is inconsistent at best with both on outside
runs. Ball security may be his biggest problem at the moment,
however. Some of the most trustworthy backs in the league average
a fumble once every 200-300 touches. Sanders' average was one
fumble every 30.8 touches. He also runs with the kind of reckless
abandon that will endear him to teammates and coaches but put
himself at risk for unnecessary punishment. There's no question
he will need to be more selective in picking his battles (i.e.
when he needs to run over a defender to get a first down versus
when he wants to send a message).
With that said, Sanders is more of a well-rounded player than
we are typically accustomed to seeing from one-year starters.
He has the skills to be a team's featured back at some point early
in his career and does enough things well enough to be considered
a three-down back in time. Will that happen as a rookie? I have
my doubts. The ability to be consistently productive while running
inside the tackles is an art that will probably always be in demand
in the NFL - Frank
Gore is an obvious example - and Sanders proved he could do
that in multiple games this season. He is not merely an inside
runner and a better receiver than I anticipated, but I would want
to pair him up with a Tarik
White type if I drafted him just so I could manage his workload
(remember the recklessness I mentioned above) and give myself
more of an advantage on obvious passing downs. I'd feel more comfortable
taking him in the third round, but I could defend a late-second
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.