Sanders, the dynamic back out Penn State who was taken 53rd overall by Philly in the 2019 NFL draft, sat out most of the spring with a hamstring injury, robbing him of precious reps as he acclimates to the pros. That leaves just training camp and the preseason for Sanders to show the coaching staff he is ready for a significant role right out of the chute.
"I fully expect him to come in ready, come in healthy, ready to go," coach Doug Pederson said. "We have to get him in the mix early. Definitely have to see exactly where he is mentally from all the mental reps that he took this spring, and slowly work him into the mix and see just how he can help us on game day."
The Eagles didn't think Sanders would fall to them in the second round this past April, and were giddy when he did. They see him as a three-down back with similar traits as two of the best to ever tote the rock in Philly -- Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. There is no question he will become the front man if he's as good as everyone in the building thinks he is. The real question is when.
There are a couple reasons to believe the ascent will be gradual. For one, he currently shares a backfield with Jordan Howard, who ranks third in the NFL in rushing since entering the league in 2016. Pederson and running backs coach Duce Staley have a history of taking a running-back-by-committee approach, and will likely do so again to tap into the talents of Howard, Sanders and Corey Clement.
Sanders' belief is that "nobody is really going to be the starting running back" for the Eagles this season.
"I think the ball's going to be spread out a lot," he said during a recent appearance on the NFL Network. "And that's what I kind of like, too, just everybody getting a touch in the game and then just affecting the game in any type of way. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
Sanders, a top-level recruit coming out of Woodland Hills High School in the Pittsburgh area, benefited from that mindset while at Penn State as he operated alongside a generational talent in Saquon Barkley. He took over in 2018 when Barkley left for the pros and rushed for close to 1,300 yards (5.8 yards per carry) with nine touchdowns.
Sanders faces internal competition once again, and has limited time to carve out a defined role before the season opens on Sept. 8 against Washington.
Staley worked overtime with Sanders in the classroom this spring and believes the rookie is where he needs to be from an X's and O's standpoint. But he has a crash course ahead of him on the field.
"I think it's significant for any player that misses time, just as far as getting out there, learning their teammates and being able to understand how they play the game and how they think, but as far as playbook-wise, no, he knows the playbook," Staley said. "That part of it, he's cool."