This is the sixth of a 10-part series detailing potential breakout players for Penn State in 2018. Friday: RG Michal Menet
It might seem easy to select Miles Sanders as the choice for breakout player, but most of the Nittany Lion faithful haven’t really seen what the new starter at running back can do-and for good reason. Sanders made his commitment to Penn State in July 2014, just a handful of months after Saquon Barkley made his switch from Rutgers, showing that he was not afraid of competition or sharing playing time. The junior then spent the previous two years behind Barkley, and has probably made his biggest impact as a kick returner when he returned 33 kicks for 688 yards as a true freshman in 2016. In 2017, the sophomore took a backseat as a returner to No. 26, and played the most at running back, playing in 12 games and earning his first start of his career against Rutgers.
Although Sanders has rushed for a total of just 184 yards in 2016 and 176 in 2017, his yards-per-carry is an average of 7.2, showing the explosion that he brought upon graduation from Woodland Hills High School in 2016. He will undoubtably be the featured back in 2018, and his versatility, balance, and speed will be needed to take the pressure off of quarterback Trace McSorley.
In the video above, you can see Sanders’ ability to bounce off of tackles and find the open holes on the field against Georgia State, the truck stick and stiff-arm skills against Maryland and Rutgers, and the ability to avoid defenders by making quick cuts against Akron and Nebraska. Just imagine these moves for an entire game every Saturday (and one Friday, ugh.). He has also dramatically improved on ball security, which was a minor issue in his first season, and shows the understanding that he doesn’t need to make the highlight play every time, something that many younger running backs struggle with. His off-field leadership and football IQ has been praised by the coaching staff, revealing that he is not just physically able, but mentally ready for a breakout season.
Even if Sanders is spelled at times by Journey Brown, Mark Allen, or Ricky Slade, No. 24 has the best combination of talent and experience of the group, and should help make the running back unit one of the strengths of the 2018 team. With extended playing time and a much-improved offensive line, he should be able to have more consistent success against opponents this fall. A 1,000 yard season is certainly within reach, and some All-Big Ten accolades are not out of the question either, making Miles Sanders an ideal pick for Penn State football’s breakout player for 2018.