Penn State fans who transform into Eagles supporters on Sundays were in for a major treat on NFL Draft weekend, as four Nittany Lions headed to Philly to chase their dreams of playing at the next level. To learn more about how Miles Sanders, Shareef Miller, Ryan Bates and DeAndre Thompkins fit with the Eagles, we sat down with Brandon Lee Gowton, manager and editor of SBN’s Eagles blog, Bleeding Green Nation.
What are your expectations for Miles Sanders in 2019? What role do you see him playing in the offense?
As far as stats go, ESPN’s Mike Clay came up with this projection: 170 carries, 716 yards, 5 TD, 35 receptions, 279 yards, 1 TD. I think those are some reasonable ballpark figures.
Sanders isn’t going to instantly seize a lead back role in Philly because 1) the Eagles still have Jordan Howard and 2) the Eagles don’t really use a true lead back. Doug Pederson’s offense has featured a heavy rotation at the running back position.
At the very least, I think Sanders figures to be a nice part of the rotation. He figures to be one of the better pass catching backs on the team. Then again, his struggles in pass protection could limit his third down opportunities.
There’s a potential scenario where Sanders has a bigger role than expected if he really excels and Howard struggles. That’s not out of the question due to his upside and Howard’s declining efficiency in the NFL.
Still, I don’t buy Sanders as this full-time player as a rookie. He’ll have a bigger role in 2020 when he’s more developed and Howard is likely gone.
Were you happy with where the Eagles selected Sanders and Miller? Do you think they either reached or got a steal with either?
I don’t think Sanders was a reach in terms of how the NFL valued him. Daniel Jeremiah said he believed Sanders would get selected around the 40’s and wouldn’t make it to the Eagles’ pick at No. 53.
Now, there were a lot of good players somewhat unexpectedly still on the board at No. 53. So, Sanders could be viewed as a reach in the sense that there were better alternatives at that spot.
Make no mistake: I’m intrigued by Sanders’ upside. I’m glad the Eagles finally addressed the running back position after neglecting it a little too much in the past.
The thing that gives me pause in feeling like the Eagles made a home run pick is that there’s a lot of projection involved with him. The same is true for a lot of rookies but especially so with Sanders.
There’s also just a lot of pressure on this selection because, as I just said, the Eagles have waited a long time to address running back this seriously. Howie Roseman had never drafted a running back before the fourth round prior to this year. It’d be really disappointing if the Eagles waited this long to address this position and the player didn’t end up being really good. Here’s hoping Sanders reaches his ceiling.
As for Miller, I think he went about where expected. I saw fifth-round projections for him and he was the very last pick of the fourth-round.
What are your first impressions of Shareef Miller? What are your expectations for him in 2019?
Miller has the potential to be a good contributor to the Eagles’ pass rush rotation. I don’t think he’s ready to make a huge instant impact. In time, though, he should be able to help this team.
The Eagles currently have three primary defensive ends: Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Vinny Curry. There’s room for a fourth player in that rotation. It’s possible the Eagles might sign a veteran to fill that role. If not, the likes of Miller, Josh Sweat, Daeshon Hall, and Joe Ostman will be battling it out. The opportunity is there for Miller to defy expectations.
Which UDFA has a clearer path to a roster spot - Ryan Bates or DeAndre Thompkins?
I’ll give the nod to Bates because the Eagles need more interior offensive line depth. Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks is recovering from an Achilles injury he suffered in January. If Bates has a really good summer, he could potentially start at guard until Brooks is healthy enough to return. Of course, I don’t think that’s the most likely outcome. Bates has a better chance of being an emergency backup at guard.
Thompkins is in a tough spot because the Eagles already have a lot of talent at wide receiver. Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Mack Hollins are all likely making the roster. Maybe the Eagles keep a sixth. Thompkins could be that guy if he proves himself to be a dangerous punt returner.
If you had to guess, which of the four Penn State players will have the longest NFL career?
It’s a chalk pick but I’ll say Sanders. Howie Roseman (Eagles VP of Football Operations) was very effusive in his praise for the Eagles’ second-round pick: “staff favorite, a coaching staff favorite, a personnel staff favorite, all of us, front office favorite.”
There’s no long-term threat to overtake Sanders. Howard is a free agent after this year and Sanders projects to be better than everyone else currently on the roster. Even if he struggles out of the gate, he should get ample opportunity to right the ship.
I was tempted to take Miller just because Sanders’ position is so volatile in the NFL. Pass rushers stick around more often than running backs do. But I’ll bet on Sanders’ upside.
Our staff, and most Penn State fans, were shocked Ryan Bates wasn’t drafted. What do you think are the odds he makes the final roster?
There’s a solid chance he makes it. It’s unclear when Brooks will be ready to play. Matt Pryor is currently the favorite to start in his place but it’s not impossible that Bates could unseat him.
What works against Bates is that the Eagles signed two other notable undrafted free agent guards in Iosua Opeta and Nate Herbig. Bates will be have to beat those guys out. Bates’ chances could also go down if the Eagles sign a veteran interior offensive lineman such as Stefen Wisniewski or Jeff Allen.
At the very least, Bates seems like a strong practice squad candidate.