For The Express
Miles Sanders waited his turn, sitting behind Saquon Barkley for two years, and all it took was one season of being Penn State’s starting tailback for Sanders to convince himself and others that he’s ready for the NFL.
Sanders did as widely expected Thursday, announcing he’s forgoing his final year of college eligibility to declare for the NFL draft. He is projected to be one of the top handful of running backs available for the draft and as high as a second-round pick.
“I want to start by saying that this decision was not an easy one,” Sanders wrote in a lengthy post on Instagram. “I have so many people to thank for my experience here at Penn State and so much love for my teammates, coaches and the FANS. The Penn State culture has allowed me to grow on and off the field while teaching me valuable life lessons along the way.
“I’ve made the decision to forgo my senior year and declare for the 2019 NFL draft,” he later wrote. “As I prepare for the road ahead, I truly believe this is the best, next step for my future. Thanks to so many of you, my future is bright, and I’ll never forget my home here at Penn State.”
Sanders, the fifth Nittany Lion underclassmen to declare for the draft so far, had a strong junior season. He rushed for 1,274 yards and nine TDs while averaging 5.8 yards per carry. His rushing total this season was actually higher than Barkley produced in 2017 for PSU (1,271 yards).
Sanders wasn’t as electric of a runner as Barkley in college, nor was he as adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. Sanders did have 24 catches for 139 yards this season.
Sanders’ biggest issue has been fumbles, as he had five this season, losing four of them. That led some to believe he would return to school for one more year to work on the problem, but the running back obviously felt that wasn’t a big enough concern.
Sanders came to Penn State from Woodland Hills High School in Pittsburgh, where he was one of the top running back recruits in the country. His playing time was limited sitting behind a superstar in Barkley the past two years, but Barkley always spoke highly of Sanders and said he would become a very good running back in his own right.
“So appreciative of Miles and his family for how they handled this entire process,” PSU coach James Franklin said in a team statement. “Miles is a student of the game and made the most of his opportunities when his time came. He did a great job leading the running back room this season.
“We are very proud of Miles and how he has grown during his entire Penn State career. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do at the next level.”
Sanders is rated as the No. 4 running back available for the draft by DraftTek.com and No. 5 by Ourlads. DraftTek has him projected with the 53rd overall pick in the second round to the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I owe a huge thank you to my mother and family — none of this is possible without their support through every high and low,” Sanders wrote on Instagram. “Thank you to the fans for bringing an unbelievable energy every single week, no matter the circumstances.
“Thank you to my coaches. Coach Franklin and Coach (Terry) Smith, who recruited me to come to the greatest university in the world, Coach (Ja’Juan) Seider and Coach (Ricky) Rahne for pushing me beyond what I thought I was capable of and to the entire athletic staff for giving me the room to develop into the player and man that I am today. Thanks to you all, I’ve achieved some of my wildest dreams and set high goals for my future.”
Penn State’s other players to declare early for the draft have been: OL Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern, DE Shareef Miller and DT Kevin Givens.