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Optimisery: The Case For and Against Miles Sanders in Carolina

Will Miles Sanders thrive in Carolina or remain outside the top tier of fantasy running backs?

Miles Sanders

In this series, Jeremy Schwob and John Di Bari present the optimistic and pessimistic sides to significant changes in the dynasty landscape. Consider both sides, as the goal is to find somewhere in between.

The old adage that there are two sides to every coin could never be more true than when circumstances change for a player. That is especially true when surprising information is thrust upon us. Psychological difficulty and distress can be encountered when individuals hold rigid views that are strictly one-sided (i.e., split) or alternate drastically from one to the other.

A therapeutic concept called integration is a healthier structure for holding both sides together and tolerating the benefits and flaws simultaneously. Relationally, this could involve being frustrated or angry with them while at the same time being able to maintain that you care about them. Such emotional difficulties can parallel our view of players on dynasty rosters amidst changing circumstances.

The goal of this series is not to have you pick a side or a winner of the argument. Rather, it is to consider both sides and not select one entirely in the absence of the other.

While not a “bust” in the traditional sense, Miles Sanders hasn’t lived up to expectations so far. In my limited search for anecdotal evidence, Sanders was a top-five pick in all of my 2019 rookie drafts. According to DLF’s historical ADP data, Sanders was considered his class’ RB2 and the third player selected overall in non-superflex drafts.

While a serviceable RB2 with the Eagles, Sanders never took the next step to become a dependable fantasy producer at the position. Now, with a change of scenery and a new role as the lead back in Carolina, maybe he has a chance at redemption. Will the Frank Reich-led Panthers’ offense boost Sanders into the top tier of fantasy producers, or will we see more of the same from him as a middling RB2 without any upside?


Leaving the Eagles’ top-ranked offense is not the ideal way to paint an optimistic picture, but stopping there is too simplistic to capture the expectation for Sanders in his new home in Carolina. This is especially true after understanding the emerging philosophy of Eagles’ general manager Howie Roseman to devalue spending at the running back position. On the open market, Sanders received a four-year, $25.4 million contract with $13m guaranteed to be their lead back for at least the next two seasons. Sanders’ deal was the largest contract afforded to a running back during the 2023 off-season.

An intriguing factor for the former Penn State back landing in Carolina is a reunion with former Philadelphia running backs coach Deuce Staley. This reunion is particularly interesting due to Staley’s use of Sanders in the passing game in their one year together during Sanders’ 2019 rookie campaign. During that season, he caught 50 passes accumulating an additional 509 receiving yards on top of his 818 rushing yards. Coming off his 11 rushing touchdowns, 1269 rushing yard season this past year, Sanders has proven his ability as an all-around player.

Examining the Panthers team overall, they appear to have a strong, young defense that can help keep the rebuilt young offense on the field. They return all five of their starters on the offensive line to protect 2023’s top overall pick in the NFL Draft, Bryce Young. The passing game weapons are admittedly suspect, led by rookie second-round athletic specimen Jonathan Mingo, paired with veterans Adam Thielen, DJ Chark, Terrace Marshall, and Laviska Shenault. While defenses won’t necessarily fear these “weapons,” the expectation should be that this will be a run-focused team, as they were last year, as they ran the fifth-highest percentage of rushing plays. Of course, they have a new offense in place under the direction of Frank Reich, who we last saw designing an offensive scheme around Jonathan Taylor in Indianapolis. With only backup running back Chubba Hubbard behind him, Sanders faces little competition to a heavy workload.

It is always difficult to justify investment in a second contract running back for dynasty purposes. However, Sanders falls in a collection of running backs who are in their mid-20s and past their rookie deal (i.e., Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, Joe Mixon, Josh Jacobs, Dalvin Cook, David Montgomery, James Conner, Damien Harris, Samaje Perine, and Devin Singletary). There certainly are some more attractive names than Sanders on this list, though few have the longer-term contract commitment he just received from Carolina.

Further, some of the initial backs on the list would likely be far more expensive in a dynasty trade or startup. Coming off a breakout season, it remains curious that dynasty managers appear puzzled about what to do with Sanders. At the very least, he should dispel some concerns with his production to start the year, which could present either a strong selling window mid-season or initial validation for those who are interested in riding Sanders on their way to contention over the next few seasons.

– Schwob


Everything is new in Carolina, from head coach Frank Reich to quarterback Bryce Young, to almost the entirety of their receiving corps. This offense will definitely have a different look than we’ve seen in years past. Among the new faces in Charlotte is running back Sanders after a four-year stint in Philadelphia. He was a top pick in the 2019 rookie class but has never finished higher than 15th at the running back position. With an average finish of RB24, Sanders’ ADP of RB19 seems to be closer to his ceiling than his floor.

A change of scenery isn’t necessarily a good thing for everyone. Head coach Frank Reich has a reputation for being a great offensive mind but has that translated to running back production? Over his four years as an offensive coordinator, Reich had two teams finish 30th and 31st in rushing. During his five seasons as a head coach, he has had two teams finish 20th and 23rd in rushing. Those poor finishes were not without talent at the position; known-fantasy commodities such as Ryan Mathews, Donald Brown, Melvin Gordon, Marlon Mack, and Jonathan Taylor led those teams in rushing in the “bad” years. Is Sanders leaps and bounds better than those backs?

With first-overall pick Bryce Young under center, what do you think opposing defensive coordinators are going to focus on? Stopping the run and making the rookie QB beat you, or focusing on Terrace Marshall, DJ Chark, Adam Thielen, and Hunter Hurst and letting a Sanders-led run game beat you? At least early in the season, teams will let Young beat them until he proves he can do it consistently, and the biggest loser in that scenario is Miles Sanders.

– Di Bari

Ultimately, you must make decisions in a dynasty but confront that which does not fit your desired perspective. As uncomfortable as it is, it’s essential to work diligently to integrate the alternative into your overall concept to make more informed decisions.

Will the hope of Sanders’ production be as flashy as the new contract he signed to be the lead ball carrier in Carolina, or will both be a disappointing sham? Upon initial glance, he should have a shot to repeat his strong performance from a year ago. Though, leaving Philadelphia’s offense could return Carolina’s Sanders to his prior production, especially in terms of touchdowns. Of course, this could also be the re-telling of a tale as old as time, teams being disappointed after paying for past running back production rather than that of the present or future.

Optimisery: The Case For and Against Miles Sanders in Carolina
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