Miles Sanders is entering a pivotal fourth season in his NFL career, and he's certainly not taking it lightly.
The former second-round pick out of Penn State knows 2022 could significantly alter the trajectory of his career, which began on a promising note but has encountered plenty of frustration in the last two seasons. Should Sanders produce at a level of which he's proven capable, he'll give the Eagles a difficult decision to make on retaining him beyond his rookie contract. But he'll need a legitimate workload -- something he hasn't seen in the last two seasons -- to prove his value to general manager Howie Roseman.
"I've still got a lot to prove," Sanders said, via Pro Football Network. "A lot of people don't respect all the work I've done, and I've still got a lot to prove. I'm taking it real personal this year. Just find a way to get noticed and command the respect, I'm not taking no for an answer this year. Just stay healthy, just be available, that's my main goal this year."
Sanders was the embodiment of Eagles fans' frustrations with Philadelphia's offense early in its first season under Nick Sirianni. The Eagles had become a unit that seemingly refused to run the football, even with a playmaker like Sanders available in their backfield.
That changed, of course, midway through the 2022 season, when Sirianni shifted his team's offensive identity toward the run. Philadelphia would eventually finish atop the league in rushing yards per game. Sanders benefitted accordingly, breaking 120 rushing yards twice in Weeks 13 and 14 on his way to a 754-yard season.
But Sanders did so on only 137 carries and failed to score a rushing touchdown in 2021. Health issues kept him from playing a full season, forcing him to miss five games. In his place, Jordan Howard, Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell saw opportunities to produce, and Jalen Hurts' development as a dual-threat runner resulted in the second-year quarterback leading the team in rushing yards with a production rate that was eerily similar to Sanders.
Theoretically, the Eagles would be just fine without Sanders, based on their 2021 output. But Sanders isn't taking such a thought lightly.
"I want to be the best. That's what I train to be," he said. "I want to be the best, period. I exhaust myself working hard to try to get to that point. I'm taking it a little more personal this year."
Taking it personal doesn't mean shutting out Hurts. Sanders complimented the quarterback, expressing a belief that Hurts can lead the Eagles back to the NFL mountaintop.
"Just watching him get more comfortable each and every game literally, he's doing more and it's showing in the games," Sanders said. "He's getting more comfortable and having fun with it. As long as you have good chemistry, any team can make it to the Super Bowl."
But Sanders isn't spending much time thinking about the other runners on Philadelphia's roster. As the running back prepares to enter a season in which he could earn himself a nice payday -- in Philadelphia or elsewhere -- Sanders is focused solely on ensuring he maximizes his potential. That includes staying healthy.
"I didn't take too much time off, I had my little injury, got my hand right and I'm good to go," Sanders said. "We had potential last year, and you saw what we did with it -- we still made the playoffs, but that's not good enough for us. We got a lot of new pieces. Just can't wait to get back together with the guys and get the chemistry going and start the season off right and get off to a good start."
Sanders can do a whole lot of good for his future if he can handle a lead-back workload. After seeing fewer than 175 total touches for the first time in his career in 2021, he knows he has to play a larger role in the Eagles' offense if he wants to make a significant impact on their potential success. It will also undoubtedly affect his pockets.