Sanders signed with the Panthers this offseason, and he's expected to be the lead running back in Carolina. Sanders is worth drafting as a No. 2 running back in all leagues as early as Round 4. Sanders is coming off a solid season in Philadelphia where he averaged 12.7 PPR points per game. He set career highs in carries (259), rushing yards (1,269) and rushing touchdowns (11), but he had career lows in targets (26), receptions (20) and receiving yards (78). With the Panthers, Sanders should be a three-down back, and the system and offensive line in Carolina should be favorable. However, the offense could struggle for the Panthers with rookie quarterback Bryce Young. If Sanders can see an uptick in the passing game -- he had at least 50 receptions in his rookie year in 2019 -- then he could emerge as a top-15 running back in all leagues, especially if he stays above 250 carries once again.
Despite injury and workload issues across four years in Philly, Sanders has finished three of his four pro seasons inside the top 22 in PPR points per game.
In Carolina, he’s clearly headed for at least as big a rushing role as last season and a rebound in receiving opportunities.
Running behind an underrated line, Sanders should crack the top 20 RBs in fantasy points per game pretty easily.
How high his ceiling goes will depend on how good the Panthers are and just how much receiving he can recapture.
What We Learned Last YearIf you simply dismiss a player as injury prone, then you’re setting yourself up to miss his healthiest season.Sanders played in every 2022 game, and it was actually the second time he had done so in his four-year career to date. His 15.2 carries per game beat his previous high by 1.5. His 11 rushing scores ranked seventh among all RBs, despite ranking second on his own team (behind Jalen Hurts’ 13).Sanders ranked third among RBs in Football Outsiders’ rushing DYAR and sixth in rushing DVOA. In each category, his ranking has improved each of the past three seasons.That’s also true for FO’s rushing success rate, which measures a RB’s effectiveness at gaining what’s needed in a given situation. Sanders finished 13th, fifth, and third in that category the past three years, with rates of 55% or better each time.Running behind a strong Eagles O-line certainly helped. Carolina isn’t bad in that area either, though. The Panthers ranked ninth in FO’s adjusted line yards last season, not far behind Philly (sixth).Sanders’ receptions per game and yards per catch have fallen every year.He started his career with a very promising 50 catches (3.1 per game) at 10.2 yards per reception, and three TDs. That was the last time Sanders scored on a reception.The past three years have produced 2.3, 2.2, and then 1.2 receptions per game.The yards per catch: 7.0, 6.1, and 3.9. That’s pretty bad.What to Expect in 2023The Panthers gave Sanders the biggest RB contract on the open market by total money ($25 million), guaranteed money ($13 million), and annual average ($6.25 million).HC Frank Reich’s time on the Eagles staff did not overlap with Sanders’. But Sanders played the past two years under Nick Sirianni, who arrived in Philly off three years as Reich’s OC – as well as previous time with Reich on the Chargers’ staff. New Panthers RBs coach and assistant HC Duce Staley served the same role with the Eagles over Sanders’ first two pro seasons. It’s fair to assume Carolina knows exactly what it’s getting.Here’s what Reich said during June OTAs: “Miles is a three-down back and he can do a little bit of everything. He’s explosive, he’s fast and he has good vision and patience. Really smart. And on third down, when he has to block, he’s a willing blocker.”Sanders has also indicated that reuniting with Staley played a part in his move to Carolina, calling him someone who “knows what I can really do.”It seems pretty clear that we can expect a rebound in at least receiving opportunities for Sanders this season. With little behind him on the depth chart and a rookie QB, Sanders could remain inefficient as a receiver and still add big fantasy value in that area vs. his recent campaigns.About that depth chart:Chuba Hubbard underwhelmed as a 2021 rookie, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry and 7.0 per catch. Carolina gave him the ball even less last season, despite trading Christian McCaffrey away midyear. Hubbard fell from 10.1 carries and 1.5 receptions per game to 6.3 and 0.9. D’Onta Foreman beat him by 5.6 carries per game. And the Panthers loved Foreman so much that they let him leave for Chicago after the season on a modest one-year contract.Raheem Blackshear and Spencer Brown currently sit behind Hubbard. They combined for 44 touches in last year’s Panthers backfield.Don’t be shocked if this team adds a RB before the season starts. Even in that case, though, Sanders appears likely to see the biggest touch count of his career.
Sanders signed with the Panthers following four seasons with the Eagles. The 2019 second-round pick has been nothing short of elite as a rusher since he was drafted (career 5.02 YPC), but he's been limited by major struggles in the passing game (his 3.8 YPT ranks last among RBs since 2020). That was on full display in 2022, when he ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards but 73rd among RBs in receiving yards. Sanders' 15th-place fantasy finish matched a career high, but the receiving struggles limited him to a 54% snaps share and eight single-digit fantasy outings. Carolina has a rookie QB and the offensive line is a big step back from what Sanders enjoyed in Philly, but the 26-year-old will handle the bulk of the carries and likely goal line work. That will be enough to keep him in the RB2 discussion, especially in non-PPR formats.