After trading away Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers fans needed some good news. At the very least, they can now say they have a running back. Miles Sanders parlayed a career year in 2022 into a nice contract and will likely be the focal point of the Carolina offense in 2023.
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Sanders and the Panthers agreed on a 4-year, $25 million deal. It is the largest deal signed by a running back in this year's free agency period.
Before we paint pictures of Sanders in a Christian McCaffrey role, remember that this is a new coach and basically a new team in Carolina. The good news is that we don't have to guess much about how Frank Reich will use Sanders. Current Eagles' head coach Nick Sirianni was an offensive coordinator for Reich from 2018-2020. The two don't run the same offense, but there are similarities. That is likely what drew Sanders to Carolina. And $25 million.
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Looking at Reich's time in Indianapolis, one thing is abundantly clear: his primary back will receive the bulk of the carries. In five years, not one backup had more than 93 carries—bad news for Chuba Hubbard, great news for Miles Sanders. Last season was the first time Sanders registered 200 or more carries, and he, unsurprisingly, had the best year of his career. In fantasy, Sanders was the RB15, and there is no real reason to think he can't repeat what he did in Philadelphia.
While Reich's offense will feed carries to his primary back, the passing downs tended to go to a backup. In Indianapolis, that was Nyheim Hines. If Sanders is the primary, Chuba Hubbard could see a decent amount of targets. It will be a similar role to what Hubbard has had in Carolina since he got there, but Reich can make better use of his talents now that they have Sanders to lean on in the running game.
As of this writing, Carolina has just Terrace Marshall Jr, Shi Smith, and Laviska Shenault Jr at wide receiver. The addition of Sanders will not make any of them markedly better, but they really can't get worse. The Panthers also added Hayden Hurst at tight end this offseason. He and Sanders complement each other well, as Hurst is a good blocker, and Sanders will keep the defense's focus and open up Hurst in the play-action game.
The Eagles had already moved on before Sanders had inked this deal. They brought on Rashaad Penny, which put the writing on the wall for Sanders' non-return. If Penny can stay healthy, the Eagles won't miss Sanders much. However, Penny has never handled more than 119 carries in a season, and Sanders was never below 137. We will likely see more backup running backs involved in Philadelphia moving forward, which could be great for Kenneth Gainwell.
The fantasy community has mixed feelings about Miles Sanders. After scoring no touchdowns in 2021 and opening the 2022 season by telling fantasy managers not to draft him, the relationship was strained. However, a surprising 259-carry, 11-touchdown season certainly brought people back around. He should again be the bell cow in 2023 and see volume comparable to his RB15 season last year. Treat him as a solid second option for your fantasy team, and you won't be disappointed.