Four Eagles poised to break out in 2020: Miles Sanders tops list as he goes from good to elite

The Philadelphia Eagles have made the postseason three consecutive years, raising the expectations of a franchise that has been revitalized under head coach Doug Pederson. While the Eagles haven’t been able to repeat their Super Bowl success of 2017, qualifying for the playoffs with the myriad of injuries the team has experienced over the past two seasons has been quite an accomplishment. 

Lost in the Eagles’ success over the past two seasons has been the emergence of young stars. Carson Wentz has proven he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he hasn’t been blessed with a lot of young talent around him on either side of the ball. The Eagles haven’t hit on as many picks in the draft over the past two years, mainly because the team only had 10 picks combined. 

Despite the few picks general manger Howie Roseman has had, the Eagles have been able to find some gems out of those selections. Miles Sanders and Dallas Goedert are two players Philadelphia is relying on to grow with Wentz, enjoying some success of their own in 2019. 

Eagles fans already have high expectations for Sanders after an impressive rookie season — and the running back is just beginning his quest to become one of the best in the league. Philadelphia should expect Sanders and these other players to have breakout seasons in 2020.

There’s not much separation among the elite running backs in this draft class, so how do the top 10 stack up? Josh Edwards joins Will Brinson to break down his rankings on the Pick Six Podcast; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.

Miles Sanders

2020 projection: 2,006 yards from scrimmage (1,184 rushing yards, 822 receiving yards), 13 touchdowns 

If you want to count Sanders’ rookie campaign as a breakout season, be my guest. Sanders was impressive in 2019, setting the Eagles’ rookie record for rushing yards with 818 (4.6 yards per carry) and catching 50 passes for 509 yards. He finished eighth in the NFL in all-purpose yards with 1,641 and recorded six touchdowns.

Truth of the matter is, Sanders is just getting started. He has the potential to be one of the best running backs in the NFL in 2020, which is why I’m counting 2020 as a “breakout” year.

Sanders won’t be splitting duties in a running back-by-committee in 2020, even though the Eagles prefer to establish that identity in a Pederson offense. He’ll be the No. 1 running back on the Eagles, and a player the franchise just can’t keep off the field. Even if the Eagles draft a running back to complement Sanders or use Boston Scott as the No. 2 back, Sanders’ receiving ability (10.2 yards per catch) makes him valuable enough to Wentz to line up in the slot or use a two running back system, especially with the Eagles’ lack of explosive playmakers at wide receiver.

Already one the best pass-catching backs in the NFL, the Eagles should have no issue improving Sanders’ touches from 14.3 his rookie season to 20-to-25 a game in Year Two. Sanders is already one of the most explosive players in the NFL and is set to take the leap to become one of the best running backs in the league in 2020. 

Andre Dillard

2020 projection: Starts all 16 games at left tackle

The Eagles have no choice here. They have to hope Dillard is a breakout candidate (at the very least), especially after allowing Jason Peters to become a free agent and handing the reins at left tackle over to their 2019 first-round pick. 

There have been some question marks regarding Dillard and his transition to the NFL, but most of his struggles in Year One came at right tackle — a position he was just not ready for. Dillard actually addressed he would struggle at right tackle, sort of giving up before he started his first game at the position. 

“Think about it like this,” Dillard said back in November. “You probably write with your right hand, right? So all of a sudden, say you had to write a big essay with your left hand. Right now. That’s basically it. Write with your left hand. Think about how that would feel.”

That had the Eagles questioning whether Dillard could replace Peters as the long term solution at left tackle. The truth regarding Dillard lies in the middle. He played well last season when filling in for Peters at left tackle — a side of the line he hadn’t played since he was 14. 

Known has a pass blocker at Washington State, Dillard showcased improvements in run blocking in two of his three starts at left tackle last season. The Eagles rushed for 218 yards against the Bills and 146 yards against the Bears, two teams that finished in the top-10 in run defense last year. Philadelphia averaged 159.7 rush yards per game in Dillard’s three starts at left tackle in 2019. 

There’s no doubt Dillard can play, but there are concerns regarding the mental aspect of his game. Dillard learned plenty in his rookie year with the Eagles and will eliminate all doubts as the franchise left tackle in 2020. The Eagles have their left tackle for the next decade. 

JJ Arcega-Whiteside

2020 projection: 37 catches, 564 yards, 5 touchdowns

Let’s just cut to the chase. Arcega-Whiteside wasn’t just bad last season — he was one of the worst wide receivers in the NFL. The 2019 second-round pick had just 10 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown while playing all 16 games his rookie season, but his struggles went past the box score. Arcega-Whiteside struggled to run basic routes and always seemed to get in his own way, with dropped passes as a big culprit. Only Mike Bellamy had fewer yards in a season as a first or second-round pick for the franchise over the past 20 seasons (he didn’t have a catch in 1990). 

So why does Arcega-Whiteside have an opportunity to break out in Year Two? He can’t get any worse than he was in his rookie season, learning the ins and outs of the NFL while understanding the improvements he needs to make at his craft. It also helps that Arcega-Whiteside is durable, even if he lacks the explosiveness needed for immediate success in today’s NFL. 

The Eagles selected Arcega-Whiteside because of his ability to catch 50-50 balls and his reliability as a red zone threat. He isn’t going to take the top off a defensive back, but has demonstrated his knack to make catches downfield. 

If the Eagles use Arcega-Whiteside to his strengths — a post receiver in the end zone along with using his ball-tracking ability between the 20s — he can be a productive wide receiver in Year Two. Remember, Eagles greats Mike Quick (10 catches, 156 yards, TD) and Harold Carmichael (20 catches, 288 yards, no TDs) also struggled in their first season.

If the Eagles can make Arcega-Whiteside viable in the offense, that’s a step in the right direction. 

T.J. Edwards

2020 projection: 86 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two INT, FF 

I know, the Eagles don’t have a linebacker and don’t care about the position. The franchise just doesn’t value linebackers in the early rounds of the draft with Jim Schwartz as the defensive coordinator, preferring to have just two on the field and lining up five defensive backs. 

The Eagles were able to find a diamond in the rough last season in T.J. Edwards, who signed with the team as an undrafted free agent. Edwards falls victim to how NFL teams are valuing the linebacker position, with the Eagles one of the teams at the forefront of that movement. 

Teams are starting to look for hybrid linebackers who can play in coverage and line up as a defensive back, which doesn’t correlate with Edwards’ game. But that actually fits with the Eagles, who need a middle linebacker in 2020 now that Nigel Bradham has been released. 

Edwards is the man for the job, having started four games in his rookie season and finishing with 30 tackles as opposing quarterbacks targeting him had just a 52.9 passer rating. While that sample size is small (five targets), Edwards showcased enough in his rookie season that the Eagles trust him for a starting job in 2020. Edwards was a productive linebacker in college, having a knack for finding the football and an executing at the tackle point. 

While the Eagles may not have a flashy linebacker in Edwards, he’ll be productive enough to stabilize the middle linebacker position for the foreseeable future. Eagles fans will enjoy watching Edwards grow in 2020. 

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