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Striking Fantasy Gold In Carolina

Anyone who plays fantasy Football knows that hitting on a mid to late-round running back can give your team the edge to win your league.


I believe you can find that in Carolina this season.




What We're Looking For


When finding a guy who fits the mold of a “league winner” at the running back position, we are looking for a guy who will demand volume on the ground, who can catch a lot of passes out of the backfield with a high probability to do so, and someone who has at least shown flashes of their talent.


If you can get those three things out of a Running Back who is being drafted in the fifth round or later of your fantasy leagues, you may just have found a league-winning RB.


Sanders' Situation


Miles Sanders is my favorite target at Running Back this year who fits this criteria. Sanders was signed this off-season by the Carolina Panthers to a 4-year $25.4 million contract, giving him the 11th highest average salary in the league.


The Panther’s made it clear that they believe in Sanders to lead this running back room with his only competition in the backfield being Chuba Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear.


Right now Sanders is being drafted in the middle of the fifth round in redraft leagues, per FantasyPros, and early in the 7th round of dynasty superflex leagues, according to KeepTradeCut.com.


This leaves fantasy managers with some options in how they would like to build their roster before taking their shot on a running back who has top-12 potential.


This year we see stud wide receivers coming off the board earlier than ever. As of July 17th, 2023, FantasyPros has eight wide receivers with an ADP in the first round.


If you decide to follow this trend and go with a wide receiver heavy strategy in the first few rounds, Sanders offers the ability to bolster your RB room in the later rounds.


On The Ground


Miles Sanders is coming off a career year on the ground. In Philadelphia last season, Sanders had the 5th most rushing yards in the league with 1,269 yards. He did this while only receiving 47.6% of the Eagles' total rushing attempts.


Granted, a large number of those were due to Jalen Hurts rushing capability. Despite Sanders’ new quarterback, Bryce Young, having good mobility, he is not nearly the rushing threat that Jalen Hurts is.


Due to Bryce Young’s undersized stature, the Panthers will not have nearly as many designed runs for Bryce Young as the Eagles did for Jalen Hurts.


Frank Reich will be the Panthers’ new Head Coach and play-caller this season. In 2021, Reich allowed Jonathan Taylor to handle 66.5% of the Colts’ rushing attempts. In 2022, Reich was fired by the Colts after nine games.


Of those nine games, Taylor was fully healthy for just four games. Albeit a small sample size, during that time, Reich gave Taylor 80.2% of the team’s total rushing attempts.


Reich not only allows his primary running back to handle most of the rushing attempts but also implements a system that aligns well with Sanders’ strengths. From 2019 to 2022, Reich predominantly employed zone scheme running plays rather than gap schemes.


Sanders has had more zone scheme attempts every year of his career thus far. This could be one of the reasons why Sanders was targeted by Carolina this past off-season. The Panthers love to run the ball too. Just last year they ran the ball on 49.49% of their plays, good for fifth most in the league.


Considering that Carolina has a rookie quarterback at the helm and an uninspiring wide receiver core, I would look for them to try and continue running the ball at a high percentage this season. On average over the past two years, the Panthers have run the ball 469 times per season.


If Carolina has 469 attempts next year and Sanders receives a modest 65% of those carries, he will have 305 rushing attempts in 2023.


This bodes well for Sanders to have consistent production, regardless of his efficiency. If Sanders can maintain, his career average of 5.0 yards per attempt on the ground while receiving 305 rushing attempts, this sets him up to have 1,525 rushing yards on the year if he can stay healthy.


Through The Air


In addition to Sanders likely finishing this season with the most rushing attempts he’s seen in his career, conversations have taken place between Frank Reich, the Panthers' GM Scott Fitterer, and Sanders that they want him to catch a lot of passes this year.


In the video below, you’ll see they reference Sanders’ rookie season where he had 53 receptions.


Last season, the Eagles targeted their running backs at the lowest percentage in the league at 12.1%, but Carolina is already making it a point that they want to utilize Sanders more in the passing game.


This makes sense considering the other receiving options on this team. They brought in veterans Adam Thielen and D.J. Chark to help, but both of these players are far removed from their most productive seasons.


They also have Terrace Marshall still on their roster and incoming rookie Jonathan Mingo. While these two wide receivers still hold some promise, they are highly unlikely to receive a high target volume in 2023.


As mentioned earlier, Sanders will be working with incoming rookie QB, Bryce Young. Young was the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL and is coming out of Alabama. In his final year with the Crimson Tide, the player that had the most receptions on the team was running back Jahmyr Gibbs.


Regardless if this trend continues or not, this shows that Young is comfortable and willing to throw the ball to his Running Back a lot.


This is important as young mobile quarterbacks are often thought to not go through their reads and take off running rather than check the ball down. I don’t view this as the case for Bryce Young.


He is about as pro-ready of a prospect as they come. His leading attribute to me is his anticipation. Young has phenomenal pocket awareness. He can navigate through small spaces and even manipulate blitzing defenders with subtle movement.


He's also very good at throwing to the spot before his receiver makes his final break in his route. This is one of the reasons why he was chosen with the first overall pick, despite not having the physical attributes that his counterparts have.


If Sanders can reach the 50 reception benchmark this season that his coaches are targeting, Sanders’ value would skyrocket. He was already the RB15 last year in PPR leagues with only 20 receptions on the season.


If Sanders secures 50 receptions this upcoming season while maintaining his career pace of 7.36 yards per reception, Sanders will have 368 receiving yards.


Red Zone Opportunities


The only statistic where I predict negative regression for Sanders from last season is rushing touchdowns. Last year he had 11 TDs on the ground. He had the third most rushing attempts inside the red zone of any running back last season with 44. He scored 10 of his 11 touchdowns through these attempts last year.


The Eagles were one of the most efficient offenses in 2022, so I would expect fewer red zone visits in general for the Panthers this year compared to the Eagles last year.


However, if Sanders hits the hopeful but attainable projections I laid out earlier of 1,525 rushing yards and 50 receptions with 368 receiving yards, he would already surpass his Fantasy Points total from last season without any Touchdowns in PPR formats.


Carolina Gold


With a wide-open opportunity to take command of this backfield, I see Miles Sanders as a massive buy, in Dynasty leagues. KeepTradeCut has him as RB20 in their half-PPR Dynasty Rankings.



KeepTradeCut also listed late 2024 and 2025 first-round rookie picks as having more value than Sanders. If you think your team is just a running back away from truly contesting to win a championship, I would trade either of those picks for Sanders.




 

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