Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders just can’t replace Boston Scott

(Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images) /

While Miles Sanders very well could become the Philadelphia Eagles’ next great rusher, he’s an ineffective choice to replace Boston Scott as a kick returner.

The Philadelphia Eagles are seriously going to miss Boston Scott.

Well, miss may be the wrong word, as Scott will still be around the NovaCare Center as he signed onto the team’s practice squad almost immediately after he was waived, but on the field, there really isn’t a player on the 53 man roster who can directly replace his production.

But, you may ask, what about Darren Sproles – the player whose career Scott would clearly love to emulate?

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As far as the Eagles are concerned, the duo have nothing in common.

Granted, the duo are both 5-foot-6 and can be used identically on offense, but Sproles has been used as the team’s offensive swiss army knife with an added wrinkle of punt returnability, whereas Scott exclusively returned kicks for the Eagles over his four-game tenure with the team in 2018.

Even in the 2019 preseason, where Scott seemed like a longshot to make the initial 53 man roster, Dave Fipp gave the LA Tech product all but one of the team’s kick returns over the final three games – logging 129 yards on six attempts.

While returning kicks has become a less crucial component of fielding a successful team ever since the touchback was moved up from the 20 to the 25, having a reliable return man can very well decide a game, and shrink the field for Carson Wentz and company.

But on the flipside, kick returning can also be a dangerous business; a business that star players seldom are asked to undertake.

Of the 61 players who returned more kicks than Scott in 2018 (4), only seven – Desmond King (22), Tyler Lockett (19), Jabrill Peppers (19), Curtis Samuel (10), Antonio Callaway (8), Phillip Lindsay (7), and D.J. Moore (5) – started eight or more games over the course of the regular season.

By contrast, 29 of those 61 players recorded no starts in 2019, including Tennessee Titans receiver Darius Jennings, one of the five players who returned a kick for a touchdown in 2018.

Of the other four players who scored kick return touchdowns – Andre Roberts, Richie James, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jakeem Grant – none had more than two starts at their given positions and Grant had less than 20 returns on the season.

Add it all together, and it seems like a good idea for any team in the NFL, especially one with Super Bowl aspirations, to dedicate a roster spot to a player who can return a handful of kicks a game – bonus points if that player can also contribute a little bit at their actual position.

Miles Sanders projects to do a whole lot more for the Birds in 2019 than just return a few kicks a game.

The 53rd overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, Sanders is slotted in as the Eagles’ top kick returner as of their initial 53-man depth chart and could log the first snap of the regular season when the team welcomes Washington to Lincoln Financial Field on September 8th.

While teams have found initial success with future star players beginning their career off as a return man – just ask DeSean Jackson, who returned 116 punts over his first four seasons with the Eagles – subjecting a star player to arguably the most dangerous segment of the game is bad news even if his inclusion could increase the chances of a return touchdown.

Speaking of Jackson, while he has taken snaps at punt returner over the course of the summer, and is currently listed second on the depth chart behind Sproles, it seems rather unlikely that the league’s premier deep threat will be returning balls in the third quarter of a Week 3 game regardless of the score.

No, if Jackson does get the nod on punt returns, it will be in ‘Miracle in the Meadowlands’-style situations, where the team desperately needs a score with mere moments left.

If Sanders comes out of the gate hot as a rusher and supplants Jordan Howard as the team’s top lead back, he may quickly become too valuable to trot out as a returner.

Scott, on the other hand, remains firmly in Sproles’ shadow until he finally hangs up his cleats once and for all after 13 NFL seasons.

Coming out of college, Scott ran a 4.45 40 at the Tech’s Pro Day and is a very accomplished lifter – power cleaning 370 pounds, benching 425 pounds, and squatting 625 pounds at 5-foot-6, 203 pounds. While he wasn’t a particularly utilized receiver coming out of the backfield in college, Scott finished out his college career with 2,780 all-purpose yards and 15 touchdowns – 1,840 on the ground, 307 as a receiver, and 633 as a kick returner.

Really, Scott’s strength, speed, and burst makes him an ideal modern-day kick returner, and an intriguing option as a moveable chess piece for a creative offensive signal-caller.

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Miles Sanders, on the other hand, is a prototypical running back who could finally give the City of Brotherly Love their first thousand-yard rusher since now Kansas City Chiefs (that feels weird) running back LeSean McCoy ran for 1,319 yards back in 2014. That, in addition to having a player like Boston Scott waiting in the wings, makes the Philadelphia Eagles’ current kick returning hierarchy less than ideal to optimize for the team’s overall productivity in 2019.