Miles Sanders' rising draft stock 'validated' his decision to leave Penn State early

(Centre) Daily Times (TNS)
Former Penn State running back Miles Sanders has seen his NFL draft stock rise recently.
  • Ex-Penn State back Miles Sanders has seen his NFL draft stock rise recently.
  • There's now an outside chance that Sanders could get drafted in the first round.
  • Sanders is coming off a strong performance at the NFL Combine.

When Miles Sanders decided to leave Penn State early and enter the NFL draft, the running back’s mother, Marlene, took a screenshot of a fan’s tweet. The post said Sanders should have stayed in school, that the highest he’ll go is the fourth round. The rising prospect’s mother held onto that screenshot.

“I’m wondering what they’re saying now,” Marlene Sanders said with a laugh.

The former Nittany Lion’s stock has soared since declaring early for the draft. Back in November, Scouts Inc. expert Steve Muench told the CDT that Sanders would be a projected fifth-round pick, possibly higher if he declared and proved himself at the NFL Combine. On Wednesday, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said on a conference call that the back is “a lock” to go in the second round.

“Having to wait his turn and then to play like he did and deliver in the (Combine and Pro Day), he really hasn’t had a misstep once he got his chance,” Jeremiah said of the one-year starter who rushed for 1,274 yards, found the end zone nine times and averaged 5.8 yards per carry in 2018. “He’ll go in the first part of the second round.”

He could go in first round: Jeremiah added that while unlikely, it “wouldn’t totally shock” him to see Sanders wiggle his way into the back-end of the first round.

ESPN guru Mel Kiper Jr. wrote last week that there’s “a chance” Sanders is the first back off the board this weekend. NFL Network’s Peter Schrager projected the Pittsburgh native to the Los Angeles Rams at No. 31 overall last month, which is somewhat of a puzzling pairing given Todd Gurley’s standing as one of the premier backs in the NFL. There are better landing spots — perhaps one where he doesn’t sit behind a proven star yet again — but the fact that he’s even in that conversation is impressive.

Excelled at Combine: For that, Sanders can thank his 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, which capped an all-around performance that wowed Jeremiah, as well as scouts, coaches, executives and other media members. Bleacher Report’s Ian Kenyon named Sanders one of his Combine “winners” while NFL Network’s Rich Eisen compared him to New Orleans Saints star Alvin Kamara.

Since his showing in Indianapolis, Sanders has been in high demand. Sanders’ mother told the CDT that he has visited the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills. And while based in State College, training before and after Pro Day, the back worked out for and met with the Bengals, Buccaneers, Colts, Cowboys, Falcons, Saints, Titans and Texans.

All but two of those teams (Chicago, Baltimore) own second-round picks. Of the interested teams, Indianapolis has the earliest second-round selection at No. 39 overall, while New Orleans pick the latest at No. 62.

Jeremiah said a “sweet spot” for teams to snag a running back would be late second round or early third round. But that’s for those targeting Alabama’s Damien Harris, Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson and Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill. By time the Saints and other later clubs are on the clock, Sanders probably won’t be around.

When asked about the Eagles’ chances of landing the Penn State product at No. 53 or 57, Jeremiah said that early in the process, that was a possibility. Now, the expert believes “there’s too much juice” on Sanders to allow him to fall.

“There are too many teams that like him. I think he’ll more than likely be off the board at that point in time,” Jeremiah added. “He won’t have to wait too long.”

Analyst's prediction makes his mother happy: That’s music to the ears of Marlene Sanders.

While driving to New York City on Thursday morning to accompany her son for a string of Friday media interviews, Sanders’ mother let out a deep breath when asked about the pre-draft process. She recalled her time in Indianapolis, where she was more nervous than Sanders was for the impending 40 time and testing. And she remembered how Sanders’ decision felt “validated” after the Combine.

In Marlene Sanders’ words, the Penn State back “banked on himself.” And it paid off.

“Everybody’s just anxious to see the end result,” the mother added. “April 25 will be here soon.”