The Bears have met with Miles Sanders on multiple occasions.
(670 The Score)How does a running back become the complete package for a modern-day NFL offense? Penn State’s Miles Sanders knows you can’t rely on talent alone.
Sanders enters the NFL Draft as one of the most versatile running backs in a deep class, a three-down backfield option and a capable target in the passing game. He has worked hard to be more dynamic, often catching 200 passes before and after practice at Penn State and running extra routes with his quarterback.
“I don’t like being average,” Sanders said by phone. “I don’t like being comfortable. I’m always willing to get better, whether it’s the little stuff or the big stuff.”
Related: Bears, Packers to kick off 2019 season
At Penn State, Sanders was anything but average. He rushed for 1,274 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns in his junior season of 2018, adding 24 receptions in the passing game. He took over the Nittany Lions’ backfield from Saquon Barkley and carried the load well in a breakout season.
Sanders now has the attention of teams like the Bears ahead of the NFL Draft. The Bears met with Sanders at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February and hosted him at Lake Forest two weeks ago.
The Bears are seeking their running back of the future in the draft, and the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Sanders is a type who would fit coach Matt Nagy’s offense well.
“I definitely believe I can be that complete running back that any team wants me to be as far as a Saquon, Tarik Cohen, Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley,” Sanders said. “I can be a three-down back, a very versatile running back.
“I like (the Bears) offense, I like their scheme. Coach Nagy, great coach. Great coaching staff over there.”
The issue for the Bears is that they may not get the chance to draft Sanders unless they trade up. He’s projected to be selected on Day 2 of the draft, and the first pick the Bears own is in the third round at No. 87 overall. To land Sanders, they would likely have to move up from that slot. An asset to include in a potential trade could be running back Jordan Howard, whom the Bears could deal or release this offseason. Chicago’s backfield currently includes Howard, Cohen and veteran Mike Davis, who signed a two-year deal in free agency.
Nagy and the Bears gave Howard the chance to prove his place in the offense in 2018. He improved as a pass catcher but struggled as a route runner. The team signaled its interest in a change by first exploring the possibility of signing Kareem Hunt. After signing Davis, the Bears continue to evaluate the running back options in the draft.
In Sanders, the Bears could find a fit.
“A complete running back,” Sanders said in scouting himself. “Natural running ability, vision, able to catch it out of the backfield, workhorse, come to work every day and a guy who’s willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship.”
Sanders arrived at Penn State tabbed as a four-star prospect by Rivals after starring at Woodland Hills in Pittsburgh. He emerged in 2018 as the Nittany Lions’ starter and enjoyed a productive season, but Sanders felt there was plenty to improve upon.
Sanders is working to improve his patience as a runner, in an effort to allow rushing lanes to open and better take what the play gives him. He’s also focusing on responsibilities in pass protection, an important role for a three-down back.
With the draft fast approaching, Sanders will soon realize his dream. But he knows there’s even greater work ahead.
“It’s just competing,” he said. “I’m very competitive. “I’ve found that a lot more. I love to compete, love going against the best.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.