As the Philadelphia Eagles prepare for the 2015 NFL Season with Chip Kelly’s new roster, Darren Sproles looks to play an even bigger contributing role.
Nov 23, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles (43) runs the ball against the Tennessee Titans at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won 43-24. (Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
(C+P) — At the end of 2010, if you asked anyone outside of San Diego about Darren Sproles, their response would likely have been “Who?”
You would get a different answer at the end of the 2011 season, when Sproles exploded onto the scene in New Orleans, gaining 1,313 total offensive yards (603 yards rushing and 710 yards receiving) and making himself a household name.
This came as a pleasant surprise to the Saints, because during his time in San Diego, Sproles was mainly a return man; when he did play on the offensive side of the ball, he was primarily used as a receiver. That’s not to say Sproles didn’t live up to his reputation as a return specialist in 2011; he gained over 1,300 yards in returns for the Saints and returned a punt for a touchdown.
Although these numbers are impressive, 2011 would mark the watermark of Sproles’ career. While his receiving and return yards remained strong in 2012, his rushing yards began to hover just above his career averages. During the 2013 season, Sproles continued to put up consistent receiving yards, but his threat as a kick returner was significantly diminished. By the end of the season, it was clear that Sproles had worn-out his welcome in New Orleans, and in March he was traded to the Eagles in exchange for a fifth round draft pick.
Under Chip Kelly, Sproles saw less playing time and became more of a punt return specialist. While he did score 2 touchdowns on returns, his other numbers could be called lukewarm at best. His receiving yards, in particular, suffered, although this might be due in part to the Eagles quarterback woes. His low numbers also weren’t helped by the fact that he was essentially a backup for LeSean McCoy and was “protected” from injury as much as possible.
Now Sproles is 32 and most likely in the twilight years of his career. He still has exceptional quickness and agility, but unless he finds the fountain of youth, it’s unlikely that he will ever put up numbers like he did in 2011 and 2012. So what is Chip Kelly going to do with Sproles besides asking him to return punts? A lot.
Sproles isn’t a backup this year, and the Eagles expect DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews to do the majority of running. This frees up Chip Kelly to tap Sproles on more plays making him a potentially dangerous weapon.
In New Orleans, Sproles developed a reputation as an excellent receiving back; in fact, he even lined up as a receiver a few times. Last year, Sproles was seen as a receiving threat, and consequently drew a lot of defenders. Expect to see Sproles running routes out of the backfield and drawing linebackers into coverage—and off the quarterback.
Of course, this is Chip Kelly we are talking about, so no one really knows what to expect. Kelly is famous for running innovative offenses that move players around like pieces on a chess board. While Sproles is certainly not the queen, he isn’t a pawn either; if used in the right place, he might be the piece responsible for putting opposing defenses in check.