Despite contemplating retirement, running back Darren Sproles is back with the Philadelphia Eagles for what appears to be one last run. The 5-foot-6, 36-year-old back has continued to defy expectations throughout his career. Returning yet again for another season is the latest transcendent feat in his NFL journey. However, his role may be different — and less heavy — than in years past.
In an attempt to shore up their run game, the Eagles traded for former Pro Bowler Jordan Howard and made Miles Sanders the second back selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. The two, alongside Josh Adams, Corey Clement, and others, will carry the bulk of the rush attempts in Philly. For Sproles, this means preservation for different circumstances, such as third downs and mismatches.
3. More catches than rushes
With a bevy of new and old backs in front of him, don’t expect Sproles to lead the Eagles’ ground attack. Instead, he’ll likely be utilized as in years past: as a receiver out of the backfield. The slippery back has tallied 547 receptions for 4,816 yards and 32 touchdowns for his career. That total is 1,330 more yards than what he has compiled as a rusher.
Throughout his tenure as an Eagle, Sproles has rushed more than he has received. However, Philadelphia doesn’t have a need to do so in 2019, considering the talent on board. Instead, expect a throwback to his days in New Orleans. As a Saint, Sproles gained more targets than rushes in all three seasons. In all but one, he had more catches than receptions — and in the one he didn’t, he had 87 rushes to 86 catches.
2. A lesser workload
This should be fairly obvious: Sproles is a luxury for the Eagles. Their talent is considered to be deep. Their running back room is one of the better units in the NFL, in terms of a committee. For the sake of the 36-year-old, don’t expect Philadelphia to run him into the ground. Instead, expect limited utilization.
However, just because Sproles won’t be a lead back doesn’t mean the Eagles won’t exploit his talents. As previously noted, I assume he’ll be used as a receiver more than often than not. Currently, Sproles may be the best pure third-down receiving back Philly has. The Eagles will assuredly find a way to create mismatches out of the backfield and in the slot. He may also be used on punt returns, albeit sparingly.
1. Spins, jukes, and then some
You can watch a Darren Sproles highlight reel for an hour, and it wouldn’t even scrape the surface in capturing all of his joystick-like abilities. The former Charger and Saint — now an Eagle — has made a name for himself as an impossible tackle despite his short stature. Despite playing just six games in 2018, the back forced eight missed tackles and accumulated a high 18.2% juke rate, according to PlayerProfiler.com.
It’s not as though he started evading tackles in the pros — it’s just who he is.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) July 20, 2019
Though Sproles’ NFL career is nearing the end, the Eagles and their fans should continue to appreciate his burst, elusiveness, and creativeness in the open field. For the sake of the NFL, that’s a good thing.