Darren Sproles Will Take Philadelphia Eagles Offense to a New Level

Nate Loop@Nate_LoopFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2014

New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles (43) runs against Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas (29) during an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game in Seattle, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Darren Sproles will be heading to Philadelphia next season, as the New Orleans Saints have agreed to a trade to send the diminutive back to the Eagles for a fifth-round draft pick. CBSsports.com's Jason La Canfora was first to report the news:

Eagles have acquired Sproles from the Saints

— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 13, 2014

NBC's ProFootballTalk then announced the details: 

Per league source, Saints get fifth-round pick for Darren Sproles from Eagles.

— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 13, 2014

Head coach Chip Kelly's lightning-quick offense is the perfect match for the man some called the Lightning Bug during his days in San Diego.

Kelly's mad experimentation with the NFL's conventional wisdom could spur along the spread offense revolution, and Sproles is a welcome addition to the second-best offense in the NFL.

Here's how Sproles stacked up against Bryce Brown, the Eagles' main backup running back last season.

Sproles vs. Brown, 2013 Stats
PlayerRushing AttemptsRushing YardsRushing AverageReceptionsReceiving YardsReceiving Avg.Total Touchdowns
Darren Sproles532204.2716048.54
Bryce Brown753144.288410.52

Brown fared well when called upon but didn't seem to be utilized as much of a checkdown option in the receiving game, with just eight total receptions. This relegates his appearances on the field to either decoy status or an obvious rushing play. Sproles is the ultimate safety valve on offense, racking up 232 receptions in his three years with the Saints.

According to pro-football-reference.com, passing plays targeting Sproles resulted in first downs 29.2 percent of the time. This is even more impressive considering 52.8 percent of those plays came on downs where the Saints needed seven to 10 yards to get a first down.

LeSean McCoy will also take less of a pounding with Sproles in the backfield. McCoy had a sensational season in 2013, but not too many players can hold up touching the ball 366 times on offense every year.

Defenses have to account for Sproles on every play, often with a linebacker or safety covering him in the flat. Putting Sproles in motion from the backfield and lining him up out wide is one way to free up Shady McCoy and allow him to wreak havoc on defenses with one fewer defender in the box.

Some may be concerned about Sproles' age, as he will be 31 by the time next season rolls around. However, Sproles' case is different from many other backs who reach their 30s and watch their production fall off a cliff. 

Sproles' role as a change-of-pace back has preserved his body and skill set more than most other running backs. He looks set to continue that role backing up McCoy in Philadelphia. 

His greatest number of touches on offense was 173 (87 rushing attempts, 86 receptions) in 2011, his first year with the Saints. As a comparison, McCoy has never had fewer than 195 touches on offense in any given season.

The most interesting touches for both players will come when they are used in tandem. A quick warning from Eagles Insider to NFL defensive coordinators not yet suffering from chronic migraines:

A caution to opposing defenses in 2014 ... pic.twitter.com/4aPpP1FuGC

— Eagles Insider (@EaglesInsider) March 13, 2014

Both players rely on their ball-bearing joints to make quick cuts and get into open space. 

Defensive coordinators relying on the time-honored "bend but don't break" mantra will find it tough to hold up when two players on the field can hurt them with short-yardage plays. The extra attention necessitated by a Sproles-McCoy combo can open up plays for quarterback Nick Foles to throw deep to DeSean Jackson or Riley Cooper.

As Sproles has just one year remaining on his current contract, Kelly has the luxury of tinkering with the offense and seeing how things play out before committing more money to Sproles. This freedom means Kelly has the opportunity to try some very unique schemes.

Kelly will certainly be able to conjure up packages involving option plays—Foles has decent mobility for a quarterback—and perhaps bubble screens to get Sproles outside the numbers and free from the confines of lining up between the tackles.

The Eagles know firsthand how difficult a player like Sproles is to scheme against. They lost to his Saints 26-24 in the Wild Card Round back in January, and Sproles contributed to that defeat by adding 60 yards of total offense on just eight touches while relieving running back Mark Ingram.

The Saints keyed in on McCoy, allowing him just 77 yards rushing on 21 carries. McCoy was the only Eagles back to take a handoff.

With Sproles in a Philadelphia uniform, defenses won't be able to hone in on McCoy, and that could easily be worth a two-point swing in a playoff game.

Sproles may be a player who spends a lot of time moving east and west on the field, but his move north to Philadelphia will take the Eagles to even greater heights in 2014.

All advanced stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.


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