The Philadelphia Eagles' offseason acquisition of Darren Sproles likely won't mean much for LeSean McCoy. Sure, the 31-year-old specialty back may steal a handful of carries and find a niche in two-back sets, but it's foolish to believe he'll swipe any sizable chunk of touches from the NFL's leading rusher.
However, the move does hold serious implications for current Philly backup Bryce Brown.
In only two seasons, Brown has already become one of the NFL's biggest enigmas. While he was among the most-heralded high school recruits in recent memory, he slipped to the seventh round the 2012 NFL Draft following a tumultuous college career. To date, his only crack as a pro starter came via a McCoy concussion late in 2012—he proved equal parts impressive and disappointing.
At times, he displayed flashes of brilliance—showcasing an imposing combo of speed and size. His consecutive 160-yard-rushing performances were arguably two of the most impressive for any back all season.
Unfortunately, Brown also held onto the rock about as well as Clifford Franklin from The Replacements. Three fumbles in his first two starts raised warranted concerns about his competence as an every-down NFL back.
Expected to receive significantly more carries in 2013, Brown struggled under first-year coach Chip Kelly. Originally thought to be a good fit, he was simply unable to contribute in Kelly's whimsical offense, taking a clear step backward from his rookie year. He was one of the least-utilized backups in the league, and was seemingly never called upon in meaningful situations.
Though Sproles certainly isn't capable of handling traditional running back duties if Shady experiences injury woes this season, expect Brown to be made available on the trading block prior to May's draft anyway.
Why? Although he's a misfit in Kelly's offense, he still maintains a fairly high perceived value elsewhere and he'll likely be utilized to finagle a mid-round pick from a team in the market for a quality insurance plan or timeshare back.
Brown's potential vastly outweighs his highly fixable fumbilitis, and NFL front offices will be more than willing to take a flyer on the 22-year-old.
Prior to the 2013 season, Rotoworld's Evan Silva noted that "Brown has the potential to be a physically imposing downhill runner with breakaway speed." While true, the key word here is potential. He hasn't quite grasped that he can't simply outrun defenses as he did in high school—he tends to run side to side, searching for the big play rather than simply picking up guaranteed yards.
It's a bit worrisome, yes, but an extremely coachable issue, so expect Brown to grow in confidence as he earns more live reps in the backfield.
His best fit will be somewhere that employs a variation of the West Coast offense—he'll be provided ample room to run and he excels in open space. While already a candidate to take it to the house at any moment, a more vertically spread field would only increase this threat. Brown possesses the ability to become a Pro Bowl-caliber back, it's simply a matter of placing him in a system conducive to his skill set.
Wherever he does end up, he'll likely come at less than market value. With Chris Polk set to supposedly battle Brown for third-string duties, the Eagles will surely be content to grab whatever they can for him. The current situation clearly isn't desirable for either side here, and the sooner that the two can part ways, the better.
He could conceivably start for several teams this season, and it's rather baffling that there hasn't been increased interest after the potential he showed toward the end of his rookie year. He has a Marion Barber-like toughness about him and can easily ascend to among the league's top backs if he can quell his unnecessary lateral movement and work on ball security.
Don't be shocked if Philly GM Howie Roseman has already quietly begun shopping Brown around the league. He's much too talented to sit third—or possibly fourth—on the Eagles' depth chart when he's capable of providing an immediate impact elsewhere.
Look for Brown to possibly wind up as the centerpiece of a draft-day trade to an organization ready to take a chance on a high-risk, high-reward back.