Darren Sproles is coming off of a season where he played in only three games and unfortunately suffered a broken arm and torn ACL on the same play, effectively ending his 2017-18 season. The 2018-19 campaign will be the last for Darren Sproles as he hopes to finish his career as a back-to-back Super Bowl champion. Coming off such a brutal combination of injuries at age 35 and being his old self will be no easy task, but luckily the Eagles’ circumstances allow for Sproles to be given a lighter load and should allow him to ease into his new role.
In the 2016 season, Sproles averaged 6.3 rushing attempts per game (a career high) and 3.5 receptions per game. During games in which Sproles played, he appeared in nearly half of the team’s offensive snaps (45%). That would count for him being on the field for almost double the amount of time as the next running back (which was Ryan Matthews in 2016). Compare that to 2017-18, albeit in only a three game sample size, Sproles appeared in just 7.87% of available offensive snaps. This would suggest that Doug Pederson recognized the workload given to Sproles the season before and would ease him into his usual role as the season progressed. Obviously, Sproles sustained injury, the Eagles traded for Jay Ajayi, and the rest is history, but that usage could offer insight into how Sproles will be used this upcoming season.
The 2018-19 edition of the Philadelphia Eagles is pretty set at running back. Being third on the depth chart behind Jay Ajayi and presumably Corey Clement will allow Sproles to be the ultimate change-of-pace back. Last season, Ajayi rushed 10 times per game to go along with 1.4 receptions. In the playoffs, those numbers went up to 14 and 2 respectively. If we assume Ajayi’s workload will be similar to what he saw in last season’s playoffs, we can say that he’ll see around 15 rushing attempts per game, give or take. According to ESPN.com, the Eagles averaged about 29.5 rushing attempts per game last season. That leaves more or less 15 attempts for Clement, Sproles, and potentially one of Josh Adams or Matt Jones. Clement has shown he can handle handoffs between the tackles as well as leaking out for a pass, like he did here in the Super Bowl (which, as a friendly reminder, the Eagles won 41-33 over Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Evil Empire).
Ultimately the acquisition of Ajayi and the emergence of Clement means that Sproles will be seen less on offensive possessions than Eagles fans may be used to seeing him, but the threat of his speed and pass catching will still allow for him to be a decoy opposing defenses must stress over, as well as being an x-factor capable of busting out big yardage plays with his speed and elusiveness. Simply having him on the field can lead the opposition into thinking a draw or screen is incoming, which then opens things up for the rest of the offense. The backfield combination of Ajayi, Clement, and Sproles to go along with Doug Pederson’s willingness to go by committee makes sure that the Eagles have versatile playmakers who can each do different things while staying fresh. Sproles should regain his role as return specialist, considering Wendell Smallwood and Kenyon Barner handled those duties after his injury last season. With both of them being a long shot to make the team, expect Sproles to be dancing around defenders on returns all season.
One thing to keep in mind with the return of Darren Sproles is that a healthy Carson Wentz will be returning as well. Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, and Mike Wallace will be the primary playmakers through the air this season, but with Carson’s uncanny ability to extend plays, having a crafty back like Sproles on the field can lead to the two connecting for numerous schoolyard style plays like the one you can see here. The return of Darren Sproles, despite being in potentially smaller doses, should still excite Eagles fans in our pursuit of being repeat Champions.