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Darren Sproles: The X-Factor On Offense

Posted Aug 6, 2017

You’ve seen the video by now, the one that features highlights from Darren Sproles’s youth years on the football field. He’s No. 43, making the little guys miss, turning them inside and out with his quick feet, running past them with his speed and leaving them on the ground as Sproles turns handoffs into 60-yard runs ...

You’ve seen the video by now, the one that features highlights from Darren Sproles’ youth on the football field. He’s No. 43, making the little guys miss, turning them inside and out with his quick feet, running past them with his speed, and leaving them on the ground as Sproles turns handoffs into 60-yard runs.

All of these years later, not a whole lot has changed.

Sproles is still doing it his way. In his 13th season, Sproles has gained 19,011 all-purpose yards in his magnificent career, eighth highest in NFL history and the most among active players. He’s the only player in NFL history to score 30 receiving touchdowns, 20 rushing touchdowns, and at least one punt return touchdown and one kickoff return touchdown.

“What makes him so special is that he is so unique. People focus on his size, his lack of stature, and they don’t give him the credit he deserves for being able to play at a dominating level in every place on the field you want to put him,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “That guy is remarkable. You just want to put the football in his hands, because you know he’s doing to do something positive for your football team.”

As the Eagles turn their attention to the preseason opener on Thursday night at Green Bay (8 p.m., NBC10 in Philadelphia) and then go all in on preparation for the regular season, Sproles figures to be a key part of the offense.

Let’s go this far, then: Darren Sproles is the X-factor for the Eagles' offense this season.

A strong offseason helped the offense overhaul the skill positions – Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith are here to lead the way at wide receiver, and LeGarrette Blount brings some muscle to the running game. The offensive line is stout and deep and should be among the best in the NFL. The three-headed tight end group of Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton will be heavily involved in the passing game.

That leaves Sproles as a piece who fits everywhere and nowhere as the extra weapon to use.

“It’s hard to match up with someone like Darren,” running backs coach Duce Staley said of Sproles in the spring. “He doesn’t make mental mistakes, so he’s going to be in the right spot in the passing game. He’s got so much quickness and he’ll pop you. He runs with some power.

“This offense is different from last year’s offense, so it’s going to be fun seeing where he fits into the games each week.”

Sproles carried the ball a career-high 94 times in 2016 and compiled 146 touches from the line of scrimmage, the most he’s had in each of his NFL seasons except in 2011 when Sproles had 173 combined rushing attempts and receptions. It’s not expected that Sproles will be so relied upon this season, not with all the depth at wide receiver, and with Blount and second-year man Wendell Smallwood ready to carry the load on the ground.

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But the Eagles are going to be able to spot-use Sproles more and they should be able to get him into open space and free him up for some big plays. In an offense that has Jeffery and Smith on the outside, Ertz and the other tight ends bouncing around the formation, and the 250-pound Blount using his mass to soften up a defense’s interior, Sproles may just very well be a forgotten man.

And that’s exactly how the Eagles might use him.

Bring Sproles in, spread the field, and present a defense with the headache of trying to match up with his unequaled quickness. Get the screen game rolling behind that big offensive line. Or give Sproles a handoff and see him hit the hole and get through it with a head of steam. Split Sproles out wide and see if any linebacker in the league can stay with him.

As far as X-factors go, there may be none better than Sproles.

“He’s such a special guy. I love having him here. When he’s on the field, he just gets open and makes it easy for me,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “I’m excited to see how we use him. He’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing, just like in the past.”

Sproles, the X-factor? We’ve heard it before. But in the years Sproles has been here – and he’s been great from the line of scrimmage and as a punt return man – the Eagles haven’t had the kind of talent they have on this roster. Sproles doesn’t have to get worn down in the running game. There won’t be any reason to force the football to Sproles in the passing game. Defenses in the past could concentrate the right personnel on Sproles – double teams at times – without worrying that the rest of the offense would make them pay.

But now it’s different with what the Eagles have done in the offseason adding to the offense. Sproles doesn’t have to be featured to be effective and to win games. He just has to make the most of his touches.

The X-factor is in the perfect position in the scheme to change games with a touch here and a touch there. He did it as a peewee player, and he’s in position to do it again in 2017 with the Eagles.

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