Saints running back Darren Sproles (43) carries the ball during the first quarter against the Eagles during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Sproles And His Role In The Philadelphia Eagles Offense

How Darren Sproles can be the new LeSean McCoy for the Eagles.

No matter how provocative the sentence above sounds, it can be what we’ll be talking about six months from now. Darren Sproles has been brought to Philadelphia to add a new dimension to its offense and this may produce great results.

The Philadelphia Eagles have one of the best running-back trios in the NFL. LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing in 2013 with 1607 yards from scrimmage. Week after week, stopping him was the primary focus of the Eagles’ opponents. Bryce Brown and Chris Polk were as good as any backup and they would definitely be in consideration for the starting job if they were playing for another team.

And yet the Eagles traded a fifth-round pick for Darren Sproles, an aging player whose numbers have been decreasing both in 2012 and 2013.

Chip Kelly called Sproles “an unbelievable offensive weapon” that “can do it all. Run, catch, plus he’s a proven winner.” Kelly has shown a tendency to go after players that performed well against his teams (Zach Ertz, Matt Barkley, Jordan Poyer). Trading for Sproles, however, had more to do with his skill set rather than his 39-yard kickoff return that helped the New Orleans Saints defeat the Eagles in the wildcard round.

A few days ago, I wrote a small piece on what the Eagles have in Darren Sproles and Nolan Carroll. I said that I expect Sproles to line up both in the backfield and in the slot, as well as an increase in screen plays and wheel routes next year.

In 2013, the Saints used a lot the empty trey formation, with Drew Brees lining up four-to-five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Jason Chilton from SB Nation did a great play analysis on a Saints’ play from this exact formation, with four receivers going deep and Sproles going to the flat, before turning upfield and catching the ball for big gain.

Even though I don’t expect the Eagles to go with an empty backfield so often, I believe that this will be how they use him. Defenses won’t be able to bring eight guys in the box anymore to stop LeSean McCoy.

Imagine Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson lined up wide, Zach Ertz next to the left tackle and Sproles and McCoy next to Foles (Sproles right, McCoy left). If the defense has eight in the box, Nick Foles will fake the handoff to McCoy while Sproles releases on a wheel route and receivers go deep.

A linebacker won’t be able to catch Sproles before he gains some yards. They can’t send a cornerback to cover Sproles, because either Maclin or Jackson will be open. Do they send the box safety? Ertz can break in a delayed route on the opposite side, one-on-one with a linebacker.

At the same time, Maclin and Jackson are also one-on-one with one safety over the top. If Foles doesn’t like any of that, he can take off with McCoy as a lead blocker.

This is just one quick play that came to mind. I can’t tell if it makes it to the playbook, but Chip Kelly’s offense is based on mismatches and he is going to use Sproles to do just that. That’s how Sproles can become the new McCoy: defenses will have to plan for him too.

I was asked on Twitter how much time will be taken away from McCoy now that Darren Sproles is in the mix. I don’t think McCoy will see the field less often. Actually, I believe both of them will be in the same lineup a lot.

I expect, however, McCoy’s number of carries to drop. Sproles won’t carry the rock much, but Foles will target him a lot.

It looks like the Eagles are done in free agency after trading for Darren Sproles and signing Nolan Carroll. The focus now is set on the 2014 NFL Draft.

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Tags: Chip Kelly Darren Sproles LeSean McCoy Philadelphia Eagles

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