The league's archetypal passing-down RB enjoyed his most productive season since coming to Philadelphia in 2016. With Ryan Mathews unable to stay healthy, Sproles filled a bigger role than usual and received a career-high in carries while also catching at least 40 passes for an amazing eighth straight year. His small stature has always limited his usage, but the 34-year-old remains fast and elusive, and his receiving and route-running ability are second to none among running backs. Given his age and the fact he's handled nearly 1,200 touches in his career, expecting another excellent campaign might be wishful thinking. The Eagles' signing of LeGarrette Blount should ensure Sproles isn't asked to do too much outside his comfort zone, but the veteran could still be a useful PPR option for at least one more year.
Are we starting to see the beginning of the end? Sproles had the worst yards per carry mark (3.8) of his career last year — a two-yard drop from the previous season — and his catch rate and average catch were both significantly below his established baseline. Perhaps you can blame some of this on departed coach Chip Kelly, but are we sure the offense will be better this year? Sam Bradford is still around, and if he's not under center, unproven rookie Carson Wentz will be. Sproles turned 33 in June, and a cliff season can't be faroff. There's some lower-end PPR value to him, but that's the likely extent of it. A summertime cut wouldn't come as a great shock, either.
Sproles didn't exactly get the “shiny new toy” treatment in his first season in Chip Kelly's playpen, but he still provided plenty of value for the Eagles. Seeing fewer snaps and far fewer targets than he had with the Saints, Sproles compensated by improving his production on the ground and scoring a career-high six rushing touchdowns. The 5-6 Sproles is never going to be anyone's idea of a feature back, but his elusiveness, soft hands and smooth routes allow him to excel in the passing game, and on the ground he can get into the secondary simply by hiding in traffic. He has more competition for touches this season, as DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews replaced LeSean McCoy, but the more important offseason move for Sproles might have been Jeremy Maclin's departure for Kansas City. With Jordan Matthews moving to the outside to replace Maclin, Sproles could see more action in the slot and return to the high-volume targets of his Saints days.
This offseason brought a major change for Sproles, who was dealt to the Eagles after three years of outstanding production with the Saints. But while the scenery has changed, his role shouldn't – never a featured back in New Orleans, he'll play second fiddle to LeSean McCoy now, and he'll still be counted on to catch plenty of passes out of the backfield while taking handoffs about five times per game.
Although he won't have megastar Drew Brees hooking up with him anymore, the diminutive Sproles (he stands only 5-6, 190) should quickly establish a rapport with Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who had a big breakout season last year. That Foles-to-Sproles combo should have Philadelphia's sports-talk jockeys humming throughout the campaign.
Though he's entering his age-31 season, Sproles seems to be an exception to the "rule" of running-back aging, thanks in large part to the fact that he's never even hit 100 carries in a season while occupying the role of a pass-catching back. It's better, perhaps, to think of him as a slot receiver in his middle years who gets some carries and qualifies at RB.
Indeed, Sproles' main value will continue to be in PPR formats, where his high volume of pass targets should quite reasonably be expected to result in a fourth consecutive season of 70-plus receptions. He hasn't been greatly productive in terms of raw yardage recently, failing to break 1,000 yards in each of the last two years, and with McCoy likely to be a big factor near the goal line, Sproles seems unlikely to rack up big touchdown totals.
In 29 games as a Saint, Sproles has piled up 2,224 yards from scrimmage and 18 total touchdowns (including a kick return). That he's done so while rushing only 135 times is remarkable.
Coming out of the backfield, the lightning-quick Sproles is a difficult matchup for opposing defenders, and his route-running skills and good hands make him a reliable target for Drew Brees. Sproles' 161 catches the last two years put him on par with the better slot receivers in the NFL – and they don't qualify at running back and also accumulate rushing stats. This makes him especially valuable in PPR formats.
A broken hand limited Sproles to 13 games in 2012, and yet he still led the position in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns – without Sean Payton on the sideline. The return of the Saints coach figures only to increase Sproles' value for 2013.
Despite finishing tied for 56th in carries, Sproles totaled 1,313 yards with nine touchdowns last year, proving to be one of the league’s best offseason free-agent signings. He was a PPR monster, as his 86 receptions, 710 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches led all running backs (so did his 6.9 YPC, albeit in a small sample). He might be the quickest back in all of football, but even at just 5-6, 190, he’s much more physical than his small frame suggests, as Sproles’ 3.67 YPC after contact was the second-best mark in the NFL. In non-PPR leagues, it’s tough to draft someone early who averaged just 5.4 carries per game last season, but with his skill set and in such a potent offense (assuming Drew Brees re-signs), Sproles merits consideration once the top tiers are off the board.
While it would be interesting to see what Sproles could do with 200 carries (assuming it didn’t result in death), it appears he’ll never be given the opportunity, thanks to his 5-6, 190-pound frame. A terrific blocker, Sproles got 5.3 YPC and was once again one of the league’s best receiving backs in the NFL last season, racking up 59 catches for 520 yards. As a Saint, Sproles will likely play a similar role as a versatile weapon on the ground and through the air, much like his New Orleans predecessor Reggie Bush. Still, Sproles is a passing-down back who possesses far more fantasy value in PPR formats than in standard leagues.
Sproles received a career-high in carries last
season, but it was still a modest 93, as he
remained exclusively in a third-down role. His
YPC dropped from 5.4 in 2008 to 3.7, but his
receiving was still elite — he averaged an NFL-best
11.0 yards-per-catch and caught four
touchdowns (giving him an impressive nine
receiving TDs the last two years). It would be
interesting to see what Sproles could do with 20
touches per game, but the Chargers prefer that
never happens, trading up to select Ryan
Mathews in the first round of the draft. Sproles
is nothing more than a talented backup in a
terrific offensive system with immense upside
should his role unexpectedly change.
Sproles didn’t start a single regular season game last year, but he went nuts when given the opportunity, rushing for 115 yards with two touchdowns on just 14 carries during Week 17. He also averaged 11.8 yards-per-catch, which was easily the highest among running backs. Despite limited work, Sproles totaled eight touchdowns over the final six games last season counting the playoffs. Filling in for an injured LaDainian Tomlinson during the Wild Card round, Sproles showed he’s not just a change-of-pace back, racking up 150 yards with two touchdowns on 27 touches.
At 5-6, 181, Sproles isn’t likely to be the team’s workhorse, though he did average 20 carries a game over his final three seasons (39 games) at Kansas State. Sproles signed a one-year franchise tender during the offseason and expects to earn a big contract in 2010. LaDainian Tomlinson remains the unquestioned starter in San Diego, but he has 2,657 career rushing attempts and has suffered season-ending injuries in each of the past two years, so he’s a candidate to break down. If that were the case, Sproles would immediately become a top-15 option.
Sproles has evolved into a dynamic return man and a legitimate threat in a limited role on offense. Last season he rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns in relief of LaDainian Tomlinson in a blowout win at Detroit, and he also scored on a 56-yard screen pass during the Bolts' win at Indianapolis during the AFC Divisional Playoffs. Enterting 2008, Sproles will be in line for an increased workload with the departure of Michael Turner to Atlanta. Sproles will likely split backup duties with rookie Jacob Hester, but he should see plenty of action as San Diego has a history of trying to keep Tomlinson healhty and fresh throughout the regular season.
Sproles missed the entire 2006 season with a broken fibula. In 2005, Sproles excelled as a kick and punt returner and also got some looks in the offense as a change of pace back. He hopes to play a similar role in 2007.
Sproles' value is limited mainly to special teams as a return man. He is listed as the third string running back, but the primary backup (Michael Turner) is better than a lot of starters in the league, so Sproles does not figure to see much action out of the backfield. He does excel on kick and punt returns because of his lightning quick moves and uncanny ability to make people miss.
Sproles will be a very interesting player in 2005. He is small and fast, and has already earned a hefty reputation for being able to make people miss in open spaces. Though he was initially drafted to take over the team's kick and punt return duties, it is becoming more and more evident that San Diego's brain trust wants to use him out of the backfield. They like the potential mismatches that he could pose coming out of the backfield as a third down back or even in certain two-back sets lined up along with superstar LaDainian Tomlinson. But determining Sproles' true draft day value could be a tough chore because even if he sizzles in preseason, we will not know how much the team will use him when the games start for real. The Chargers would be ecstatic if he were to make two or three good plays per week, but from a fantasy perspective he only has value if he gets a consistently high number of touches. At this point, that does not seem too likely.