When the Philadelphia Eagles acquired Darren Sproles for the flea market price of a fifth-round pick yesterday, somewhere Chip Kelly was doing whatever highly accomplished genius men do to celebrate a glorious event in their lives: picture something similar to a Tiger Woods fist pump.
So what can Sproles do for Kelly? Simply put, be another pass-catching version of LeSean McCoy.
Sure, Sproles’ production has dipped off as time takes its grip. But not nearly as much as most running backs who are set to turn 31 years old, because we shouldn’t even call Sproles a running back. He’s a guy who happens to line up in the backfield, but he does it while catching passes and only sporadically taking a handoff
He’s caught a lot of passes, at least 70 during each of his three Saints seasons, with 16 receiving touchdowns during that time and three +100 yard games. His speed and elusiveness is built for what Kelly and his Eagles offense does: spread the field to create space, and then utilize the likes of McCoy and Sproles in an environment where they’re most effective.
Being told that Sproles primarily catches the ball close to the line of scrimmage is not surprising. He’s a running back, and they do that. Despite catching so many passes on a swing pass or screen, he’s still averaged over eight yards per reception during each of the past three seasons, creeping close to first down yardage in 2012 (8.9).
That’s led to an impressive yards after the catch total. Over his three years with the Saints, Sproles had 1,888 YAC, more than any other pass catcher since 2011. That represents nearly all of his total receiving yardage in New Orleans, according to ESPN Stats and Information. In an offense that’s structured around short, high-percentage throws in space to soften the middle and set up deep strikes, the threat of essentially a McCoy clone in the receiving game is lethal.
McCoy is of course a fine receiver too who’s also creative after the catch. His receiving yards jumped dramatically from 373 in 2012 to 539 during his first year in a Kelly offense, and he was even more slippery than Sproles after the catch while averaging 10.4 yards (easily a career high).
He was third in total YAC in 2013 with 557 yards, right in front of Sproles, who finished with 507. The league’s No. 2 offense that averaged 417.2 yards per game in 2013 now has its offensive line locked up through the 2016 season, has all of its top receivers secured, and after targeting a running back 82 times (16 percent of the attempts from Nick Folk/Michael Vick) the Eagles also have a backfield that combined for 1,143 receiving yards.
A few more quick-ish observations and stray thoughts from Day 3, a day when Steve Smith was officially released, and although the frenzied insanity is slowing somewhat, plenty of notable names remain available for hire. Topping that list are Smith, Jared Allen, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The captain has arrived
One of the best names in football was also one of the best remaining cornerbacks, and now the often underrated Captain Munnerlyn will play alongside last year’s first-round pick Xavier Rhodes in Minnesota after signing a three-year deal worth $14.25 million over three years. He’ll improve a Vikings secondary that allowed 287.2 passing yards per game in 2013, the second worst rate in the league.
Between Munnerlyn and also signing Derek Cox while retaining Everson Griffen up front, the Vikings have had a nice little start to their offseason.
Jason Hatcher stays in the NFC East
Jason Hatcher is the opposite of young at 32 years old. He also had one booming year in 2013 with 11 sacks after logging only 16 over the previous seven years. But by signing him to a four-year deal worth $27.5 million that averages a modest $6.9 million annually, the Washington Redskins are banking on short-term production from a hopefully healthy Hatcher.
If they’re on the right side of that risk, a pass rush that has to frequently get in the grill of Tony Romo and Nick Foles will be a punishing one with Brian Orakpo also retained through the franchise tag, and Ryan Kerrigan firing off the edge.
Vince Wilfork seeing the harsh end of the Patriot way seems inevitable now after he reportedly requested his release Thursday afternoon. When it happens that end will be as cold as it always is for a veteran under Bill Belichick, but it’s also the only move. If Wilfork isn’t willing to restructure his contract or take a pay cut, a declining 32-year-old who’s rehabbing an Achilles injury can’t occupy $7.5 million in cap space, especially on a team that just signed Darrelle Revis and may be looking to secure him long term.
When he hits the open market Wilfork will quickly discover what Steve Smith is in the process of learning now: name value means so very little.