darren sproles

The danger of too much Darren Sproles

The danger of too much Darren Sproles

Darren Sproles had 16 touches in the Redskins game Sunday.

He’s 36 years old.

To put that in perspective, it had been 13 years since an NFL running back 36 or older had 16 touches … in a SEASON.

Sproles got nine carries, caught three passes, returned four punts. 

The last time a running back 36 years old got that kind of workload in a single game it was Hall of Famer Marcus Allen in 1997.

Sproles was effective Sunday -- 9-for-47 rushing, 3-for-16 receiving and 4-for-46 on punt returns.

But it's too much.

There's no way 16 touches a week is sustainable for Sproles, who missed most of the 2017 season with a broken arm and torn ACL and missed most of last year with a lingering hamstring injury.

Jordan Howard had eight touches (for 58 yards) and rookie Miles Sanders 12 touches (for 27 yards). Corey Clement didn’t have any.

So Sproles wound up with only four fewer touches than Howard, Sanders and Clement combined.

Pederson acknowledged that he has to keep an eye on Sproles’ touches moving forward but doesn’t think it was a mistake to use Sproles that much Sunday.

We always are going to monitor that each week,” he said Wednesday. “(It’s) kind of how our game plan fell with the running backs a little bit. We still want to keep him involved as best we can, but at the same time we want to make sure that Miles and Jordan — because they're both younger backs -- are good and keep that rotation solid, along with Corey.

Some more notes on Sproles’ opening-day performance (from Pro Football Reference):

• Only four other running backs in NFL history have ever had 109 all-purpose yards in a game after their 36th birthday: MacArthur Lane of the Chiefs in 1978, Hall of Famer John Riggins twice in 1985, Allen once in 1996 and Fred McAfee of the Saints twice in 2005.

• The last player 36 years old with four punt returns in a game was Troy Brown of the Patriots in 2007. 

• The last time a running back Sproles’ age had 16 touches in a game was Allen in 1997. 

• The last time a running back Sproles’ age had 47 rushing yards in a game was 2004, when McAfee ran 53 yards on a fake punt.    

The last time the Eagles saw a healthy Sproles in the postseason he was returning an Alex Henery kickoff 39 yards and getting horse collared by Cary Williams to help the Saints record a last-second wild-card win at the Linc in 2013.

He didn’t play in the 2017 playoffs and clearly wasn’t himself in the postseason last year, with 16 carries for 25 yards, five catches for 35 yards and a punt return for minus-one yard.

His 16 touches Sunday actually matched the 12th-most of his career, and he’s played 178 games.

Pederson has used Sproles too much in the past. And you can understand why. 

It's tempting. He’s an explosive guy, he never fumbles, he's always in the right place, and Doug knows he can break a game open at any point.

But there’s also a point of diminishing returns with Sproles. The more he plays, the less he’ll likely be able to help you in the long run. And the Eagles need a healthy, productive Sproles in December and January.

Right now, this is a case of less is more, and Pederson needs to understand that.

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Why Darren Sproles appeared to be the featured back Sunday for Eagles

Why Darren Sproles appeared to be the featured back Sunday for Eagles

All summer, the debate was whether the Eagles would lean on Jordan Howard in the ground attack, or if rookie Miles Sanders would overtake him as the primary ball carrier.

But in Week 1, it felt like Darren Sproles was the Eagles’ lead back — and some people weren’t happy about it.

Sproles didn’t actually top Eagles running backs in playing time or carries against Washington on Sunday. His 23 snaps and nine rushing attempts were well behind Sanders with 36 and 11, though slightly ahead of Howard’s 17 and six.

Sproles’ 49 yards rushing did lead the team however, while the 36-year-old’s 17 total touches between runs, receptions and punt returns was his highest total since 2016. It begged the question why, especially when the Eagles’ offense got off to its slow start.

“When we construct games, we have multiple run schemes and they are designed for different guys,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “The ones that were kind of clicking today were the Darren ones, and so just kept calling his number there.”

Like the rest of the offense though, Sproles was ineffective early. He ended the first half with three runs for eight yards and two catches for nine yards, and a pitch that went for a two-yard loss on 3rd-and-1 stood out as an especially egregious call.

The general sentiment on social media during the first half: Love the guy, but too much Sproles.

Pederson stuck with Sproles, and the 15th-year veteran rewarded his patience, rushing four times for 32 yards on an Eagles touchdown drive to open the third quarter, and tacking on a two-point conversion in the fourth. He also returned four punts for an 11.5 average.

“When I got in there the first half, I felt kind of rusty a little bit,” Sproles said. “But in the second half I kind of got going a little bit.”

The negativity over Sproles’ usage mostly subsided with his turnaround. He’s a useful cog in the offense and a terrific return specialist. He’s also about to move into fifth on the NFL’s career all-purpose yards list at 5-foot-6, which players and fans of all allegiances respect.

"I love that guy and how hard he works for us," Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said. "Situationally, from third downs, to punts, he’s a leader on this football team."

Still, the heavy workload raises some concerns. Sproles missed 23 games due to injury in the last two seasons. And he wasn't the Eagles’ most effective back toting the rock on Sunday —  it was Howard, his 7.3 yards per carry more than two full yards better.

Pederson does seem to get enamored with Sproles at times and has never been shy about using him in short yardage situations or giving him the bulk of the carries in defiance of physical stature and age.

It’s understandable to a degree, as Sproles is capable of powerful and explosive plays as a runner or receiver from almost any position in the offense.

Yet, as long as Howard, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, and Sanders, a second-round draft pick, are both in the fold, relying too much on Sproles is going to draw more criticism than ever — especially when it isn’t working.

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Eagles' aging roster shaped Roseman's offseason approach

Eagles' aging roster shaped Roseman's offseason approach

The Eagles are old.

With an average age of 26.7 according to Spotrac, they’re the third-oldest team in the NFL based on 53-man rosters as of Monday morning.

Now, this isn’t a problem right now. In fact, the two older teams — the Patriots and Falcons — have deep playoff aspirations, just like the Eagles.

But when you look at the Eagles’ roster, you can’t help notice that their best players are well along in their careers.

Jason Peters is 37, Darren Sproles 36, DeSean Jackson 32, Jason Kelce, Malcolm Jenkins and Brandon Graham 31, Brandon Brooks 30, Lane Johnson, Alshon Jeffery, Rodney McLeod, Malik Jackson and Nigel Bradham 29, Zach Ertz and Fletcher Cox 28.

Now, nobody is thinking about retiring at 28 or 29 … well, almost nobody … but the reality is that as stocked as the Eagles roster is for 2019 and 2020, when you start looking a few years into the future — which is a big part of Howie Roseman’s job — you don’t see the proven young stars that so many other teams have.

And it’s clear now how much that reality shaped the Eagles’ offseason.

On the wall of Howie Roseman’s office there are projected depth charts for this year but also for the next few years.

And the absence of elite young talent, even while the Eagles have been winning a lot of games, has been looming.

• League-wide, there were 39 Pro Bowlers last year who were 25 or younger. None were Eagles.

• Over the last three years — since Roseman returned to power — there have been 81 Pro Bowlers 25 or younger and only one — Carson Wentz — from the Eagles.

• Wentz is the only Pro Bowler the Eagles have selected since the 2013 Lane Johnson/Zach Ertz draft, and as talented as he is, he obviously still has a ton to prove.

For the sake of comparison, the Cowboys over the last three years have had six players 25 and younger make a Pro Bowl, the Rams and Chiefs have had five, the Saints and even the Giants have had four.

Which brings us to this offseason and even final cuts this weekend.

Roseman is the best in the business and he knows that building a roster isn’t just about bringing in the 53 most talented players, it’s also about setting the team up for the future.

Even with just five draft picks, he seems to have infused the offense with potential high-level young talent in Andre Dillard, Miles Sanders and JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Jordan Howard, who came in a trade, is a former Pro Bowler who’s only 24.

But here’s where this is really interesting.

It seems like a lot of the Eagles’ weekend decisions were geared toward getting younger.

Keeping Nate Herbig instead of Stefen Wisniewski. Keeping six defensive ends because they didn’t want to part with Daeshon Hall, Josh Sweat or Shareef Miller, all young talents. Keeping undrafted rookie T.J. Edwards instead of one of the veteran linebackers in camp. Snagging 24-year-old special teams demon Rudy Ford off the waiver wire. Keeping young linemen like Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata even though they’ve never played an NFL snap.

Roseman was asked about this Saturday, and his answer was revealing.

“We have to understand that we have to develop players,” he said. “We have to bet on our young players. We have to bet on our scouting. We have to bet on our coaching.”

In other words, it’s not enough to just gather up the 53 best players you can find. You have to do it with a constant eye on the future.

The Eagles do have some truly promising young players.

Heck, Dallas Goedert and Corey Clement are 24. Derek Barnett, Avonte Maddox, Dillard Sidney Jones are 23. Sanders and Arcega-Whiteside are only 22.

But as promising as all those guys are, as much as they all look like big pieces of the future, none has ever even been a full-time starter.

Who’s the next Fletcher? Who’s the next Malcolm? The next Nigel Bradham? The next Alshon or DeSean? The next Kelce or Peters?

Who are the stars of the future? 

Roseman’s offseason was all about not only building a team that can contend for a Super Bowl right now but to do it with an eye on the future.

Was he successful? We’ll know in about three years.

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