It was one rough day for Philadelphia Eagles running back Darren Sproles. After taking a handoff early in the second quarter in Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, Sproles bounced his run to the outside then tried to cut up field and took an awkward hit from Giants safety Darian Thompson. On the play, Sproles both tore his ACL and broke his arm, and is now out for the season on IR. Before the 2017 season began, Sproles was openly considering retiring after 2017, so unfortunately this may be a career ending injury for the future Hall of Famer. Sproles had a huge impact on both the Eagles offense and special teams. Now with him out for the year, what does the running back picture look like for the Eagles?
As of right now, the Eagles have three active running backs on their roster, LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement. Remember Donnel Pumphrey, who the Eagles took in the fourth round of the 2017 draft and the guy they envisioned replacing Sproles after his retirement, is also on IR with a torn hamstring. Without Sproles, the Eagles are losing an important part of their offense. Countless times over the past few years, the Eagles would just look for anyway they could to get the ball to Sproles in open space. Whether it was a quick screen pass or a designed stretch play, the shifty Sproles would get the ball in open space, either make people miss or just flat-out run by them, and turn the play into a huge gain. The way that Sproles ran with the ball, at times it looked like he could slip through a solid wall, is going to be a weapon that the Eagles offense is sorely going to miss.
So what are the Eagles going to look like at running back? Quite frankly, after last week, LeGarrette Blount should be the number one option no doubt. Blount ran like the player the Eagles expected him to be when they signed him this past offseason. On the few occasions that he wasn’t running through Giants defenders for big gains, he would often be stood up after picking up a couple of yards with three or four Giants defenders hanging on to him for dear life. Then, only God knows why, Blount would disappear from the game for a series or two after the Eagles had success running the ball with him. After the success they had last week with Blount, Pederson should line his team up under center and let Blount run the ball up the middle on first downs, in the red zone, and on third and shorts, because if the powerful Giants running defense couldn’t stop Blount, not many other teams will be able to as well.
Smallwood is probably the Eagles most complete back, and the Eagles are most likely going to use him as the lightning to Blount and Clement’s thunder. Now Smallwood is obviously nowhere near as shifty or elusive as Sproles, (then again no one is) but he is going to be the number one speed back for the Eagles. When Pederson runs the ball with Smallwood, he should give him opportunities to get to the outside and in open space so Smallwood can use his elusiveness to make defenders miss in the open fields. Also, Smallwood will become the back that the Eagles will use in the screen game, and on third and long. Smallwood has good hands out of the backfield, but will also need to be an effective pass blocker for Carson Wentz in third down situations.
The final back, Corey Clement, will also be seeing more action as the result of Sproles injury. The undrafted rookie free agent out of Wisconsin had his first career rushing touchdown on Sunday, beautifully bouncing a hand off from Carson Wentz to the outside and then taking it to the house. Clement, although not as big as Blount, generally has the same running style as him. He is going to try to go through instead of around you, and will probably see some more action to spell Blount when he is tired, now that Sproles is done for the year.
Also, lets not forget the impact of Sproles’ injury to the special teams unit. Sproles has returned four punts for touchdowns in his Eagles career and teams were always concerned about punting his way. The Eagles sent out Torrey Smith as a punt returner last week after Sproles went down, and while Smith can fly, he just doesn’t have the same effect as Sproles. While Smith is a solid option at returner, don’t be surprised if Pederson gives Wendell Smallwood a shot as well, after all Smallwood did take a kick back to the house last year against the Washington Redskins.
Sproles injury was not just devastating to the team, but to Eagles fans everywhere. Every Eagles fan loved Sproles’ hard work and toughness, and I think I can speak for everyone in saying that I hope he gets better soon.