The little man from little Manhattan is still running strong. However, strength isn’t what has enabled Darren Sproles to continue enduring after 10 seasons in the National Football League.
Monday night was the most inspiring performance from a diminutive star since the Hand of the King Tyrion Lannister rallied King’s Landing forces during the Battle of Blackwater. Sproles comes pakaged in a Buzz Lightyear frame, and certainly carried the ball to infinity and beyond on Monday Night Football but he roars like Godzilla through open space.
Evading hits has been Darren Sproles’ mutant ability. When he’s not making would-be tacklers do the stanky leg he’s survived this brutal game by bouncing off of defenders like a human dodgeball.
Ten years ago, this month Sports Illustrated was inquiring as to whether the Kansas State senior could win the Heisman Trophy. The question they should have been asking was whether he could even lift it. Sproles was following up a junior season during which he had rushed for over 1,986 yards, gained 287 receiving and tallied 18 touchdowns from scrrimmage. The magnum opus of his career was a 235 yard rushing and 88 yard receiving performance in a win over the No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners, who were one game away from closing the book on the most dominant season in the history of college football.
Once in the NFL, Sproles latched onto Drew Brees in San Diego and New Orleans as a change-of-pace back. In case you’re wondering that pace was fast forward.
For the second time in his career, Sproles is paired with the best running back in football. Sproles' 152 yards onn Sunday night is the follow-up to his 71 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1. Yet, through his first two games with the Eagles, Sproles has been the most explosive weapon in the Eagles artillery.
Running back is the most physically punishing position in sports. So much that it's been suggested that tailbacks should form their own union, separate from the NFLPA that will cater to their unique needs and curtailed careers. Amazingly Sproles has staved off time and aged in slow motion.
Smaller backs must survive as fugitives on the football field, avoiding excessive contact, capture or confrontations with brolic defenders. Sproles is about the size of one of Adrian Peterson’s offspring and scampers underneath instead of through defenses. While players at every position across the field has gotten larger, Sproles is an anomaly.
Giants return specialist Trindon Holliday is recognized as the NFL’s tiniest toy in the cupboard at 5-5 and a dangerously light 169 pounds, but the 5-6 Sproles, who is the shortest running back in the last quarter-century dwarfs Holliday’s offensive usage (pun intended).
At 190 pounds, Sproles is light, but at last he’s better suited for the rigors of offensive snaps than Holliday.
There’s hasn't been a modern-day back that compares to Sproles. There’s also never been a unique NFL offense better suited for him than the Eagles offensive cannon he is currently being shot out of.
Chip Kelly traded a fifth rounder to New Orleans for Sproles because it was a custom tailor fit.
If the Indianapolis Colts are a cargo plane, the Eagles are an interstellar craft, weaving between stars, through wormholes. The Eagles are the NFL’s rag-tag Guardians of the Galaxy while LeSean McCoy and Sproles are their Rocket Raccoon and Groot, flying circles at the speed of light around the Colts in the second half without running out of fuel.
Sproles has a personal history with the Colts.
Until Sproles’ fourth season in 2008, the then-Chargers running back played a minor role on offense.
That changed during a breakout season that ended with Sproles running roughshod over the Broncos, Colts and Steelers.
The highlight of the Chargers postseason was Sproles springing a leak in the Colts offense and hitting pay dirt for a walk-off overtime touchdown.
Chip Kelly’s video game offense has found its ultimate joystick back. Sproles has a lean stature, but has benefitted from never being a workhorse back.
McCoy is the heart and soul in Philadelphia’s backfield, but Sproles is a shot of adrenaline into the chest.
Kelly has won with this football formula before.
Kelly’s Oregon offenses thrived on a potent platoon rushing attack. His final Duck backfield featured a Heisman Trophy 2,000 yard back in LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and a diminutive scat back in De'Anthony Thomas who played a similar role as the one we're seeing Sproles in.
Thomas touched the ball 101 times from scrimmage, gaining 600 yards receiving, 600 rushing and scored 16 total touchdowns.
Teams must now begin game planning for McCoy and Sproles. However, despite his slow start Nick Foles is no slouch.
The Eagles quarterback hasn’t been as efficient threatening defenses vertically in his second season as a starter without Desean Jackson.
However, life should be made easier for him moving forward if Sproles and McCoy continue skating pirouettes around gargoyle defenses.