Eagles running back Darren Sproles is a special NFL player. Matt Waldman’s RSP examines a facet of Sproles’ footwork that aids his balance and agility in tight spaces.
What do Sproles and Marshawn Lynch have in common? Eric Stoner discovered the link when we took a Sproles video tangent during an RSP Film room on Donnel Pumphrey two years ago, but the interwebs sucked the episode into a vortex where it will never return.
That great but ill-fated show will never see the public eye and it has left me dissatisfied with my lack of attention to Sproles’ game. He’s an important NFL player in the history of the game as well as in the craft of player evaluation.
Sproles’ name is raised every year that college football has a productive running back shorter than five-foot-eight and weighs less than 190 pounds. And every year, that player’s ability isn’t remotely on par with Sproles.
Tarik Cohen, my top-rated situational back in the 2017 RSP publication, may finally be a worthy successor to the throne. However, the king isn’t dead. Sproles will play one more year and it’s likely that the NFL’s eighth-ranked option in all-purpose yards will finish in the top-five in this category by season’s end.
One of my favorite jobs as an evaluator is studying NFL talent and seeking the things that make a player exceptional — especially when he doesn’t fit the conventional physical prototypes of a position.
A facet of Sproles’ game that makes him special is his ability to move his legs in different directions at once. Many backs lack the coordination to move their legs in unconventional patterns. Sproles can extend one leg forward at the same time he’s moving the other backward. It helps him generate balance, pull through wraps, and execute difficult cutbacks in tight space.
I call it “Independent Rear Suspension.”
Here's Sproles… pic.twitter.com/BVZ7peDENQ
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) July 4, 2018
Lynch and Barry Sanders are the two others backs that I’ve seen perform this skill repeatedly. What does Sproles’ Independent Rear Suspension teach us?
- It allows a back to work in and out of tight creases.
- It supports a stop-start elusive style that coaches don’t prefer but will support if the player can prove it works for him.
- It helps a back break reaches, wraps, and hits to his legs because he can shift his balance at the last moment in tight space.
Sproles didn’t get the chance to be a lead back in the NFL — he’s never earned 100 carries as a runner during his 12-year career. Despite that fact, he’s a great running back if you’re judging by process instead of the outcome.
That’s my job. My assessment won’t earn Sproles any additional street cred, but it will help you have a starting point for evaluating runners tall and short; big and small.
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