Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Could Sproles be coming to D.C.?

(Full Disclosure: As I explained more than a year ago in an NFL playoff picks article, Darren Sproles has been one of my favorite players since his days at Kansas State several years ago. I hoped the Redskins would draft Sproles in the 2005 NFL Draft, but that didn't happen. To see how much of a monster Sproles was in college, check out this video.)

According to PFT, the Redskins are interested in Darren Sproles. That's not exactly shocking news, since Daniel Snyder obviously likes to sign free agents to big contracts. And if Snyder really wants Sproles, he's going to sign him.

Most Redskins fans want Snyder to stop overpaying older players, but does Sproles qualify in this case? Probably not -- he turns 27 in June. And if there's no salary cap in the upcoming season, does it really matter how much Snyder pays anyone? It seems that the most important issue is whether Sproles would improve the Redskins or not. Let's take a look at some numbers.

First, kickoff returns:

D. Sproles 54 1,300 24.1 66 0
R. Cartwright 39 868 22.3 42 0

In this case, Sproles has the better numbers over Rock Cartwright, the Redskins main kick returner in 2009-2010. However, in terms of kickoff return average, Sproles ranked 18th among qualified players.

Next, punt returns:

D. Sproles 26 183 7.0 77 1
A. Randle El 17 102 6.0 43 0

Santana Moss also returned 11 punts for 52 yards, for what it's worth. Out of all qualified players, Sproles ranked 22nd in punt return average.

So what do these numbers mean? Well, they show that Sproles is a better returner than what the Redskins had last season -- and he posted those numbers while also receiving a career-high 93 carries (for 343 yards and three touchdowns) and catching a career-high 45 passes (for 497 yards -- an 11.0 average -- and four touchdowns). That increased workload may explain why Sproles's return numbers were down across the board from the previous season.

Since it seems like Clinton Portis will be back next season, Sproles wouldn't have to carry the full load in the backfield, which he probably wouldn't be able to handle for an entire season anyway because of his diminutive frame. The Redskins would be able to use Sproles on returns and almost exclusively on third downs since no other running back on the team comes close in pass-catching ability. Head coach Mike Shanahan also would surely be able to utilize Sproles's strengths in the running game with his zone blocking schemes.

Does it make more sense to draft a shifty running back (like C.J. Spiller) to handle returns and third down duties? Probably. But adding Sproles would help the Redskins in a few key areas and at least make them a little bit better going forward. It also gives Snyder a chance to spend more money.

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