June 20th, 2021, is Fathers Day.
It’s also Game 7 of the Philadelphia 76ers’ series against the Atlanta Hawks and the 45th anniversary of the release of Jaws, the Steven Speilberg vehicle that defined the “Summer Blockbuster” forever.
While he officially retired all the way back in 2019, let’s take a look back at the Kansas State grad’s NFL career and how he somehow became one of the most prolific all-purpose yard earners in franchise history, despite only appearing in 63 games over six seasons.
The Philadelphia Eagles got a lot of miles out of number 43.
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The Philadelphia Eagles’ 24-26 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round of the 2013 NFL playoffs may go down as one of the more impactful contests in recent memory.
Don’t believe me? Well, allow me to elaborate.
Said game marked the final time DeSean Jackson suited up for the Eagles until his eventual return in 2019 and the first playoff appearance of Nick Foles’ then-young career. It also proved to Chip Kelly that his offense wasn’t quite ready for prime time and resulted in some schematic adjustments that didn’t exactly work out in the team’s favor in 2014 and beyond.
But most importantly of all, it near-single-handedly influenced Howie Roseman and company to pursue Malcolm Jenkins and Darren Sproles in free agency in March of 2014; who just so happen to be two of the best free agency additions in recent memory.
While Jenkins may earn all of the accolades for being the Eagles’ ironman from 2014-19, appearing in over 99 percent of the team’s snaps over that tenure without missing a single start, fans the world over sometimes forget just how impactful Sproles was for the final few years of the “Kelly-era,” and how his fingerprints remain on the Eagles’ lineup all the way to this very day.
Initially drafted by the then-San Diego Chargers with the 130th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Sproles spent the first six years of his career in the Golden State, before being signed outright in free agency on a four-year, $14 million deal.
A value at twice the price.
Under the watchful eye of Sean Payton, Sproles developed into one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL, amassing 8,594 all-purpose yards as a receiver/rusher/return man, while picking up 22 touchdowns in 44 regular season games.
Had Sproles’ career ended there, he’d surely go down as one of the better “mighty mouses” to ever play the game, but for the low, low price of a 2014 fifth-round pick, a third act was added to the do-it-all offensive weapon’s career that may go down as its most impactful.
Fun fact: The New Orleans Saints used the pick they acquired from the Eagles to draft Ronald Powell, outside linebacker, Florida. Who? Exactly.
In his six seasons with the Eagles, Sproles made three Pro Bowls, led the league in punt returns and yards twice, and provided an inexpensive offensive weapon that both Kelly and his predecessor, Doug Pederson, relied on early and often whenever their respective teams needed a big play.
And believe you me, the Eagles saw no issue with going to Sproles early and often.
Despite only logging 33 percent of his NFL appearances with the Eagles, Sproles recorded half of his double-digit rushing games in a midnight green uniform. He recorded his longest reception, rush, and punt return with the club and set the blueprint for the kind of scatback Roseman has been looking to employ ever since Sproles suffered a 2017 torn ACL/broken arm that effectively ended the prime of his career.
Since that fateful game, Roseman has drafted Donnel Pumphrey, signed Boston Scott, and most recently procured another hybrid rusher by the name of Kenneth Gainwell, who could be tasked with filling a similar role to Sproles as soon as this fall.
But even if Gainwell does, in fact, gain well, he’ll never be Sproles 2.0 because frankly, no one ever will; Sproles will go down as one of the most unique offensive players in NFL history – a gridiron Ray Mysterio, if you will – and for parts of six spectacular seasons, he was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
So Darren Sproles, Happy 38th Birthday. Thank you for everything you accomplished as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles and for everything you will continue to accomplish as a personnel consultant moving forward. For many of a fan, your number 43 will forever hold a special place in their bleeding green hearts.