Denver Broncos: Why They Should Pursue Darren Sproles in Free Agency

Baily Deeter@@deetersportsSenior Writer IIIMarch 10, 2014

New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles (43) against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game in Seattle, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Denver Broncos fans remember Darren Sproles as the speedster who tormented them during his years with the San Diego Chargers.

Sproles has always been fast and a deadly weapon who's been utilized in the screen game, the running game and the return game. He caught 71 passes for 604 yards and two touchdowns in 2013 and caught seven touchdowns in 13 games in 2012.

There isn't a more dangerous running back in terms of catching passes, and there aren't many faster backs either. However, the New Orleans Saints wanted to save $3.4 million in cap space, and assuming they don't find a trading partner for him, they will release him.

Now, some other team will benefit from his services.

Sproles has a career average of 5.1 yards per carry as a change-of-pace back, and while he averaged just 4.2 yards per carry in 2013, he had phenomenal all-around seasons in 2011 and 2012.

Sproles still has a lot to offer, and luckily for free-agent teams, he won't come at a hefty price. Change-of-pace backs on the wrong side of 30 aren't exactly hot commodities on the free-agent market. In fact, running backs in general aren't hot commodities in free agency.

Usually, free-agent running backs who have played through their rookie contract only have a few good years left. Ground-and-pound backs can't produce after they turn 30, which is why running backs don't earn much money in free agency.

However, despite Sproles being 31 years old, he still has plenty left. He has only carried the ball 437 times in his entire career whereas Adrian Peterson ran the ball 348 times in 2012 alone.

Sproles doesn't have much wear and tear on his legs, so his age shouldn't make much of an impact.

His speed might not be the same as it was when he first entered the league, but he can still contribute as a runner and receiver.

If he signs with the Broncos, he would be a great fit. The Broncos involve running backs heavily in the passing game, as evidenced by Knowshon Moreno's 60 receptions in 2013. With Moreno likely to leave, the Broncos would benefit from another running back who can succeed as a pass-catcher.

Sproles could be that back.

Montee Ball is likely to start at running back for the Broncos, but he is more of a bruiser than a burner. Plus, he graded out negatively in the passing game last season.

In fact, Ball, C.J. Anderson, Jerodis Williams and Ronnie Hillman, Denver's non-free-agent running backs, combined for just 278 receiving yards last season.

The Broncos could increase that number by adding Sproles. He's fabulous in the screen game, which the Broncos love to utilize. Denver totaled six touchdowns off of screens in 2013, but only scored once on a running back screen.

He could help as a runner too. He would be a huge upgrade over Hillman, Denver's current change-of-pace back, as a pass-catcher and a runner. Hillman was supposed to start in 2013, but fumbled the job opportunity away with a horrendous preseason.

After fumbling in consecutive games in the 2013 regular season, he was frequently inactive. He didn't play a snap in the playoffs, and if he's still on the roster in 2014, he's unlikely to do much.

Additionally, according to Mile High Report, Hillman was at a strip club during Super Bowl week. His decision-making off the field has been poor and he hasn't made up for it with his career 3.9 YPC average. Denver could likely get a late-round draft pick by trading Hillman or it could simply cut him.

The Broncos would then need speed in the backfield, and Sproles could provide that. He is a veteran who would complement Ball and Andersontwo bruising, ground-and-pound runnersperfectly.

Also, he would be a perfect addition on special teams. According to The Denver Post's Mike Klis, Trindon Holliday is unlikely to return to Denver as a free agent. Denver needs a punt returner and Sproles could step in.

Sproles fumbled just one punt in his three years with the Saints and has fumbled just two kickoffs since 2006. Even though his other special teams numbers are poorhe averaged fewer than seven yards per punt return in 2013he could still do a nice job.

His versatility would make him a nice fit with the Broncos, but his age and position won't help him on the market. He's likely to receive a contract very similar to the one Danny Woodhead, the 29-year-old who is insanely similar to Sproles, received last offseason.

Woodhead's contract is worth $3.5 million over two years. The older Sproles is likely going to garner a similar amount of money, which would make him more than affordable for the Broncos.

There are some cons to signing Sproles. For instance, he's old, is a backup running back and isn't an explosive special teams option. However, his versatility will make him a valuable Swiss Army knife and his age will make him affordable.

If the Broncos sign him, it could make their prolific offense even more prolific.


All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).


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