Matt Williamson of ESPN's Scouts Inc. included the Patriots among his list of teams that would be the best fit for free-agent running back Darren Sproles. The free-agent status of Sproles also generated some discussion on ESPN Radio's “Mike & Mike” program on Monday.
From this amateur scouting chair, I like the fit and here's why:
1. Back to square one after loss of Woodhead: Some who take part in the weekly chats on ESPNBoston.com have a running joke that I'd be rich for every time Danny Woodhead's name was mentioned. I don't mean it to be overkill, but I thought the Patriots miscalculated on Woodhead last offseason and ended up missing his presence more than they realized they would. Yes, they already had Shane Vereen on the roster, but the price to keep Woodhead, and Woodhead's desire to stay, were all in a place where the Patriots could have had the best of both worlds. Adding Sproles would create that type of dynamic in 2014.
2. Need more than one "passing" back: When Vereen was sidelined for half of the 2013 regular-season with a wrist injury, the Patriots turned to 220-pound Brandon Bolden as his replacement in the “passing” back role. In doing so, it was a little bit of a square peg in the round hole -- while Bolden catches the ball fairly well and isn't afraid to stick his head in there as a pass-protector, he's not as elusive as many teams would desire in that role. Because of how often the Patriots spread things out, the “passing” back is really no different than the traditional early-down running back in terms of playing time in their scheme. It makes sense to have multiple players who can fill that void.
3. Expounding upon the idea of creating matchup advantages: One of the reasons Williamson cited for the Patriots being a good fit with Sproles was the team's knack for creating advantageous matchups, and how Sproles' skill set could be maximized in their scheme. In 2011 and 2012, a big part of the Patriots' ability to create favorable matchups was tied to the tight end position because of the unique talents of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. As we saw in 2013, when there is no Gronkowski and Hernandez, that dynamic is much harder to come by. Ideally, the Patriots will capture that magic once again, but tight end is a challenging position to find those types of players, so why not try it at running back? A Vereen-Sproles combination, for example, could lead to a lot of headaches for opposing defensive coordinators in a different way.
4. Layering the running back position: With Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Bolden all entering the final year of their contracts, a multi-year deal for a player like Sproles, assuming the financial numbers work, layers the depth chart in the future as well.