For those of us who watched the San Diego Chargers beat the Indianapolis Colts the other night in an AFC Wildcard match up, you may have noticed someone other than LaDanlian Tomlinson running the ball for San Diego. With Tomlinson on the bench, injured and out of the game, the Chargers had to turn to Sproles to carry the load for the injured Tomlinson and Sproles did very well. He racked up 105 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and 45 yards through the air along with 178 yards in returns to total 328 yards. He was the difference in the game and the reason why the Chargers are advancing in the playoffs.
While most running backs stand about five feet nine inches tall on average Sproles is just five foot six in stature making him one of the shortest running backs in the NFL (take a look at Maurice Jones Drew who is also the same height according to official NFL stats as well) and even though he may be vertically challenged, he is still one the best in the league and definitely a great backup.
Sproles hails from Waterloo, Iowa (very close to where this writer grew up) and not to long after moved to Olathe, Kansas. After a very successful high school career at the high school there in Olathe, Sproles was recruited by Kansas State University to play halfback and had a pretty decent career there playing in 45 games rushing for 4979 yards with 6.1 yards per attempt and 62 touchdowns. When it came time to come into the NFL, there were a lot of people who thought that Sproles would go as high as the sixth round but most likely would go undrafted due to his height. He proved his critics wrong and after a great showing at the NFL Combine he was taken in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft at the 130th position.
In his first season with the Chargers, Sproles sat behind LaDanlian Tomlinson and Michael Turner as third in the order at running back position. He was relegated to returning punts and kickoffs during that season. During the 2006 season, Sproles suffered a broken ankle and missed the entire season. During the 2007 season, Sproles was relegated once again to kickoff and punt returns and did very well at it. His chance to shine finally came in 2008 after Turner left for the Atlanta Falcons. He got several more chances to run the ball and then had his big breakout game in the playoffs just this past week.
Perhaps this proves that size doesn’t really matter sometimes in the NFL. With such a low center of gravity it’s hard for defenders to bring him down and being just five foot six makes it hard to spot when he is moving through the offensive and defensive lines. This can allow him to “squirt” out of holes and get into the open field where he can use his speed to outrun defenders. Sproles does have deceptive speed as many would think that with such short legs he wouldn’t be that fast but he is quick and can move down the field in hurry.
Durability may also be a concern with smaller players but aside from his season ending ankle injury, Sproles has remained healthy during his time with the Chargers.
So don’t count out the short guy when it comes to making it big in the NFL. Along with Sproles, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones Drew, who stands at five feet seven inches tall, has had a pretty successful career in the NFL as well. It’s just more proof that size doesn’t matter that much in the NFL at certain positions any longer.