The 2016 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means Howie Roseman and new head coach Doug Pederson will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the 2015 roster. The team went 7-9 last season and improvement is clearly needed. By the time NFL free agency starts on March 9, the Eagles will have a good idea of which players they'll want to bring back for the 2016 season. Today we'll finish this offseason review series by looking at the special teams return unit.
For the second year in a row, the Philadelphia Eagles finished as one of the best punt return units in the NFL. Just take a look at the numbers:
|Punt Return Avg||11.4||8.5||2.9||2|
|Kickoff Return Avg||20.9||23.6||-2.7||25|
It's no secret the Eagles' success on punt returns has been largely thanks to Darren Sproles. His blockers also deserve credit, but Sproles is a special return guy. He's so dangerous when playing in space. Sproles led the NFL in punt return yards (446) in 2015. He had the second highest average (11.7) and most touchdowns of any player (2). His 89-yard punt return for a touchdown against the New York Jets was the longest punt return of the 2015 NFL season. Sproles earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his performance in Week 3. He also became the only player in NFL history with 15-plus rushing touchdowns, 25-plus receiving touchdowns, and five-plus return touchdowns.
Sproles turns 33 in June and there's been some talk about him possibly being a salary cap casualty. Though it's typically hard to justify a $4.5 million cap hit on a part-time player, Sproles is too special in the return game to merely let go.
Video of Sproles' touchdowns from last season:
DARREN SPROLES YOU'RE THE MAN pic.twitter.com/3oOfsPw13R— Tyler Steege (@EaglesFanTalk) September 27, 2015
Darren Sproles to the house!!! #PHIvsNE pic.twitter.com/DxZDuxB4tv— NFLCentral (@TheNFLC) December 6, 2015
As for Philadelphia's kick return game, well, that wasn't so great. It took a big step backwards after being a top five unit in 2014. Josh Huff ranked 12th out of 13 qualified returners with a 23.7 average. His longest return was 49 yards. Huff has showed some explosive ability as a returner as a rookie but he didn't do anything too special in 2015.