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Does Darren Sproles deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

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The little man has had a big career, but will it be enough to get him to Canton?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Bleeding. Green. Nation. It’s been a while. Some of you might recognize my name. Others might recognize my former alias (General_Lee12) from my time in the comment section of this great website. A lot has changed since we last spoke. About a year ago I started working with Pro Football Focus, collecting data and becoming a student of the game. In my short year with PFF, I have found myself to be somewhat of a Swiss army knife, doing everything from data collection to designing those cool twitter graphics, helping out with advanced analytics of statistics to writing articles. I also began writing articles for the great Turron Davenport over at the Eagles Wire last December where I was able to cover the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles on their historic run. While I will be continuing my work with PFF, it is with great joy that I can finally announce that my writing talents will be coming to Bleeding Green Nation, the site where it all began for me.

Over the past few days, I have been lurking in the comment sections and I am thrilled that I still recognize a lot of folks. To the ones I don’t know, I look forward to getting to know you. Now while I’m talking about them, let’s take a look at one of the best Swiss army knives to ever play the game of football: Darren Sproles.

After seeing a post by BLG yesterday about Darren Sproles, I wanted to look into the simple question: Does Darren Sproles deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Now, I could have just used yesterday’s poll to answer the question...

...but instead, I thought I might just look into it a little bit more. Not that I think this site is biased or anything, but I feat that Sproles’ chances are a little worse than 9:1 odds. To evaluate whether or not Sproles is a Hall of Fame caliber player, we must first look at what makes up such a player.

Since the Hall of Fame’s first class in 1963, including the Class of 2018, 273 players have been inducted (h/t pro-football-reference). Of these players, 91 have been offensive skill positions including modern positions such as wide receiver and running back, but also now-defunct positions such as flanker and split end.

To evaluate whether Sproles is worthy of a Hall of Fame nod or not, I thought it would be a fun exercise to see how he stacks up to these players from a statistical standpoint. The following table shows the average statistics of the 86 players I could find statistics for, as well as the average statistics of the 48 Hall-of-Famers who finished their career since 1970 or later. Also, to see where Sproles lined up, I found the minimum, first quartile, the median, the third quartile, and the maximum values for each statistic and color-coded Sproles’ stat line appropriately with green being higher than average and red being below average.

The career of Darren Sproles relative to Hall of Fame players

It should be no surprise to see that Sproles falls right in the middle when compared to NFL Hall-of-Famers. A thing that could be working against Sproles is the lack of recognition he has received throughout his career. With no First-Team All-Pro appearances and only three Pro Bowl nods, Sproles has never really been considered an Elite player. On the other hand, the two areas where Sproles shines are APYd (All-purpose yards) and ST (Total return yards). It is also of note just how much of Sproles’ production comes from returns (58.2%). Since times have changed, lets quickly look at the same chart, but with the career stats of all players adjusted as if they played their final game in 2017. Since the game has changed a lot since 1970, this time I only used players who retired in 1970 or later.

The career of Darren Sproles relative to Hall of Fame Players who ended their careers in 1970 or later. (adjusted as if players ended their careers in 2017)

Curiously, Sproles’ chances for making it to the Hall of Fame actually look slightly worse now. His career still aligns with the median rushing numbers, but his work in the receiving game has now dropped down towards the 1st quartile. His scrimmage yards also look much less impressive when compared to these players. I suspect this is mostly due to the increase in total games played in the late 70’s. As far as total volume of games played goes, Sproles played in a large number of games, but due to his size and playing style, he was rarely featured as a primary offensive starter unlike many other Hall of Famers. I think from looking at these tables, it is a fairly safe bet to conclude that the only way Sproles gets considered as a Hall of Fame inductee is if his work in special teams is above and beyond when compared to other NFL players.

First, let’s look at the best punt returners in NFL history:

Punt Return Leaders and Rank among players with at least 500 Punt Return Yards. *Denotes Hall of Famer.

While there is no doubting Sproles is one of the most exciting punt returners of the modern era, he simply doesn’t hold up to the best of the best in terms of volume or efficiency. Next, we will look at the same table, but with kick returners:

Kick Return Leaders and Rank among players with at least 500 Kick Return Yards. *Denotes Hall of Famer.

Yet again, Sproles fails to rank among the top five players in any of the three categories. With only three combined Hall-of-Famers among the two tables, it should be somewhat clear that the selection committee does not consider return abilities to be among the required traits of a Hall of Fame inductee.

So if Sproles doesn’t make the cut as an offensive player or a special teams player, why would he get in?

Well one thing that has made Darren Sproles stand out among the crowd, pun-intended, is his stature. Measuring in at only 5’ 6”, Sproles is one of the smallest players to ever play in the NFL. Going back as far a Wikipedia is willing to list heights and weights for NFL players (about the class of 1970 or so) Darren Sproles would be the shortest ever inductee to the hall from a skill position. The next closest I could find was Barry Sanders, who measured in at 5’8” tall and weighed about 200 pounds.

Used Python to scrape nfl.com for the position, height and weight of all the players currently signed to an NFL roster. This is a plot showing the height vs. weight of players in each position. The solid lines are linear least squares best fits and the x-range covered by each line encloses the 10th to 90th percentile of the player’s weights for that position.
Craig M Booth

While Darren Sproles has been a bolt of electricity since he stepped foot onto a football field, the sad reality of this situation is that his career numbers come up short (okay, okay, I’ll stop) when compared to those of NFL Hall-of-Famers. I would like to see Sproles get in as much as the next Eagles fan, but I just don’t think we should get our hopes up.