The Eagles will miss Darren Sproles. There is no doubt about it.
The running back, receiver and punt returner who is likely destined to the NFL Hall of Fame broke his arm and tore his ACL against the Giants and won't be back this season — if ever. Which means it's "next man up" for the Eagles' offense.
Sproles has had 15 carries and seven catches in the early going — good for about 14 percent of touches for Eagles skill players. This will need to be replaced. Sproles also was on the field for 41 percent of snaps for Philly, the most of any running back with Wendell Smallwood at 33 percent and LeGarrette Blount at 23 percent.
The Eagles will need to replace 41 percent of their running back personnel decisions, and they'll want to use a running back who can catch passes, who can pick up the blitz and block and who doesn't command the eyes of the defense like Blount does — as he's assumed to be on the field to run up the gut.
Smallwood seems to fit the bill as the next Eagles' dual-purpose back and could have a breakout season should the Eagles continue to show committment to the run like they did in Week 3, running for 193 yards.
"There's no doubt Wendell is going to have an increased role," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I think all the guys have some third down ability, but Wendell has really improved in that area. He's showed natural aptitude for it early, both from a protection standpoint and from a route-running standpoint. I'm not sure you can ever replace [Sproles] in that regard. He's just a unique player, but [I] feel good about Wendell and him stepping up."
Philly faces the Chargers in Week 4, a club that has allowed 440 rushing yards through three games. The Birds will look to expose that Los Angeles weakness and second-year tailback Smallwood could get the call in a split with Blount and rookie Corey Clement.
"He's smart. He's tough. We've seen it already this year," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said of Smallwood. "He can be explosive, and he understands protection. I think every one of our backs can probably, do a little bit better in the protection. It's just the understanding. It's not necessarily knowing the protection. It's just hearing the call and going in the right direction. So they can all get better there. But I think Wendell has put himself in a good position to do more. Maybe have a little bit bigger role and expanded role in our offense."
The Eagles have scored five rushing touchdowns this season so far, and fantasy owners should locate Smallwood — and perhaps take a risk on him if running back depth is needed.