San Diego Chargers fans know exactly what people mean when they talk about big things coming in small packages. For six years, the Bolts bolstered one of the smallest players in the NFL, running back Darren Sproles. Although he was a bit lacking in the size department (5’6’’, 190), his heart seemed twice as big as any other player’s in the NFL.
Unfortunately, he decided to skip town to join the New Orleans Saints as a free agent this off-season and left the Chargers without a clear-cut third-down back on the roster. Immediately, the running back position went from strong with Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert and Sproles to average. Mathews’ short NFL career has been hindered by injuries and fumble issues and Tolbert is a bit one-dimensional. Concerns started to creep up with no Sproles in the picture until a certain sixth-round pick showed up to training camp.
The Chargers headed into the preseason in search of a new third-down back and may have found exactly what they needed in rookie running back Jordan Todman.
Todman, a running back from the University of Connecticut, has done nothing but impress during his short stint with the Chargers. After turning heads during training camp with his versatility and vision, he was just as impressive throughout his first appearance under the NFL’s bright lights.
In the Chargers’ preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks, Todman took the majority of the handoffs for the Bolts’ offense. When the ball was in his hands, he made defenders miss and picked up tough yards after contact that you wouldn’t normally expect from a player of his size. His tenacity, speed and strength in the running game were all extremely impressive, especially for a late-round pick.
When the Chargers put the ball in the air, he provided backup quarterbacks Billy Volek and Scott Tolzien with a valuable receiving option out of the backfield. He caught the ball well and showed the explosiveness to consistently pick up first downs. This impressive mix of skills, especially the ability to catch the ball, makes him a perfect candidate to replace Sproles.
My one concern with Todman as a third-down back is whether or not he has the ability to provide support in pass protection. He’s only 5’9’’, 203 pounds and isn’t exactly the most intimidating blocker out there, but neither was Sproles. However, considering the fact that he was dragging linebackers in the first preseason game, his toughness and determination could get the job done.
I would also love to see him returning kicks and punts for the Chargers considering his elusiveness and speed. Sproles made an impact in the return game throughout his time in San Diego, which is another area that Todman could potentially excel in.
In 2010, Sproles had 50 carries for 267 yards and 59 catches for 520 yards and two touchdowns. Although it may not seem like he made an overwhelming impact, you can never underestimate the value of a consistent third-down back, and Sproles was exactly that. He picked up 35 first downs on 109 offensive touches, and that’s what you want out of your third-down back. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Todman will duplicate those numbers during his rookie season, but he has the potential to do the same type of damage in the near future.
I know that fans everywhere are still trying to recover from the hangover that resulted from Sproles’ departure. He was a fan favorite and a symbol of the Bolts’ heart and soul. Seeing him in the gold and black of the Saints this year will be nauseating. However, a player like Todman will help us move into a Sproles-less era of Chargers football.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Todman can be the Chargers’ next great third-down back. His passion for football and drive to be the best that he can be will undoubtedly be reminiscent of Sproles’ attitude towards the game. If you don’t believe me, tune into the Chargers’ next preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and see for yourself.
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