Darren Sproles has probably been underrated throughout his entire life.
At just 5’6’’, Sproles, now an NFL veteran, clearly doesn’t care. He went to a reputable college in Kansas State, finished fifth in Heisman voting in 2003, was selected in the fourth round of the NFL draft, has the sixth most all-purpose yards in NCAA history and now holds the highest single-season all-purpose yard total in the NFL.
He’s beaten all probable odds throughout his entire football career, but somehow, fantasy football owners are still finding reasons to take other guys ahead of him.
Are we afraid of his muscular gnome-like build? Maybe, but why should we be? All Sproles has done throughout his football life is produce.
He’s typically highly regarded in point per reception leagues, as his 5.5 receptions per game average is an invaluable asset at the running back position, but honestly, Sproles needs more love in non-PPR leagues, too.
In standard leagues, the short back is being drafted in the mid- to late-third round. According to MyFantasyLeague.com, his lowest draft position was 73rd overall (I want to be in that league), and he’s typically been the 18th running back off the board.
That’s far too late.
My Top 100 list has Sproles as an RB22, which is surely going to change now that I’ve realized my mistake. Darren Sproles is good, guys. No, sorry, Darren Sproles is really good. He should be thought of as a potential high-end RB2 in standard leagues, and he’s easily a low-end RB1 in PPR ones.
Consistency is Key to Sproles’ value
We often look at post-season rankings to gauge fantasy success, but as I’ve shown plenty of times before, that can result in poor choices. LeSean McCoy, for instance, finished outside of the top 20 in standard leagues at running back, but he was more than usable in nearly every game he played in 2012. He simply ranked outside of the top 20 because he missed four games due to injury.
Sproles is a similar case. The Saints back missed three games last season with a broken hand, but still was able to complete eight top-24 running back finishes in just 13 (61.5%) games. Moreover, Sproles scored double-digit standard fantasy points in nine of those (69.2%) matchups, and never tallied less than 3.7 standard fantasy points.
For some perspective, here’s a list of the top-15 standard scoring running backs and the percentage of their games that produced double-digit fantasy totals:
Using 10 or more points as our metric here may seem arbitrary, but the number was actually a good baseline in 2012 to determine whether or not a back had a top-20 or -24 weekly fantasy performance. As you can see from the chart above, Darren Sproles’ 69.2% would rank him higher than Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, Stevan Ridley, Jamaal Charles, Frank Gore, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Reggie Bush and Shonn Greene.
Now, of course this doesn’t mean Sproles was better than Charles, Lynch or Rice in terms of fantasy production. Because of his average points per game, Sproles clearly didn’t have many top-tier performances. In fact, he only had three where he ranked in the top-12 at running back in a given week. But sometimes getting solid, consistent production is exactly what you need out of an RB2. And he gives you that almost more than any other runner.
The Two-Year Sample
Sproles has been a Saint over the last two seasons and has certainly reaped the benefits of playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Since joining the team, Sproles has caught 161 passes for 1,337 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s averaged 108.9 standard, non-PPR fantasy points in the receiving game alone during this time, which would firmly place him as a normal fantasy team’s number three receiver.
He’s a running back, though. He gets carries. Though Sproles’ 48 rushing attempts in 2012 was the lowest he’s had since the 2007 season, he still gets plenty of opportunity on the ground. He’s carried the ball a little less than five times per game over the last two seasons – clearly a small number for a back – but his 6.35 yards per carry certainly makes up for it.
With two years in New Orleans under his belt, Sproles’ averages with the Saints would produce a 16-game season rushing stat line of around 75 carries for 468 yards and 2 scores. His receiving totals would equate to 89 receptions for 760 yards and 7 touchdowns.
In total, based off his two-year averages with New Orleans, he could easily tally 1,228 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2013. In a non-PPR league, those numbers are equivalent to an RB14.
And who says he can’t exceed those averages?
Darren Sproles is Darren Sproles
Using rotoViz.com’s comparables tool, Darren Sproles 2013 outlook has a ceiling of a 2011 Darren Sproles. And it makes sense: Number 43 is unlike any other back in this league.
He’s a true dual-threat with all the opportunity in the world given the offense he’s in and the quarterback who’s throwing him the rock. And although he’s certainly more attractive in PPR leagues, Sproles’ receiving totals allow him to be a probable middle-of-the-road to high-end RB2 in 2013 standard leagues.
Don’t let receptions cloud your judgement. Darren Sproles is more than worthwhile in any league format.