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Spotlight: Darren Sproles

posted by Andrew Garda on Jul 28th


Andrew Garda's thoughts

Darren Sproles replaced Reggie Bush in New Orleans and while Bush went on to pretty good success in Miami, Sproles ended up with the most receiving yards by a running back in 2011. With success like that, you won't get Sproles at a reasonable rate - and he is unlikely to hit the heights he did last season anyway. It's a little difficult to be sure what the Saints will do this year - whether last season was a trend or an aberration. They'd never had a guy who could do what Sproles can. That said there are some hurdles you can see coming up this year which could cap Sproles' production.

YARDS PER CATCH
Sproles' YPC was extraordinary considering the amount of catches he had (we'll get to those in a minute). His 8.3 yards per catch average showed a much higher amount of yards than one could expect from a running back coming out of the flat or out on a screen on a regular basis. In order to hit the 710 yards he had last year-in order to get close - Sproles will need to meet that 8.3 and that's a lot to ask. As good as Sproles is - and he's very good - he's not in the same elite skill category as Ray Rice. Expecting him to hit that high again is dangerous. Some of you will say 'but he's averaged better than that before' and you'd be right. However, never for so many catches, which brings me to the next point.

INCREDIBLY HIGH TARGETS INFLATED NUMBERS
As I said before, the Saints rarely had a backfield healthy enough to target or run Sproles like they did so, historically, it's hard to say if they'll even try again. His 86 catches were 27 more than he ever had as a Charger and his 131 targets was 61 more targets than his career high. Even if you want to see his targets and catches as an upward trend in his career, that is a huge jump. Sproles' 86 catches was ten more than Ray Rice caught in 2011.

In four years as the focal point of the Baltimore Ravens' offense, Rice never had 86 receptions. After Rice, the next highest reception total is 57 by Chris Johnson. His yards-per-catch was just 7.3 by the way. Perhaps the Saints will feed Sproles that much again. But with Jimmy Graham continuing to emerge as the Saints' version of Rob Gronkwoski and Marques Colston is back with a new contract. On top of that, Pierre Thomas will return and he's good for about 30-40 catches per year.

The other X-factor is Mark Ingram. Ingram was hurt much of 2011, but reports from camp put him as healthy and ready to go. The former Alabama running back is a versatile player who can run the ball between the tackles as well as catch the ball. All of those players need to be fed and the Saints tend to spread the ball around. It's dangerous to assume Sproles will get a disproportionate amount of targets and catches in 2012.

SAINTS OFFENSE SHOULD SLIDE BACK
It's not that the Saints' offense will be bad - it's just bound to slide backwards in 2012. Drew Brees had records in completion percentage and total yards as well as a huge jump in touchdowns over his career best. It's a high water mark and even if the Saints have a great year, the numbers are going to come down. Add to it the fact that Sean Payton will not be with the team this year. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael remains, but without Payton, this offense (this whole team in fact) could stumble. Even in a normal season I'd expect the regression - without Payton there, I'd guarantee it.

Positives

  • High powered offense which heavily involves running backs
  • Dangerous ability to explode once the ball is in his hands
  • Versatility assures he will be on the field often and have the opportunity for lots of touches

Negatives

  • Unusually high number of targets won't be repeated
  • Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas healthy, more splitting of touches
  • Jimmy Graham and others will continue to take targets away

Final thoughts

Sproles is likely to be a huge factor in this offense. Just the return of Mark Ingram and the continued emergence of guys like Graham won't shut him down. However his incredible 2011 has vaulted him way too high in drafts to be a value anymore, especially considering the fact that his numbers are likely to come down. Even in a point per reception league, you will be paying far too high a price for a player who will not easily repeat the numbers (and catches) of his previous season.

In a PPR league, Sproles will be able to perform as a low end RB1, a great RB2 or a tremendous flex while in non-PPR leagues, he will put up good RB2 or flex numbers. The problem is that his ADP will make it hard to take him as anything but the RB1. While his numbers last year mirrored some of the best in the league, he's not quite there. Expecting 2011 numbers with your 2012 Draft pick is dangerous at best and will cause you to miss out on more consistent and reliable options available at the spot.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Badgers Fan said:

His value is obviously tied to the type of league you are in. With PT23, Ivory, and Ingram (all though he's banged up now) in the mix, Sproles is probably stuck in the range of 5-8 carries per game. I don't think Sproles repeats his 6.9 ypc or 86 catches. He had 35 2nd half catches..but did have 19 in two playoff games. I'm going to put him at about 75 catches. His ypc have slipped from elite (11.8 four years ago, 11.0 three years ago) to just good (8.8 and 8.3 last two years) but I still think he can reach 9ypc. So that's what I'm going with. He is a dynamic playmaker that the Saint will make sure gets around 10 touches per game again, which I think comes in the form similar to last years breakdown, 85 carries and 75 catches. However that 6.9ypc will be super tough to even come within 1.0 yards of. He has a wide open passing attack in New Orleans, not too different from his San Diego days, which lets him roam free more. His career ypc is still elite, but is a more reasonable 5.2. The only season he had less than a 4.4 ypc is 2009 when SD tried to make him the starter for a game or two. He's better used as what he is, a monster 3rd down back that gets some carries here and there. I see him ypc at 5.5, still elite but not close to last year. His td's of 10 total (all purpose) last year are probably his highpoint since he never had more than 8 in a season before. However, he did score 3 in 2 playoff games. It is also tough to envision 7 receiving td's again regardless of how dynamic of a pass catcher he is. Since the Saints use him more than the Chargers, I'm not going to give him a drastic drop though, and 5 rec td's sounds reasonable. Toss in 2 rushing td's and 1 returning td.

Ghost Rider said:

I see no reason why Sproles won't be as good this year as he was last year. He only scored 9 touchdowns last year, so it is not like he has to put up 12-15 touchdowns to match last year's production again. 86 catches is a lot, but the Saints offense, even without Sean Payton, should be as good this year, and if the team isn't as good as last year, Sproles will be the RB they use a lot when they are in catch up mode, so he could get a lot of catches in those games. The toughest part is depending on this guy as a number 1 or 2 RB, as there will be weeks where he doesn't get enough touches for him to have a chance to be super productive, and other weeks you almost have to wait for that one big play or two for him to justify his spot, but when it is all said and done, he should still put up around 1,200 total yards from scrimmage, 7-9 touchdowns, and 75-90 catches. In this day and age of PPR leagues, that is more than good enough to be a number 2 RB on FF teams.

jurb26 said:

You're right in that Sproles doesn't need to score 12 - 12 TDs to match last years production. That's a good thing too, because it's pretty unlikely that he will score double digit TDs in NO. At least as long as NO has the other RBs on their roster.

What he does need to do in order to match his production his basically perform at an unusually high rate on his touches. Last year Sproles averaged 6.9 YPA and 8.3 YPC in NO. Those are extremely high numbers, particularly the YPA. I'd be very surprised if he repeated that mark. On top of that, he recorded 86 receptions. That too is a very high total that I'd be surprised if he repeated. I'm not saying he won't come close to that mark, but I'd venture to guess it will be closer to the 70 range.

Here's what i find alarming about Sproles, the rushing attempts inside the 20 and inside the 10:

Carries inside the 10/TDs;
Sproles 3/0
Ingram 12/1
Thomas 9/4
Ivory 4/0

Carries inside the 20/TDs;
Sproles 16/1
Ingram 35/5
Thomas 28/9
Ivory 30/1

Sproles is reliant on big plays in order to attain fantasy succuss it appears. While it is possible that he continues to produce those big plays, I don't think it's likely to repeat on a record breaking all purpose yardage performance. I expect that Ingram will be used more this year seeing that an injury slowed him a great deal last season. I also think the overall productivity of the NO offense will take a step back from 2011.

FF Ninja said:

From a non-ppr point of view, I think we're looking at a big disappointment this year. Sproles is going off the board as the 18th RB. That's understandable as he finished RB10 last year, although I'm sure he was a bit lower on a PPG basis. But what separated him from RB20 was about 4 TDs, which I really don't expect this year. 2 TDs on 87 carries for a non-goal line back sounds about right, but 7 TDs on 86 receptions is really high for a RB. Considering his targets actually fell off in the second half of the season (66 vs. 41), I just don't feel comfortable with him. I think he is a prime candidate for a slip to RB3 territory.

TheDirtyWord said:

Has any RB with 173 touches the previous season, and is forecasted to probably come in at the same level ever had a higher ADP? I would venture to say that in most leagues last season, Sproles went undrafted or was secured with a throwaway late round pick. Now, we're seeing Sproles firmly entrenched in Round 3.

Four things concern me greatly about Sproles...he's not on my draftboard.

1) I'm stunned by how the banishment of Sean Payton is being overlooked by those projecting Sproles. Do I think the New Orleans offense falls apart? No, Drew Brees is too good. But Sproles was and is still a situational weapon. What Peyton was terrific at, and this applies to Reggie Bush as well was making the best use of a diverse wild-card weapon out of the backfield. Much like a counter puncher in boxing, Sproles was the Saints counter-punch underneath to compliment big downfield passing threats like Colston, Graham, Meachem or a speedy deep threat like Henderson. While Payton did spend a decent amount of time in the press box last year due to his injury, his involvement with the team was still intense. Do I know or believe that Pete Carmichael will simply be able to slide right in? Not saying he can't but I do think it's a tall order for him to be as good as Payton's been.

2) The Saints ran 1117 offensive plays last year. While the Saints have always fared well in the statistic, the 1117 number is a significant enough outlier since Brees/Payton came to town

a. 2010 - 1067
b. 2009 - 1032
c. 2008 - 1047
d. 2007 - 1060

This represents an average of 1052 (rounded up)/year... or about 6% less than what they ran in 2011. Now I also went back 10 years...the 1117 number is the most number of offensive plays any team has run in that period. Now there were teams that were in the high 1000 area...but none cleared 1100. So if you assume a 6% decline across the board for all Saints just based on amount of opportunity, as it applies to Sproles - that would represent a 79 YFS decrease season over season. Now I'm not suggesting that statistical production is linear...but what I am suggesting is that one of the reasons why the Saints offensive juggernaut posted such incredible numbers particularly in the passing game was because of the amount of opportunity. I mean their previous 4 years average of 1052 is more than likely a Top 5...perhaps Top 3 number in the NFL over that period of time - it's not a slouch number. But the 1117 is outrageous and it contributed to the big numbers all-around.

3) How much better can Brees get? 5476 Passing Yards = NFL Record. 71.2% Completion Rate = NFL Record. 46 TD's = best mark of Brees career by 12 TD's! 8.34 YPA = 2nd best figure of Brees' career. Brees is going to be great in 2012 - is he going to be ridiculously record setting great again though? Part of the reason for Brees attaining the record he did in the amount of attempts he did because Sean Payton puts his foot on your throat and stomps. In their last 6 games, the Saints won by an average of 20.5 PPG, including 3 victories by 25 points or more. Despite the hefty margin of victory, Brees averaged 39.2 pass attempts/game...this was not an outfit 'shutting it down' with the game outcome in hand. Will Joe Vitt and Pete Carmichael follow suit? It certainly is possible. They've got a ginormous chip on their shoulder for sure. But when we are considering variables for prolific production, given the numbers above and the change at the top...could this affect how much passing the Saints do? Even if Sproles is an RB, if the Saints make more use of the run game in these contests, is Sproles the guy you kill the clock with?

4) Let's say instead of averaging 6.9 YPC...Sproles only averaged 5.4...still a fantastic figure even for a situational RB. That's 131 rushing yards right there in terms of a decrease. And even with a passer as great as Brees, given that Brees exceeded his career high in TD's by 35%...are we feeling good about Sproles ability to replicate his 7 receiving TD's? He only had 2 on the ground...I know his end of year numbers look real good 1313/9. Those numbers are 2nd round value. But at the end of the day, I simply feel that people are underestimating the decline, or downside that Sproles represents. And that's not to say, Sproles won't still be a dynamic threat for the Saints that makes them feel like they got an incredible FA bargain once again. But the path to 1050/6 seems so crystal clear, so right there for the taking and in Round 3...when you are still really trying to draft for upside? I don't think there is any more to explore with Sproles. You can't be better than Sproles was, than the Saints offense was than it was in 2011


Darren Sproles projections

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