Remember that scene in Forrest Gump when Bubba Blue describes all of the different ways one can cook shrimp? You can barbecue it, broil it, bake it, sauté it, pan-fry it, deep fry it, or stir-fry it. There is shrimp kabob, shrimp Creole, shrimp gumbo, lemon shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, and even shrimp burgers. Isn’t it amazing what you can do with one ingredient?
Well, like Bubba’s beloved shrimp, New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles is a fan favorite in New Orleans. And just like the bayou culinary staple, Sproles has incredible versatility, which should make him a savvy value pick for your fantasy team this year.
Before you role your eyes at the comparison, consider his usefulness.
Sproles, the often-overlooked nine-year veteran from Kansas State, can be a secret fantasy pickup as a valuable RB2 in 2013, especially in PPR leagues.
First, and most importantly, he can catch both out of the backfield and in the slot, causing matchup problems for defenses. In fact, Sproles led the league last year in the two categories fantasy owners care about most: yards and touchdowns. Sproles notched a reputable 667 yards on 75 receptions and seven touchdowns, despite missing three games with a broken hand. Those numbers get extra gloss in PPR formats, where he tallied 5.35 receptions per game.
To put the numbers in perspective, the Saints' leading receiver, Marques Colston, only averaged 4.88 per game. That’s reliability, folks. In a world where players like Chris Johnson bring home most of the fantasy bacon in only a few explosive bursts, owners should not overlook reliability when making draft decisions. This is especially critical down the stretch and into the playoffs, where one dud performance can doom many a fantasy owner.
One of the knocks on Sproles has been the crowded backfield he shares with Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas, both of whom receive more of the rushing load than Sproles does.
Admittedly Sproles’s stats are somewhat pedestrian (only 244 yards rushing on 48 attempts in 2012) compared to many running backs around the league. But even then he averaged an impressive 5.1 yards a carry. If he sees an increased load next year, and the Saints have already indicated as much, chances are very good that he will produce.
But let’s get real. The days of the workhorse, every-down running backs are a thing of the past and fantasy owners need to shift their thinking. Besides the elite running backs like Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster who receive almost all of the carries, owners will likely be confronting two-back, split rotations.
So even with the potential for more carries, you shouldn’t nab Sproles in your fantasy draft simply based on rushing statistics alone. You are grabbing a guy that has had the most all-purpose yards in the NFL since 2007, but at the same time, aquiring a player that fits perfectly in New Orleans's high-power offensive scheme.
Sproles is an integral and multi-faceted contributor to the 2nd-best offense and best passing offense in the league from a year ago. In 2012, the Saints put up the most passing yards per game, and most total TD's in what was deemed by critics as an “off-year” for them.
While quarterback Drew Brees spreads the ball around very well, the Saints still attempt a hefty 41.9 passes per game. For potential Darren Sproles owners, those are statistics you want to have on your side regardless of whether it’s rushing or receiving.
Sean Payton’s return to the Saints’ sideline after serving his season-long suspension is even more encouraging. In 2011 with Payton at the helm, Sproles tallied career bests in rushing attempts (87), rushing yards (603), receptions (86), reception yards (710), and touchdowns (9). It is certainly not out of the question to see Sproles return to that form, and getting Payton back certainly helps his case to do so.
Last, but certainly not least, the do-it-all Sproles returns punts and kicks for the Saints. For the crafty fantasy player, this can be a sneaky way to cash in on six extra points in those leagues that award return TDs should he break one.
Sproles probably won’t turn in gaudy numbers this season, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to do so. He should not be your first running back if you have a high draft choice. But he is one of the most consistent, well-rounded players in the league, and plays on one of the best offenses in the NFL. He can act as the glue of your fantasy team, and his reliability will hold everything together from week to week.
Fantasy football calculators' average draft position currently places Sproles in the fourth round of fantasy drafts. At that spot he is a great value pick to complement any of the players on the team, either as an RB or as a FLEX, especially in PPR leagues where he is most potent.
You can get cute with your other picks, but don’t get cute with this one. Sproles literally does it all. He was the Randall Cobb before Randall Cobb. This writer is opportunistically drafting him at value this season, and you should too if given the chance. There is a lot to like.
By: Colburn Trutter