The workhorse running back has largely gone away in recent years, making those backs that are their team’s clear-cut No. 1 option all the more valuable to fantasy football owners on draft day. But there are plenty of dreaded committee backfields that will frustrate fantasy owners, and the New Orleans Saints are once again lined up to cause anyone that owns one of their backs to pull their hair out on a weekly basis.
In nearly every fantasy publication I have seen this preseason, Darren Sproles is the highest-ranked Saints’ running back, followed closely by Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas in some order. But is Sproles overrated heading into the season?
First, let’s take a look at Sproles’ rushing yardage totals from the 13 games he played in last season: 0, 0, 62, 20, 9, 27, -1, 0, 0, 56, 22, 48, 1.
For those of you scoring at home that’s five games with zero or negative rushing yardage, and only three with more than 40 yards on the ground. To be fair, his two highest single-game carry totals yielded two of those three 40-plus yard rushing performances, and the third was in a game where he tied for his third-most carries in a game last season.
Sproles was a stud in PPR leagues once again in 2012, with 75 receptions for 667 yards and seven touchdowns. He only had one game without a catch, and had less than five catches on two other occasions. Owners in leagues that reward return yardage also got some added value out of Sproles, as he had 666 combined kickoff and punt return yards.
The Saints had the fourth-fewest rush attempts in the NFL last season (370), a number that will surely rise in 2013 with head coach Sean Payton back in the fold and a defense that can only be better under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints’ offense clearly revolves around quarterback Drew Brees and a deep group of pass catchers, which includes Sproles, but a more balanced offense is something Payton is likely to seek this year.
Sproles has a predictable and defined role in the Saints’ offense, which on it’s own eliminates some of the downside for fantasy owners. But with so few carries (4.7 per game in two years with the Saints) and thus low rushing yardage potential, his upside is limited. If New Orleans runs the ball more this year, that should mean more carries for Ingram and Thomas and theoretically fewer overall opportunities for Sproles.
Depending on the source you look at, Sproles has generally been somewhere around the 20th running back off the board in fantasy drafts. That may be about right from a certain perspective, but only in PPR leagues and under the presumption he is able to catch the number of passes he has over the past two seasons with New Orleans (161 total). I expect a drop in receptions for Sproles this year, to somewhere in the 50-60 range, and with his catch total the driving force for his fantasy value there are plenty of backs I’d rather own.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.