Darren Sproles and the Antiques Roadshow
Sometimes fantasy football can be like Antiques Roadshow.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Antiques Roadshow is a PBS show where people bring unique old items to have them evaluated for value, because they’re impossible to price using conventional means. You can’t just hop on Google and find the recommended price for a one-of-a-kind painting or vase.
In fantasy football, it's similarly difficult to value players. And even with advanced projections and crazy algorithms going on in the background here at numberFire, there’s one man who is still ridiculously hard to value.
Darren Sproles is a Volatile Guy
When you browse numberFire’s projections, you’ll notice the “Confidence Interval”; the most likely range of outcomes for any given player. So for instance, numberFire’s projections have Arian Foster’s Confidence Interval between 223.93 and 303.07 points, meaning around two-thirds of the projections run for Foster have him scoring in that range.
When you look at Sproles’ Confidence Interval (CI, for short), you’ll notice that it might just be one of the widest ranges at the running back position. And you’d be right, because only Jamaal Charles has a more volatile CI than Sproles among top-30 running backs.
At the high end of his CI, Sproles is equal to Stevan Ridley’s projected statistics, yet at the low end, he’s just below Ahmad Bradshaw. Somewhere in the middle are his official projections, which rank him right below David Wilson.
Of course, the default projections are for standard leagues, which means if you’re in a PPR league, your ranking for Sproles will be different. Using our custom cheat sheets, we find that Sproles rockets up into the top 15 in the format.
But in any scoring format, the volatility is still there. Sproles is a unique player with a very unique set of skills, making his statistics difficult to project.
Sproles is a Wide Receiver in Running Back's Clothing
The difficulty in projecting his statistics is fueled by the underlying numbers, which are incredibly unique for a running back. Sproles had a total receiving NEP (Net Expected Points) in 2012 of 54.52, which lead all running backs in the NFL.
NEP measures the amount of points a player adds to his team with the yards he gains in certain phases of the game. So to put it simply, Sproles’ receiving ability added 54 points to the Saints’ offense.
And he wasn’t highly ranked based solely on his massive amount of targets. Among running backs who were targeted over 50 times, Sproles had the second most receiving NEP per target, behind only Danny Woodhead. That means he put his wealth of opportunities to good use throughout the season.
When ranking Sproles against wide receivers, he doesn’t fare all that well, but that’s because he’s catching shorter passes for a shorter average gain. Players like T.Y. Hilton and Calvin Johnson have great receiving NEP per target statistics, because they gain big chunks of yards down the field. Sproles does not.
But even still, the projections give him a likely outcome of 71 catches for 631 yards with seven scores. Considering Sproles’ size precludes him from being a red zone threat in the traditional sense, it’s impressive to think he scores seven times in the numberFire projections machine.
Sproles is PPR Gold
Wait a second, 71 catches?
If you play in a PPR league, Sproles upgrades from “mediocre RB2 available in the third round,” to “borderline RB1 you can take at the first turn.” That’s because his 70 catches are 45 more than usual at-the-turn target Alfred Morris. Those 45 points from receptions are equal to 7.5 touchdowns worth of scoring.
And that’s on the low-end of the projections. Consider Sproles’ volatility that I mentioned earlier, which means there’s a ceiling above even his elevated PPR ranking.
But just how many catches will Sproles get? That becomes the bulk of his PPR value, and that’s what makes him hard to value.
Over the past three seasons, Sproles has caught 59, 86, and 75 passes, the two most recent totals coming as a member of the New Orleans Saints. So there is a precedent that has been set that 70 is a reasonable total to expect, with 80 or higher well within the realm of possibility.
And while his per-catch average for yardage is unimpressive, an additional 10-15 catches over the course of a season is more than a point per week extra in a PPR league when factoring in yards and possible touchdowns.
How Should You Value Darren Sproles?
Darren Sproles is like the old set of silverware brought to the Antiques Roadshow. He might be worth a lot, but there are better options for practical, everyday use.
Matt Forte and Reggie Bush are both capable of catching a similar amount of passes as Sproles, but both promise to have much higher contributions on the ground. They’re like a really nice modern set of silverware. Their value comes not only from their unique nature, but from their practicality.
Sproles will get points this season because he’s a primary passing target in a high-octane passing offense. But there’s a reason for the volatility in numberFire’s projections. He’s not as safe as run-first running backs, as his total number of touches will pale in comparison to most players selected around him in drafts.
So be careful when you're drafting, but don't be afraid to take a risk on this one-of-a-kind player who could hold a ton of hidden value.