Darren Sproles Still Has Legitimate Fantasy Football Value in 2017
I kinda hate fantasy football this year.
Like, I'm excited for the season and ready to spend my Sundays eating pizza and doing nothing but sweating my fantasy teams, but aside from two running backs -- Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson, of course -- the position is ripe with red flags.
The receiver position -- with Odell Beckham's ankle keeping him out possibly two weeks of the regular season, Julio Jones' off-season surgery that has kept him out of preseason action for the first two weeks, and even A.J. Green's uncertain offensive line -- even has some frustrating situations at the top of the draft.
So little about this season feels safe, even in the rounds where things should be fairly predictable.
Sproles has been a top-30 PPR running back for eight straight seasons, something only Frank Gore and Matt Forte can also claim. Sure, part of that is just longevity and relative health, but that's not a bad stat to know about a running back who is being drafted 48th overall at the position.
Of course, Forte is going as the RB50, but one thing he can't say -- or Gore, the RB36, for that matter -- is that he's still playing to or above the level of his teammates.
In 2016, Sproles increased his team's chance of scoring, as measured by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, on 45.74% of his carries, which is known as his Success Rate. That did come behind one of football's best offensive lines, but Sproles still outpaced his teammates by a slim margin (other Eagles running backs had a 44.44% Success Rate). As a team, Philly's backs ranked third in Success Rate.
Sproles is still bringing the heat as a rusher, and that's not even his strong suit. But before digging into Sproles' receiving production, let's dive into Sproles' competition for carries.
The Eagles brought in LeGarrette Blount in the offseason, and Blount's presence should certainly cap Sproles' upside if Blount is stealing touchdowns. But let's not forget that Sproles is just an 11th-round pick. None of those guys are without concerns.
As for Blount, 110 of his 298 non-fumble carries increased New England's expected point total, a 36.91% Success Rate. Other Patriots backs generated positive expected points on 52.25% of their carries. No team had a higher Success Rate when excluding any single player than the Patriots did at running back when you remove Blount from the equation.
This is despite the fact that Blount scored 18 of the team's 19 rushing touchdowns (the only other came from quarterback Jacoby Brissett). Simply put, Blount's teammates thrived in an offense where he couldn't.
It's quite possible -- and to be expected early in the year at least -- that Blount handles the team's early-down snaps, but the Eagles ran 66% of their plays from the shotgun last season, tied for 12th in the league, according to SharpFootballStats. They were also the 14th-most run-heavy team from shotgun last year, and they do not have a fullback on the roster.
Expecting Blount to run from the shotgun probably, well, see for yourself.
Darren Sproles vs. LeGarrette Blount in efficiency from shotgun (ranks among rushers with 50+ carries from shotgun since 2012). pic.twitter.com/zh7ntXsPfQ
— Brandon Gdula (@gdula13) August 23, 2017
Sproles has some youngsters at his heels, too.
There's Wendell Smallwood, a fifth-rounder going into his second year who is dealing with a hamstring injury. There's Donnel Pumphrey, a fourth-round rookie who may not make the 53-man roster. And there's undrafted rookie Corey Clement.
Smallwood's athletic profile and collegiate production puts him in the Felix Jones mold, per PlayerProfiler. Pumphrey is a Lance Dunbar-type based on his profile. Clement is more in the Blount build, as a workhorse rusher without much receiving production.
So, really, Sproles needs to fend off only Smallwood for his usual role.
I'm not trying to oversell Sproles here. He doesn't have RB1 upside given his usage restrictions and cloudy path to touchdowns, despite the fact that he played the 22nd-most snaps at the position last year.
But as the RB48, well, his ceiling doesn't need to be even the RB24 to make him a huge value. We're projecting Sproles to finish as the RB32 in PPR formats this year, and that's a really solid return on investment from his current draft cost.
Blount, by comparison, is being drafted as the RB29 in 12-team PPR leagues. We project him to finish as the RB45.
If you want a piece of this backfield, Sproles is probably the one you want.