Don't Ignore Darren Sproles in Fantasy Football This Year

Sproles isn't a hot commodity, but things could shake out in his favor in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Eagles' running back situation remains a mess.

Last offseason, the team traded LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills and signed Ryan Mathews days after it seemed like Frank Gore had agreed to terms with the team. Oh, and then they brought in DeMarco Murray, too, because of Chip Kelly reasons.

On top of this, they had Darren Sproles in the mix all the while.

Entering the 2016 season, the names to know on the depth chart include Mathews, Sproles, fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood, and Kenjon Barner.

Mathews, it would have seemed, was the obvious choice for lead back duties this year -- and is still worth the risk -- but some offseason news is making another back an intriguing fantasy football target.

The Buzz

According to Eagles beat writer Jimmy Kempski, new head coach Doug Pederson wants his running backs to move around the formation to create mismatches.

Mathews doesn't exactly thrive in the passing game, according to our Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which compares a player's performance relative to expectation-level in terms of adding points to his team's offensive drives. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.

Season Team Rec Rec NEP Tar Rec NEP/T RB Average Difference
2010 SD 22 0.85 26 0.03 0.31 -0.28
2011 SD 50 29.06 59 0.49 0.31 0.19
2012 SD 39 8.67 56 0.15 0.30 -0.15
2013 SD 26 12.26 33 0.37 0.32 0.05
2014 SD 9 3.62 10 0.36 0.33 0.03
2015 PHI 20 8.71 28 0.31 0.36 -0.05

Mathews regularly has finished below or near the league-average mark for running backs.

Sproles, conversely, has graded out well by this measure, though he performed below the league average rate for the first time in his career in 2015.

Year TeamID Rec Rec NEP Tar Rec NEP/T RB Average Difference
2008 SD 29 30.56 34 0.90 0.29 0.61
2009 SD 45 34.32 57 0.60 0.30 0.30
2010 SD 59 33.96 75 0.45 0.31 0.14
2011 NO 86 54.51 111 0.49 0.31 0.19
2012 NO 75 54.52 104 0.52 0.30 0.22
2013 NO 71 39.65 89 0.45 0.32 0.13
2014 PHI 40 24.74 62 0.40 0.33 0.07
2015 PHI 55 25.71 83 0.31 0.36 -0.05

Still, Sproles' pass-catching ability could earn him a significant role, making the PPR target even more coveted.

Rushing Ability

The biggest potential knock on Sproles is that he can't rush the ball as well as Mathews -- and that's mostly true -- but Sproles hasn't performed below the league average Rushing NEP per carry since 2010. His metrics stack up to Mathews' and to his own teammates in the recent past.

Rushing NEP per PlayRB AverageSprolesTeammatesDifferenceMathewsTeammatesDifference

Sproles and Mathews have both been efficient rushers in the league. Sproles does benefit from a smaller workload, but he has still been performing well enough as a rusher to earn snaps, especially if Pederson is looking for a back to use as a pass-catcher.

And, yeah, Sproles' big-play ability and his low volume can skew his per-carry numbers, but in terms of moving the NEP sticks, Sproles still looks good.

Sproles has ran the ball 577 times in his career, and 44.71% of those carries have led to positive expected points, a rate that ranks him 19th among 168 rushers with at least 300 carries since 2000. (His per-carry Rushing NEP of 0.05 ranks seventh-best, by the way.)

Why Not?

Sproles is being drafted in 12-team fantasy leagues at the tail end of the 13th-round, after kickers and defenses are going off the board, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. In PPR formats, he bumps up to the 11th.

Sproles' other competition for snaps, Smallwood, doesn't appear ready to take on a three-down role, and if Mathews' pass-catching shortcomings continue, he can't be trusted as a three-down player, either.

That leaves, by default, Sproles to earn a crack at some extra work.

For a pick as late as the 13th round, you've got really nothing to lose. Don't ignore Sproles on draft day.