On April 15, Matt Miller, Bleacher Report Senior NFL Draft Lead Writer, continued his taxing mission of slotting the NFL’s Top 1,000 players by publishing his rankings of the league’s 80 premier running backs.
His king of the backfield wasn’t a rightful claimant to the title, but rather a charlatan: Darren Sproles of the New Orleans Saints.
Sproles is a usurper to the throne. Miller’s rationale for elevating him to these unjustified heights is as follows:
"As the NFL has changed from a power run game to a spread-it-out passing attack, the running back position has changed. No player better personifies that change than Darren Sproles. His ability as a runner and receiver allows the Saints offense to operate with numerous looks and mismatch options. Sproles is the NFL's best rush/receive threat at running back, and that's why he gets our No. 1 ranking at the position in the 2012 B/R 1000."
Unfortunately it just isn’t true. Sproles may be a threat, especially in the passing game, but how lethal of a weapon is a back that was third on his own team in carries and ranked 48th in the league (one slot below the now retired Marion Barber III) last year in rushing.
Yes, Sproles averaged a terrific 6.9 yards per carry and 8.3 per reception, but he wasn’t an every-down back like the three directly under him: Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and Arian Foster. And save that Reggie Bush, "oh the defense has to plan for and account for him" junk—defenses have to do that with every talented offensive player.
Sproles' non-kickoff/punt production doesn’t compare to Jones-Drew’s, Rice’s and Foster’s. Of the four, he’s last in a number of prominent statistical categories. His carries are 191 behind the third-place Foster, while his 603 rushing-yards fall 617 shy of the Texan’s total.
And though he did catch 86 balls for 710 yards and seven touchdowns, his 10 total scores is one less than Drew’s, two less than Foster’s, and five less than Rice’s. That includes kickoffs and punt returns, both of which he’s good at, but not great. Nobody is confusing him for Devin Hester, or ranking Chicago’s master returner as a top-shelf receiver.
So, where should Sproles fall? Top-10? No chance. He’s an asset, there’s no questioning that, but is he an elite back? Sorry, but no.
Sproles would fit nicely at No. 18, now occupied by Michael Bush of the Chicago Bears who could slip a peg. Barber (69) and Ricky Williams (67) have both retired so there’s no need to bump anyone from the list. Add whoever you like at No. 80.
As for the top of the rankings, simply raise everyone in front of Sproles up a notch. In no way does Sproles deserve to be the king of the backfield.