Valuation Evaluation: Leshoure vs. Sproles
Dynasty fantasy players can often get so caught up in projecting a player’s value well into the future that they wind up passing up players who can offer them a good deal more in the near term. The NFL’s landscape morphs continually – whether it be through injury, coach and scheme replacement, or relatively unpredictable variance in player performance – and the only constant is change.
The use of more targeted metrics than what are typically used by competitors can serve to arm the fantasy football player with relevant data to help in deciding who to keep, who to get rid of, and who to acquire in trade. Below we will take a look at two running backs whose perceived values in dynasty leagues are headed in opposite directions. By using just a small sampling of Pro Football Focus statistics, we can figure out which of them you want on your squad and which will serve you better as trade bait.
Mikel Leshoure of the Detroit Lions is part of a wide open offense in which he receives the goal line carries and finished the 2012 season a solid 20th in Fantasy Points Per Snap (PPSnap). His average draft position (ADP) last year was 46th among running backs in leagues hosted by My Fantasy League (MFL). That ranking is already up to 23rd in early 2013 MFL drafts, and he has a buzz surrounding him of late thanks to positive quotes head coach Jim Schwartz recently made.
Yet a deeper examination paints a picture of a power back who is ill-suited for the Detroit offense and will see his snaps diminish in 2014. When you combine a paltry 3.7 yards per carry average with the fact that he was the only back in the league with at least 100 carries to not break a single run of 20 yards or more, it should come as no surprise that his 5.8% ranked a woeful 41st out of 42 running backs in PFF’s Breakaway Percent metric (minimum of 100 attempts).
But is he really even a power back? His 2.0 Yards after Contact/Attempt (Yco/Att) figure was 51st among runners and helps to explain a pitiful Elusive Rating of 16.1 – which was “good” for 45th at his position. Forcing only 13 missed tackles all season simply does not move the needle. PFF’s Mike Clay just dove into the various types of defensive personnel that running backs lined up against in 2012 and found that Leshoure faced nickel defenses the second most often of any other runner in the league (124 carries). If he could not run away from or through defenders, especially when up against lighter defensive packages – what exactly did he bring the Lions aside from nine touchdowns (that averaged 3.1 yards per) and three lost fumbles (tied for 10th most among backs)?
Also within Schwartz’s quotes was mention of Detroit securing a more explosive runner to complement Leshoure and their high-volume passing game. Quarterback Matthew Stafford followed up his ridiculous 663 passing attempts in 2011 with a record breaking 727 in 2012. Leshoure was asked to pass block on just shy of 20% of those plays in 2012 despite ranking as the 11th best back in Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE). With a drop rate of 10.6% (36th among running backs) and coming in an equally unimpressive 36th in Yards Per Route Run (YPRR), why was he even on the field? It should surprise nobody when Reggie Bush, or a similarly talented third down-type back, enters the picture in the Lions’ high-flying offense …nudging Leshoure out of the picture on a meaningful percentage of snaps.
In sharp contrast to Leshoure we have a seemingly vanilla fantasy option in New Orleans Saints pocket rocket Darren Sproles. He was the 15th running back selected last season based on MFL’s cumulative ADP results, and the general consensus is that he was a disappointment – finishing as the 22nd highest scoring fantasy back in standard leagues. This was due in large part to missing three midseason games with a broken hand. Early 2013 drafting on MFL reflects this slight souring of opinion, and shows him to have an ADP of 18th among running backs. However, when looking at backs that played at least half of their team’s 2012 snaps, Sproles ranked a strong 10th in PPSnap. That does not even take into account that he returned to the lineup slowly, totaling just 10 fantasy points in his first two games back, while not receiving a single carry in either contest.
Sproles finished out the season with a flourish. He averaged 14 standard league points in four December games, during which he was the seventh highest scoring back in fantasy. He had averaged just 3.7 carries per game before breaking his hand. That number rose to 5.5 in December, which is more in line with the 5.4 carry per game pace he set in 2011 – when he was the eighth highest scoring fantasy back. Mike Clay’s research on defensive packages faced details how Sproles was up against the easiest formations to run on out of every back in the NFL. He calculates that Sproles’ 5.2 yards per carry average would actually have been 4.3 had he not faced so many nickel defenses.
Of course Sproles primarily makes his hay as a pass catcher, and his Yards Per Route Run (YPRR) average of 1.99 still led the league in 2012 despite his injury. That figure also is right in line with recent efforts from 2011 (3rd, 2.05 YPRR) and 2010 (5th, 1.90). As long as New Orleans continues to deploy him as they have up to this point, and there is no indication that they would want to change that now that Sean Payton is back on the sidelines, Sproles will once again serve as one of the more quietly effective fantasy backs in the NFL. The savvy fantasy owner will recognize a chance to buy him now based on an unwarranted dip in valuation.
Sproles is going to be 30 years old at the start of the 2013 season. Leshoure will be 23 at that point. To many dynasty owners that one major difference between the two runners is enough reason to go with the sexier back. Yet the prudent course of action would be to enjoy a couple of quiet seasons from the steadily productive Sproles, instead of rolling the dice that Leshoure will transform into something he has shown little sign of becoming.