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Sprole'n Right Along

Darren Sproles at Saints Training Camp (Photo Credit: John Korduner / Icon SMI)

Former “lightning bolt” Darren Sproles electrified Saints fans in the season opener against the Packers.  He was Gayle Sayers, Emmitt Smith, sprinkled with a small dose of Deuce, all rolled into one.  Although he only had two carries for seven yards, Sproles caught seven passes for 75 yards and 168 yards in punt and kick returns.  Every time he touched the ball, I sat on the edge of my seat knowing that something big was about to happen.  By half time, I was looking up Sproles jersey’s on and found myself saying, “Reggie Who?”

I wasn’t the only one who drew a comparison to Reggie Bush.  As commentators gushed over Sproles being the “perfect replacement”, I began to wonder…how does Sproles stack up against Reggie statistically?

At first blush, the career numbers for both backs through the 2010 season don’t look terribly different.  Bush has far more running and receiving yards, due to the more than double number of touches Sproles has had in nearly the same number of seasons.  Sproles and Bush average 4.6 yards and 4.0 yards per carry respectively, and 9.6 yards and 7.3 yards per reception.  They can both move the ball, but we also need backs that can also score.  This is where the biggest difference is - Bush logged 29 and Sproles tallied 17.  My next thought…have we downgraded? 

More slicing of the stats thankfully suggests no, and here’s why:

  • Sproles is more efficient at scoring.  He will score a touchdown every 23 touches versus Bush’s 28.
  • However, Bush is far more efficient at scoring in the run game.  He will score a touchdown every 31 carries versus Sproles’ 41.
  • On the flip side, Sproles is more efficient scoring in the passing game.  He will score every 13.3 receptions versus Bush’s 24.  For Sproles, that can be a touchdown every other game.

This seemed about right, but I wasn’t quite ready to “check out” with my jersey purchase quite yet.  If you are a fan looking for someone who is NOT Reggie Bush, you might be disappointed.  Sproles clearly is effective in space, just like Reggie, and may function more as a receiver than a back.  Hey, this may not be a bad thing with Lance Moore and Marques Colston out with injuries.

Still, something about Sproles seemed different.  I wasn’t holding my breath, waiting for that missed pass in the flat, the stripped fumble or the muffed return.  For some reason, I felt comfortable that he was going to protect the ball.  This settling certainty was a bit unfamiliar – I have been conditioned to be on pins and needles in anticipation of the next turnover. 

Unfortunately, the numbers suggest that this quiet calm and eerie confidence may be fleeting.  Sproles has fumbled the ball 13 times (losing possession on 8) while Bush racked up 19, losing 11.  Yeah, 13 is better than 19, but after adjusting for the number of touches, Sproles has turned the ball over at a greater rate (every 36 touches) than Bush (every 43).

Before I hastily added an at-home defibrillator to my shopping cart, I decided to take a giant step back.  How many times have we seen player go off to other teams and re-ignite their careers?  Randy Moss, Michael Vick, Jeff Garcia to name a few.  Sproles already has impressive career numbers and a memorable opening season performance.  Maybe the humidity in the Big Easy will make that ball stick to hands better!' dat's dat!