Should Saints run Darren Sproles more?

On a conference call with the Tampa Bay media last week, New Orleans coach Sean Payton was singing the praises of Darren Sproles, the best free-agent pickup in the NFC South this year.

Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and the New Orleans scouting staff are famous for doing exhaustive homework when bringing in players. But Payton admitted there’s one thing that’s surprised him about Sproles.

Darren Sproles

Darren Sproles

#43 RB
New Orleans Saints

2011 STATS

  • Rush27
  • Yds201
  • TD1
  • Rec39
  • Yds310
  • TD1

“After having him here, we’ve seen he’s maybe even a better runner than we anticipated, just from the backfield without even talking about all the screens and passes.’’

When Sproles was in San Diego, it was pretty well known he could do some damage on the outside. But, in New Orleans, Sproles has shown signs he can run between the tackles, something he rarely had the chance to do in San Diego.

Sproles has been part of a backfield rotation with rookie Mark Ingram and veteran Pierre Thomas and that’s worked nicely for much of the season.

But some strange things happened in Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay. In a game in which Payton had his leg broken and spent the second half in the locker room, Sproles had only one carry for 16 yards.

Was it because Payton wasn’t calling plays in the second half? Probably not. It had more to do with the fact the Saints were trailing and going heavily with the passing game. The running game as a whole wasn’t working. Thomas carried seven times for 11 yards and Ingram gained 22 yards on nine carries.

Sproles did catch eight passes for 46 yards, but shouldn’t he have gotten the ball at least a few more times on handoffs?

I think so. Through the first five games, Sproles was averaging a little better than five carries a game. The Saints brought in Sproles to take on the role formerly held by Reggie Bush and there was always concern about overusing Bush.

Although Sproles is undersized (5-foot-6 and 190 pounds), he’s different than Bush in one key way. Bush was injury prone. Sproles hasn’t missed a game since 2007.

I’m not saying the Saints should suddenly start giving Sproles 20 carries a game because he’s got plenty of other duties as a receiver and return man. But I think they could hand him the ball a little more often in that tandem with Ingram and Thomas.

Sproles is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Ingram, who has handled most of the short-yardage carries, is averaging 3.4 yards and Thomas is averaging 4.0.

You run the risk of diminishing returns if you run Sproles too much. But I think five to seven carries a game from Sproles could make the Saints’ running game more of a threat.