Darren Sproles is likely to return for the New Orleans Saints (5-5) for their Week 12 showdown against the San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1). The Saints official Twitter account reported that Sproles was a full participant at practice on Wednesday, meaning he will likely be available:
Last year, the Saints offense put up only 37 yards rushing in their 36-32 playoff defeat at the hands of the 49ers. Sproles, though, led the team in receptions with 15 catches out of the backfield for 118 yards and one touchdown. His 44-yard touchdown reception with four minutes to play gave the Saints a late lead.
While that type of production isn't guaranteed in this year's matchup, the Saints would be wise to get their dynamic running back involved as much as possible against the stingy 49ers defense.
Let's take a look at what to expect in this weekend's game.
San Francisco is the No. 1-ranked fantasy defense in terms of preventing opposing running backs to score. They've allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season and are giving up just 9.5 fantasy points per game to running backs.
Still, they are far from perfect this season, even against stopping the run. They've allowed four 100-plus-yard rushers this season. Two of them went for more than 150 yards.
While stingy and tough along the defensive line, the 49ers are not impenetrable. Although, they did shut down the Saints rushing attack in January's playoff matchup last season.
Sproles is not going to be a 20-plus-carry back in the Saints offense. He doesn't have the durability or the style to run between the tackles. Luckily for him, they'll likely avoid trying to do that very much against the imposing 49ers front.
The primary role of Sproles in this matchup, like last season, will be as a pass-catching threat from the backfield. Aldon Smith and the Niners pass rush is going to be breathing down Drew Brees' neck all afternoon. Having a speedy outlet guy like Sproles standing back there with you in the backfield will give him a useful option when he needs to get rid of the ball quickly.
The team may also run some designed delay-route and screen plays designed to take advantage of the aggressiveness of the 49ers front seven. If he can get the ball in open space because of timely play calls he could have a big day for the Saints and fantasy owners.
Even though he's coming off of an injury (to his hand), Sproles has a unique skill set that's allowed him to find holes in defenses and turn his jets on to get downfield. He isn't going to get a workhorse amount of carries but he should be reliable for a good amount of targets in the passing game.
He's a must-start this week in PPR formats, and he's worth a shot as a flex or RB2 in regular formats due to his explosiveness and the team's reliability on him for offense against the vaunted 49ers defense.