As the NFL season comes to a close this Superbowl Sunday, The Jug will be looking back at how Wildcat alumni fared in the 2012 season. For our first installment, we go big with a perpetual fan favorite, New Orleans running back Darren Sproles.
Almost a decade removed from graduation, Darren Sproles remains legend around K-State’s campus. As a senior, Sproles led the nation in rushing yards and eviscerated the #1 Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 championship game, helping the Wildcats to a 35-7 victory while finishing fifth in Heisman voting. After finding his way to New Orleans in 2011, Sproles broke out and demonstrated the same home run threat Wildcat fans fondly remember.
Standing at only 5’6″, Sproles received the nickname “noseeum” after moving to the Saints – a nosseum is a local insect that is too small to see but produces painful bites. While Sproles was part of an offense featuring Drew Brees – who set the single-season passing record in 2011 – while finishing 13-3, the infamous body scandal left the organization emotionally scarred and without head coach Sean Payton, who was suspended for the year. Yet while the Saints dropped to 7-9 this year, Sproles has refused to lose a step and put up another season of fantastic numbers in a system that features several running backs distributes the ball around the team.
Sproles only finished with 244 rushing yards this year, his lowest output since playing backup to Ladainian Tomlinson in San Diego. However, he made the most of his opportunities by averaging a full 5.1 yards per carry with one touchdown in 13 games. The scat back would have been even productive but missed three games towards the end of the season with a hand injury. In addition to his rushing yardage, Sproles caught 75 passes for 667 yards in 2012. Utilizing Sproles in screens and quick passes out of the backfield is where he has proven most lethal, and he averaged 8.9 yards/catch while hauling in an additional seven touchdowns through the air.
Although he’s taken on a much greater role since leaving the Chargers for the Saints in free agency, he retains primary return duties in addition to his job as running back. In his 13 games Sproles returned 18 kickoffs with an average return of 26.8 yards (although Sproles typically handles 40-50 returns each year, the NFL’s new kickoff rules made touchbacks more likely as kick returners around the league experienced significantly diminished total production). Sproles also handled 37 punts in 2012, with 14 fair catches and 23 returns. He netted 183 yards on those returns, for an average gain of eight.
Sproles finished the season strong, with just three carries for one yard but eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. He has not indicated any signs of slowing down after eight years in the NFL, and should be even more productive in the 2013 season with head coach Payton calling plays again on the sideline.