Tarik Cohen: The Next Darren Sproles?

Tarik Cohen’s current ADP is 65 on MFL, which puts him just on the boarder of being drafted in most standard 12-team, 5-round dynasty rookie drafts. As I’ve studied the draft board I keep wondering if that is a value or not. Not many small backs produce in the NFL. You have to find the right situation and have the right stuff to make it in the league as a small guy. Darren Sproles is the class of small backs in recent history. Invariably, every small back that comes out will be compared to him. So, I thought I’d dig deep and try to figure this one out.

To be sure, picking Cohen with your 5th round pick, in and of itself is a low risk proposition. In PPR leagues it makes total sense, on it’s face, to take a stab at him at that point. I’ve done that myself in one of my recent drafts. The question really is, do you think you’ll actually get any production from him that is worthy of any pick. My hypothesis early on was that he could be another Darren Sproles. When you look at the DMX charts above, Sproles and Cohen look very similar and have a similar DMX score. I don’t like that Cohen has such a low agility score compared to Sproles, because that is what sets Sproles apart and it’s clear that Cohen doesn’t have it. So, to be sure, I dug a bit deeper.

Below is a chart with all RBs since 2001 with positive DMX scores that are less than 70 inches tall and less than 190 lbs.  First thing to notice is that DMX scores range from 1.09 to 0.11. Second thing to notice is that most of these backs have less than average ATH scores. Mostly, this is due to speed score. If a small back doesn’t have elite speed then speed score will go negative on them and all of these backs had negative speed scores.

Next thing to notice is that for the backs that have been around for more than 5 years, their first 5 year production is extremely low and none of them actually hit as we define it, including Darren Sproles. Finally, several of these players that came after Sproles were touted as “The next Darren Sproles” but as of yet none of them have lived up to that billing. So far, not much to be excited about.

Year Name College 5YRFP ATH DPOS AWP DMX Deciles
2007 Garrett Wolfe Northern Illinois               53         0.455         0.994         2.013           1.09 2
2010 Dexter McCluster Mississippi            277      (0.001)         1.649         1.056           1.01 2
2005 Darren Sproles Kansas State            257      (0.128)         0.568         2.161           0.76 3
2012 Chris Rainey Florida               26         0.679         0.235      (0.806)           0.11 5
2017 Tarik Cohen North Carolina A&T      (0.659)         0.695         2.376           0.71 3
2017 Donnel Pumphrey San Diego State      (0.887)         0.545         1.871           0.45 4
2014 DeAnthony Thomas Oregon      (0.649)         0.637         0.191           0.14 5

Next I wanted to dig deeper into Sproles stats. If you recall, Sproles started his career in San Diego, moved to New Orleans for three years and now resides in Philly. He truly built his reputation in 2011, his first season in New Orleans, and his best season of his career. When you look at the stats below, you see that in San Diego he was good but not great in Fantasy, never ranking higher than the 35th RB, which is RB3 territory. In 2011 though, he popped and was a solid RB1 ranking as the 10th RB in fantasy. In subsequent years, he fell back to the RB2 and then RB3 level and has stayed there.

2005 SD 15 50 0 3 10 0 130
2007 SD 15 164 2 10 31 0 78
2008 SD 16 330 1 29 342 5 43
2009 SD 16 343 3 45 497 4 35
2010 SD 16 270 0 59 520 2 43
2011 NO 16 603 2 86 710 7 10
2012 NO 13 244 1 75 667 7 22
2013 NO 15 220 2 71 604 2 35
2014 PHI 15 329 6 40 387 0 33
2015 PHI 16 317 3 55 388 1 42
2016 PHI 15 438 2 52 427 2 30
Total 168 3308 22 525 4583 30


What does it mean to be “The next Darren Sproles”? To be sure, the reason Sproles holds our collective imaginations is because in 2011, after 5 years of spot duty in San Diego and being clearly off the fantasy radar his whole career, he came out of nowhere to be a priority free agent that got you RB1 quality stats. Since that time though, his stats have not really lived up to that standard. For sure, he’s a dynamic play maker in the Philly offense, as he was in New Orleans, but the wily veteran hasn’t had an RB2 quality year since 2012, so there is not a ton to be excited about with Sproles himself, let alone his imitators. He’s a quality RB3 in PPR leagues and his value in veteran drafts reflects that as he’s the 62nd RB off the board currently in MFL.

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What does that mean for Tarik Cohen? It’s highly unlikely that Cohen produces any RB1 or RB2 type stats any time soon. He comes from North Carolina A&T and will need time to adjust to the NFL. Sproles at least came from Kansas State, a large conference team. Cohen also doesn’t exhibit the same athletic traits as Sproles, with Sproles having much better agility and upper body strength than Cohen, who shows no above average traits compared to his peers. Also, we must consider the offense he is in. With John Fox as head coach, who is not known as an offensive innovator, and Jordan Howard the clear RB1, it’s hard to see Cohen lighting the world on fire any time soon.

Bottom line is that taking Cohen as a 5th round flier in PPR leagues is worth it if you think he’ll get to that reliable RB3 level in those types of leagues. It’s entirely possible he does, but it will take a while and most likely he won’t have the kind of RB1 or RB2 season that has made Sproles’ reputation. In non-PPR leagues I would avoid him all together.

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