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Player Spotlight: C.J. Spiller

A detailed look at C.J. Spiller's fantasy prospects for 2013

C.J. Spiller is being drafted 8th overall and yet I still think he's being UNDERVALUED. Have I lost my mind? Hardly. Simply put, I see very little reason why Spiller shouldn't be coming off the board a pick or two after consensus #1 overall pick Adrian Peterson. My thesis is simple, we've seen now that Spiller is as talented and productive as any player in the league. Any way you slice the data, Spiller has demonstrated a level of excellence that portends greatness (if healthy) for years to come.

Let's quickly review his 2012 stat line:

  • 7 games started
  • 207 rushing attempts
  • 1,244 yards rushing
  • 6.0 yards per attempt
  • 43 receptions
  • 459 receiving yards
  • 8 touchdowns
  • 218 fantasy points (non-PPR)
  • 261 fantasy points (PPR)
  • RB7 ranking

Based on his ADP, fantasy owners seem comfortable with Spiller as a fantasy RB1, but they also seem to think he's going to do nothing more than match his 2012 achievements. That seems highly unlikely to me. Remember, he only started seven games and was only given 207 rushing attempts. There's no way (if healthy) Spiller doesn't get more touches this year.

Looking beyond the box scores...finding ELITE skills

1) Spiller averaged 6.0 yards per rush last year on 207 carries. That's a feat reserved for the very best to ever play the position.

NameYearAgeRushRuYdsYPRRuTDFPTs
Adrian Peterson 2012 27 348 2,097 6.03 12 309.4
C.J. Spiller 2012 25 207 1,244 6.01 6 218.3
Jamaal Charles 2010 24 230 1,467 6.38 5 241.5
Barry Sanders 1997 29 335 2,053 6.13 11 319.8
O.J. Simpson 1973 26 332 2,003 6.03 12 279.3
Jim Brown 1963 27 291 1,863 6.40 12 303.1

2) Spiller finished 2nd in the league in yards after contact

Spiller's 3.6 yards after contact ranked behind only (surprise surprise) Adrian Peterson. This metric illustrates that Spiller is not just a speed merchant who gets big chunks of yardage in space. He took hits, and managed to drive through those hits better than anyone outside of ADP. That's impressive.

3) Spiller led the league in missed tackles per attempt

RankName TeamAttsMissed TklsMT/Att
1  C.J. Spiller BUF 207 53 0.26
2  LeSean McCoy PHI 200 39 0.20
3  Marshawn Lynch SEA 315 58 0.18
4  Adrian Peterson MIN 348 64 0.18
5  Michael Turner ATL 222 38 0.17
6  Alfred Morris WAS 335 57 0.17
7  Doug Martin TB 319 53 0.17
8  Vick Ballard IND 211 32 0.15
9  Trent Richardson CLE 267 40 0.15
10  Ryan Mathews SD 184 24 0.13

4) Spiller's receiving stats are equally impressive, leading the league in yards after the catch (per reception)

RankPlayer TEAMRECYACYAC/Catch
1 C.J. Spiller BUF 43 521 12.12
2 Pierre Thomas NO 39 369 9.46
3 Danny Woodhead NE 40 378 9.45
4 Ryan Mathews SD 39 365 9.36
5 Doug Martin TB 49 451 9.20
6 LeSean McCoy PHI 54 489 9.06
7 Darren Sproles NO 75 673 8.97
8 Trent Richardson CLE 51 448 8.78
9 Jacquizz Rodgers ATL 53 448 8.45
10 Ray Rice BAL 61 507 8.31

Putting it simply, very few running backs in the history of the league have displayed this combination of abilities. He's explosively fast, is great in space, can plow through defenders, and is as dangerous in the receiving game -- why wouldn't you want to build your fantasy team around a player like that?

The New Coaching Regime

Whenever a team changes coaches and philosophies, there is added risk to projecting player performance. For all of Spiller's individual success, the Bills languished under former head coach Chan Gailey, and opted to replace him with Doug Marrone.  Marrone -- a former offensive assistant under Sean Payton -- comes over from Syracuse University where he served as head coach for four seasons. Marrone is going to bring a fast paced brand of football with him, and believes in fitting his system to the personnel versus trying to force feed a roster into his pre-baked playbook. While we can't know for sure if Marrone is going to succeed, he's coming into a situation with a low bar to leap over and is widely respected around the league. And ultimately Spiller's chances to flourish should only be enhanced if Marrone can add legitimacy to a passing attack that was moribund a year ago.

The Full Season Effect

Let's remember how we started this Spotlight. C.J. Spiller finished RB7 last year in spite of only starting seven games. For whatever reason, former head coach Chan Gailey doubted Spiller's ability to be an every down workhorse. That was a silly assumption, but it took an injury to incumbent starter Fred Jackson before he completely unleashed Spiller. This year Doug Marrone will have no such qualms. Fred Jackson should return as a quality backup, but this offense is going to run through Spiller -- plain and simple. Although I wouldn't count on Spiller's stats being doubled as he goes from 7 to 16 starts, I do think we can safely assume a 25%-40% increase in touches.

Positives

  • Spiller is in his prime, and delivered a top 8 season last year in spite of starting less than half of the team's games
  • A close examination of the underlying metrics show that Spiller is in elite, all-time company as both a runner and receiver
  • The new coaching staff is planning on making Spiller the focal point

Negatives

  • Spiller has 10 fumbles in 494 career touches, that needs to be mitigated
  • The Bills quarterback situation is in flux, with Kevin Kolb and rookie EJ Manuel competing -- if neither can flourish, defenses will key on the ground game prohibitively
  • Doug Marrone is an unproven NFL head coach, as is OC Nathaniel Hackett

Final Thoughts

C.J. Spiller is an elite talent, and delivered a season for the ages in 2012. Too often I've heard people discount Spiller's upside by suggesting he can't repeat his 6.0 yards per rush average. Of course he's not going to repeat that mark, but who cares? Any regression we see in his yards per rush (and yards per catch) will be more than offset by the increased touches he's sure to receive as an every week starterer. We already know that Spiller can be a top 8 fantasy back without much help from his offensive supporting cast. I'm betting that Doug Marrone's system will be the final piece of the puzzle to vault Spiller into perenniel contention for top 3-5 fantasy numbers. Draft accordingly. 

Projections

 GRSHYDY/RTDRECYDY/RTDFPT
David Dodds 16 221 1136 5.1 7 51 423 8.3 3 216
Bob Henry 15 230 1250 5.4 7 50 450 9.0 3 230
Jason Wood 16 235 1285 5.5 9 53 465 8.8 2 241
Maurile Tremblay 16 226 1114 4.9 6 55 497 9.0 2 209

Thoughts from Around the Web

Bryan Shaffer of Bleacher Report believes C.J. Spiller will be the #1 fantasy RB this year:

Perhaps even more important than [Fred] Jackson's decline will be the hiring of Pat Morris as the Bills' offensive line coach. During his 15 years coaching NFL offensive lines, Morris has helped orchestrate nine top 10 rushing units, including three that were the top unit in the NFL. With a coach like that, one can imagine some gaping holes through which Spiller can dash and impose his will upon opposing defenses.

Bob Talbot of Gridiron Experts profiles Spiller:

Buffalo’s move to hire Doug Marrone makes C.J Spiller even more appealing as a fantasy running back. Marrone’s offensive resume is quite impressive. As the Saints offensive coordinator from 2006-08, Marrone was considered one of the NFL’s top offensive gurus. Before New Orleans, Marrone was the offensive line coach for the New York Jets; coaching a unit that aided Curtis Martin to three 1,000-plus yard seasons, including a 1,697 yard effort in 2004. Since then, he’s completely turned around a Syracuse football program that hasn’t had anything to cheer about since Donovan McNabb. If there’s anybody that knows how to make the necessary changes to turn a football team around, it’s Doug Marrone. With a quick oriented attack, Spiller will reap the rewards.


More from Jason Wood:

On Second Thought: Defenses and Kickers - August 28
On Second Thought: Running Backs - August 28
On Second Thought: Tight Ends - August 28
On Second Thought: Quarterbacks - August 28
On Second Thought: Wide Receivers - August 28
What If Roddy White or Julio Jones Are Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Robert Griffin III Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Cecil Shorts Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
Player Spotlight: Philip Rivers - August 8
Player Spotlight: Jordan Cameron - August 7