By M. Britt Hayes
Now, I know most of you would rather walk through the Sahara in a Snuggie with no water than own CJ Spiller after his last few seasons of unfulfilled promise, but he was a Bill then. It will never happen again. When people say, “maybe he just needs a change of scenery” it has never been more true than it is with CJ. After being drafted 9th overall in 2010, the former Clemson Tiger seemed to promise the world from a fantasy perspective. As a runner he was patient and could hit the holes with the explosive first-step quickness of a serval cat(google them). Combine that with elite open field speed and the hands of a wide receiver, and you’ve got the recipe of a certifiable dynasty stud. After 2 seasons of resting on the bench behind Fred Jackson, Spiller broke out like the Kool-Aid man coming through the wall of your house, in 2012. He rushed for 1,244 yards on only 207 carries and scored 6 touchdowns. His 6.009 yards per carry average was second only to Adrian Peterson’s 6.025. He also caught 43 passes for 459 yards with two receiving touchdowns. Then, we all bought in and made roster a spot for him only to be as disappointed as we were when we purchased the Black Album by Metallica. So what happened?
The Great Buffalo Caper
The greatest trick that Doug Marrone ever pulled was convincing the world that CJ Spiller couldn’t play football. Under Chan Gailey, Spiller proved to be a firecracker in the open field, but Marrone insisted on running him up the middle and between the tackles. Gailey’s regime was responsible for the 2012 campaign, previously mentioned. So, while he shined bright like Rihanna’s diamond when given the ball in space, Marrone instead decided to drive Spiller right up the abdomen of defenses. CJ does not have the build of a ground and pound runner. He’s 5’11” 200 lbs. To compare, prototypical head down and hard nosed running back Eddie Lacy is 5’11” 230 lbs. This makes Lacy’s Body Mass Index(BMI) a 32 while Spiller would be a 28. Without that extra size to absorb defensive line punishment injuries occur and stats decline. All the way down to a paltry 425 total yards in an injury riddled 9 game season last year. He’s not injury prone as many would have you believe. He played every game during his 4 year college career. He is simply misused.
Escape to New Orleans
“He’s explosive. He knows what to do. I think there’s a real good fit for him with what we’re going to do offensively. We’ll put him in a role where, whether he’s in the backfield, (or) flexed out. The key I think for him is when we study him is finding him ways to get him the ball in space and let him utilize his skill-set and speed.” That is not me talking, that is Saints Coach Sean Payton. Spiller has moved on to New Orleans, where he fits the system like yoga pants on Jennifer Lopez. When you have a passing QB like Drew Brees, you must have a passing RB to compliment, and no one uses pass catching RB’s better than the Saints. For example:
See what I mean? Drew Brees loves his running backs. So much so, that running backs accounted for 26% of his targets over the last two years. With New Orleans trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills, as well as cutting Pierre Thomas and letting Travaris Cadet leave, it has become obvious the Saints intend to use Spiller heavily in the passing game. We are all aware that Mark Ingram is in New Orleans and that he will be forced to split time, but the fact remains that Ingram has only played 1 full season due to injuries since joining the league 4 years ago. I’m not wishing any Nancy Kerrigan type situation on him, but an injury to Ingram is an increased workload for CJ.
I want to be in that Number
So, what happens now? Let’s “math” it up.
With Mark Ingram coming into his own as a runner, he will handle the bulk of the carries. I’d estimate CJ gets around 8-9 carries per game. His career yards per carry average is 5.0. Let’s assume then he gets around 4.5 YPC, so there you have 36-40 rushing yards a game. Pierre Thomas has averaged 5.1 passing targets a game the last 2 seasons. Give those to Spiller and that equals 80 targets a year. This is pretty much par for the course in New Orleans as Sproles had 89 targets his final year with Brees. Spiller’s career target to catch percentage is 78% while averaging 7.2 yards per catch. If we assume this carries over that would mean 5 catches a game for 36-40 yards. If you are actually keeping up with these numbers, then you know that would be roughly 1,200 total yards from scrimmage next year. That would put him well inside the top 20 RB’s from a year ago. Actually in the #14 spot as only 19 had 1,000 yards from scrimmage and only 13 were over 1,200 yards. Let us not forget that these averages were all accumulated while playing for a struggling Bills offense that refused to cater to his skill-set as well as playing through various injuries. I believe that his New Orleans numbers will be seriously inflated in comparison to his past averages and that CJ could wind up in top 10 RB status once again.
The Saints’ offense made Darren Sproles, Pierre Tomas and Reggie Bush fantasy relevant as firm RB2 choices. None of these players are as gifted as CJ Spiller, especially in terms of explosiveness. At only 27, Spiller has 3 more seasons before he falls off of the dreaded “30 year old cliff” that is feared for running backs. Currently his ADP in most dynasty formats is a mid to late 5th round pick. I’d say that’s a bargain, and in PPR play its an Ocean’s 11 style casino heist. Spiller will likely set career-highs in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns with the Saints in 2015 and beyond.
Welcome back CJ. You’ve been missed.