After a stunning breakout performance in 2012 where he had over 1,700 combined yards and eight total TDs, fantasy football players salivated at what C.J. Spiller might accomplish in 2013. Instead, Spiller disappointed owners last year, finishing the season with about 1,100 yards and only two TDs.
The big question is why Spiller disappointed last season and whether that same issue will affect his performance this coming season. There are two common misconceptions that I want to address concerning Spiller. The first point is that his bust last year wasn’t mainly due to injury, and the second is that he can succeed even if the Buffalo Bills stagnate offensively.
Many Spiller proponents argue that injury marred his 2013 season and that he will bounce back this year. Spiller did suffer a high ankle sprain in Week 4 last year against the Baltimore Ravens, and the nagging ankle injury bothered him throughout the rest of the season. But now that Spiller’s ankle should be fully recovered, does that mean his production will return?
If we attribute his down performance to the ankle injury, let’s look at his season while leaving out stats from Week 5 to Week 9, the weeks when Spiller was listed on the injury report. From Week 1 to Week 4 last year, prior to his ankle sprain, Spiller averaged only about 58 rushing yards per game and didn’t score any TDs. Then from Week 10 last year through the end of the season, Spiller averaged about 65 rushing yards per game and only scored one TD.
If we extrapolate his “healthy” games out into a 16-game season, Spiller would still have averaged only 62 rushing yards per game last season for a total of just under 1,000 yards. That’s not exactly elite production for a RB, and I’m not sure that his injury was the cause of his poor production last year.
So then was the cause Spiller’s team situation? I’ve also heard the argument that Spiller can’t be a fantasy star when the Bills offense is playing so poorly as a unit, but that’s as inaccurate as attributing his failure last year to his ankle injury.
While the Bills ranked in the bottom half of the NFL last year in both yards per game (19th with 338.1 YPG) and points per game (22nd with 21.2 PPG), Spiller managed to break out in 2012 despite similar shortcomings. The Bills only averaged 342.9 yards per game and 21.5 points per game in 2012, and that didn’t affect Spiller’s efficiency or production.
So wherein lies the rub? The answer to the C.J. Spiller question is none other than Fred Jackson. Jackson’s sudden resurgence to relevance last year is the root cause of Spiller’s diminished fantasy value. Jackson had over 1,200 combined yards and 10 total TDs in 2013, taking away receiving yards and goal-line touches from Spiller. Now that we’ve identified the main cause of Spiller’s 2013 decline in production, what does that mean for him in 2014?
Jackson is 33 years old while Spiller is only 27 years old. But even though RBs seem to age in dog years, it appears that Father Time has granted Jackson a reprieve. I think that in a committee, Jackson can still find the same success that he did last year. This means that Spiller can and should improve on his numbers from last year, but only modestly.
If Spiller remains healthy in 2014, I think that he can produce about 1,300 combined yards and around six total TDs with Jackson performing about the same. With that stat line, Spiller can be a solid flex play, and he has RB2 upside if he can reclaim some goal-line looks and score more TDs this coming season. Just don’t believe the hype on a bounce-back year and bank on him to perform as your RB1.