Are you familiar with that face you make when you eat something incredibly sour? You know, the face that looks like a bug just flew into your mouth? That is what C.J. Spiller left his fantasy owners looking like at season’s end in 2013.
It’s true. I, Adam Pfeifer, am a fan of Spiller and the Buffalo Bills. I love cheering for them every Sunday. I love occasionally traveling to upstate New York to catch a game. I love when Chris Berman shows favoritism for Buffalo every single Sunday. I love it all. I’m a diehard Bills fan.
However, I’m also not an idiot.
As much as I love him, and as high on him as I was heading into the season, Spiller was a constant headache to those who drafted him with a first round pick. I wrote countless articles on him, ranked him second overall and practically worshiped the ground he walked on. And while he certainly didn’t live up to the hype, it wasn’t all his fault. We all overlooked the presence of the ageless wonder and sudden fantasy zombie, Fred Jackson. The veteran back is the captain of this team and is a crucial part to their success, so it makes sense that he isn’t suddenly just disappearing. And, of course, Spiller dealt with a nagging ankle injury over the course of the regular season, which is difficult for a running back like him. Constantly coming in and out of the game, it’s no wonder Spiller hobbled his way to the number 27 fantasy finish among running backs. A high risk, high reward top-five selection, Spiller left fantasy owners wanting more production and less of that nasty taste in their mouth. However, 2014 offers a terrific post-hype sleeper opportunity for Spiller, and I’m all in on the Clemson product once again.
Anyone surprised by that?
Last season, no one in football ran the ball more times per game than the Bills’ 34.1. Because of that, both Spiller and Jackson eclipsed 200 carries, making them the only tandem in the NFL to do so. You know that with these two in the backfield, as well as head coach Doug Marrone calling the shots, this team is going to run the ball, and they are going to do it a lot.
Buffalo should once again compete with the likes of Seattle and San Francisco for the league lead in rushing attempts, and even splitting work with Jackson, Spiller will carry the ball over 200 times, which is very appealing for fantasy purposes, especially for a back like him that doesn’t need to be a 20-carry guy to produce. Only 21 other running backs in football carried the ball at least 200 times last year, and only 10 rushers accomplished that feat in 2012.
Upside, upside, upside
Spiller still has perhaps the most upside of any running back in the league today. Two words thrown around so darn much, but he has so much upside, so much potential, especially in an offense that suits him well. In 2012, when he was a top-10 fantasy back, Spiller was actually extremely consistent, and that was with former head coach Chan Gailey giving him inconsistent touches. In fact, during that season, Spiller finished with less than 20 carries 13 times, which was far too much. Not to mention that Jackson was still very much in the picture that season, it was very impressive to see Spiller finish as the 7th-best running back in fantasy. And while big play, high-upside guys are normally more inconsistent, Spiller was the polar opposite, posting the 6th-best consistency rating in fantasy, courtesy of Tristan Cockroft. Spiller finished as a top-12 running back 81.3 percent of the time, which was among the best in football.
During that year, Spiller also only truly started nine of the 16 games he played, which makes this feat even more impressive. I do think Jackson is going to continue to see a big role in the offense, and if you are looking for a ton of touchdowns, Spiller may not be your guy. According to Dave Richard, of the 12 rushing scores Spiller has accumulated in his career, just two have come from inside the five, and both touchdowns came with Jackson being banged up. I don’t think there is any doubt that Jackson is the goal line back in this offense, but that doesn’t mean Spiller can’t score. Only two running backs finished the 2012 season with a higher fantasy points per snap total than Spiller (via PFF), and his 2.1 yards after contact was also good for third-best among qualified backs. Arguably the most elusive runner in football, Spiller can break a 70-yard touchdown on any given play.
You down with ADP?
This time last year, Spiller was being drafted on average at pick five, and the lowest he was selected was 7th overall, according to Fantasy Calculator. Of course, the fact that he didn’t exactly pan out was astronomical when you consider that you invested your top pick in him. However, in 2014, that won’t be the case, as he is currently coming off of the board at pick 3.07, the 16th running back being drafted. By that time, you could already have two starting running backs, which would make Spiller, a guy who could easily finish as a top-10 back, as your flex. Talk about potential value. The guy, barring injury, is going to get at least 200 carries, and a lot more if Fred Jackson, who isn’t sipping out of the fountain of youth, were to go down. And speaking of injury, although Spiller is coming off a season where he dealt with ongoing foot injury, let’s not call him injury prone. He still suited up for 15 games, and during his four years in the league, he’s missed just three total contests.
I love Spiller like a fat kid loves cake– and fat kids LOVE cake.