Welcome to another installment of “Over/Under” where I highlight a player, determine some projections based on past tendencies, then state whether I think they will go “over or under” those projections. The criteria will be different for each player based on position and situation.
This week’s debate will focus on CJ Spiller of the Buffalo Bills. We will put his betting line at 1,400 yards rushing, 500 yards receiving and 11.5 total touchdowns.
“(And) why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” -Thomas Wayne, Batman Begins
I’m a huge Star Wars and Batman fanatic. I find myself often relating fantasy football situations, players, or fantasy team names to something from one of the movies. When I think about CJ Spiller, I can’t help but to think about the scene in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne’s father is giving his young son some encouraging words after falling into a well and finding what would eventually become the Bat Cave.
Spiller was drafted with the ninth overall selection by the Bills in the 2010 NFL Draft. At the time, they had a couple of hard nosed runners on the team (Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson), but lacked explosiveness. Jackson was coming off a breakout campaign, rushing for 1,062 yards and two touchdowns while catching 46 passes for 371 yards and another two scores – that was good enough to finish as the RB13 for 2009. Lynch had fallen out of favor in Buffalo and finished the year as Jackson’s backup after starting only six games. Spiller’s arrival signaled the end for Lynch. He was traded to the Seattle Seahawks at the 2010 season’s trade deadline and it appeared the Bills were preparing to make Spiller the focal point of the offense. That would not be the case as the 2010 season was a frustrating one for Spiller owners.
Even though he was the first running back selected in the NFL draft, he was not the top rookie running back target for most on fantasy draft day – that honor would go to Ryan Mathews who the Chargers traded up for to replace future Hall of Famer LaDanian Tomlinson. Spiller’s ADP of 57.7 as the RB25 ended up the third highest ADP of the rookie running backs behind Mathews (14.8, RB8) and Jahvid Best (38.5, RB18) of the Detroit Lions. As you’ll see below, his rookie season was not a successful one. He would finish outside the top 50 running backs with just 68 points for the season.
Going into the 2011 season, Head Coach Chan Gailey was committed to Fred Jackson as the lead back and contemplated using Spiller as a wide receiver in spread formations since he excelled as a pass catcher. Jackson was having the best season of his career before going on injured reserve in week 12 with a broken leg. He would finish the year strong, including a 111 yard outing against the Broncos on Christmas Eve. Below you can see how both backs finished the 2011 season. We all assumed it was the official “changing of the guard” since the offense performed well with Spiller in the backfield, his draft pedigree, and Jackson’s age, but that wasn’t the case. The stubbornness of Chan Gailey to stick with Fred Jackson as the starter over the electric Spiller would be his eventual undoing.
Coach Gailey came out publicly and declared Fred Jackson as the starter for the Buffalo Bills in 2012 and “hoped they focused on team success, not personal workload.” That all changed in week one when Jackson sprained a knee ligament and Spiller went off for 169 yards on just 14 carries, including an incredible 56-yard touchdown scamper. He would have a month long audition to cement himself as the long term starter in Buffalo. He kept the hot streak alive in week two, rushing 15 times for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Week three saw three years of pent up aggression come to a screeching halt when Spiller’s shoulder was driven into the ground. He would leave the game with a sprained shoulder. Even though he wouldn’t miss any starts, it was justification for Gailey to keep the now healthy Jackson a large part of the game plan. The chart below shows the weekly usage of each runner by week.
The up and down usage of each runner continued throughout the 2012 season, rendering them both weekly gambles in the fantasy world. From week six to week 10, the running game hit its stride and both runners were usable. Even though they were splitting the carries they both racked up the catches, enough to start them both in PPR leagues. When Jackson went down for the season in week 14 with a sprained MCL, Spiller became the bell cow for the remaining three weeks. Against three of the league’s top run defenses, he eclipsed the 100 yard mark, failing to do so only against the Jets in week 17.
Now we find ourselves in a familiar territory. Spiller finished the previous season on a high note and we all expect him to be firmly entrenched as the team’s featured runner. Why will it be different this time? The Bills fired Chan Gailey as head coach and replaced him with Syracuse’s Doug Marrone. Marrone is already on record saying Spiller will be used in all situations and he plans on running a high tempo offense to create more possessions. Spiller will excel in an up tempo offense because if defenses get caught trying to catch their breath – he’ll be gone and nobody will catch him. Jackson is still on the team and will see some carries, but he is no longer a threat to Spiller’s workload. You will only see him as an occasional substitution when Spiller needs a breather.
This line is probably the loftiest I’ve set since doing this series. Expectations are at an all-time high for Spiller. If he were to finish 2013 with this line exactly, he would finish with 307 points in PPR leagues – that total would have been good enough to finish as the RB3 in 2012, behind only Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin. In Ryan McDowell’s most recent ADP data for July, he came in as the RB6 with an ADP of 7.67. Collectively, we at DLF have him ranked tied with Adrian Peterson as the RB7 in dynasty startups.
Even though this line is extremely high and will be difficult to attain, I’m taking the over. He nearly reached these totals being grossly misused last season and with the additional carries in this new up tempo attacking offense, I think we are going to see some really, really big games out of Spiller this year. With his increased usage in the red zone and his homerun ability to score from literally anywhere on the field, he shouldn’t have any issue scoring at least 12 total touchdowns on the ground and through the air.
What do you think? Can CJ Spiller surpass these lofty expectations now he’s the featured running back in Buffalo? Are you taking the over or under on CJ Spiller’s 1,400 yards rushing, 500 yards receiving and 11.5 total touchdowns?
Let me know in the comments below.
Eric is on Twitter @OlingerIDP.