With the unexpected emergence of Fred Jackson at the beginning of the 2011 season, the Buffalo Bills looked to have a shot at owning fantasy's MVP running back.
Before breaking his right leg during a November 20 game against the Miami Dolphins, the then-30-year-old Jackson was the No. 1 fantasy running back in standard fantasy leagues, due to his Peterson-esque 917 rushing yards and a remarkable 34 receptions for 392 yards in his first nine games. It would seem that Jackson's leg break strained Buffalo's chances of boasting the preeminent fantasy running back anytime soon.
That was before C.J. Spiller got a shot.
After Jackson went down, Spiller proved to be a more-than-capable replacement for his predecessor. Of his six starts in 2011, Spiller topped 14 fantasy points in all but two, including a 28-point performance against the Dolphins.
Spiller has the same kind of speed that assisted Chris Johnson in his 2,006-rushing-yard season of 2009. In fact, Spiller's 40-yard dash has been clocked at 4.28, a hair shy of Johnson's 4.24. And in 2012, Spiller showed that he can use that speed with great results.
With Jackson beset by injuries again in 2012, Spiller saw an expanded role in which he gained 1,244 rushing yards while averaging a stout six yards per carry. He was heavily involved in the passing game as well, receiving 43 Ryan Fitzpatrick passes for a cool 459 yards.
Now that Jackson is another year past 30 and Spiller is entering the public conscious, fantasy owners can anticipate more than the 207 carries Spiller had in 2012, which will only help his value.
Perhaps even more important than 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.
The head coaching change from Chan Gailey to Doug Marrone should assist Spiller's production as well. Marrone proved to be a great offensive mind during his tenure as the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator from 2006-2008 and proved capable of running a great offense as a head coach with the Syracuse Orange over the past four seasons.
Just last year Syracuse running backs Prince-Tyson Gulley and Jerome Smith rushed for 213 and 152 yards, respectively, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Sure, it's difficult to predict success in the NFL based on collegiate success, but it seems likely Marrone will at least improve things on the offensive side of the ball.
It's tough to prognosticate such things because of injuries and the unpredictable nature of the NFL, but Spiller seems poised to take up where Jackson left off and be an elite fantasy running back. Quite possibly THE best.