After a breakout 2012 campaign, fantasy owners had to invest a first-round pick in order to get their hands on Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller this season. Spiller has looked nothing like the player who took the fantasy world by storm last year, but it's far too early to give up on the dynamic speedster.
Following a lackluster season-opening performance that saw Spiller gain just 41 yards on 17 carries against the New England Patriots, he bounced back with a 100-yard effort in Week 2 against a strong Carolina Panthers defense. Spiller came crashing back down to earth in Week 3, however, as he mustered a measly nine yards on 10 attempts before leaving the contest with a knee injury, according to the Bills' official Twitter account.
Bills head coach Doug Marrone attempted to get Spiller the ball in myriad ways, including straight handoffs, pitches, stretch plays and shotgun runs, but Spiller simply couldn't get past the New York Jets' dominant defensive line.
Poor blocking up front had something to do with that, but Spiller was also compromised by a knee ailment. Spiller made the decision to sit, as his sore knee was preventing him from bursting and cutting with as much fluidity and explosiveness as he is accustomed to.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that the injury is to Spiller's thigh rather than his knee, but he doesn't anticipate the ailment keeping Spiller out.
Despite the injury, Spiller told Tim Graham of the Buffalo News that he expects to play in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens.
According to Joe Buscaglia of WGR 550, Spiller will receive treatment in hopes of being ready for Sunday, but he doesn't anticipate missing the game.
"A little sore but shouldn't be nothing that will keep me out this week," he said when asked how he felt. "As of right now, the plan is to see how it feels doing stuff, doing some treatment and doing everything necessary that I need to do to make sure that I'm ready. But come Wednesday or Thursday, ultimately the decision needs to be made -- more Thursday -- about if I'll be able to go. But, I think I should be good."
That is obviously encouraging news for Spiller's fantasy owners, but it is possible that his poor performances in Week 1 and Week 3 have his owners in a 1-2 hole or worse. With that in mind, some of the more impatient owners may be looking to cut bait.
Aside from the lack of production and the knee injury, Fred Jackson's presence is also somewhat troubling. Jackson hasn't put up huge numbers in his own right, but he outgained Spiller on the ground in both Week 1 and Week 3, he vultured a touchdown in Week 2 and he has 13 receptions through three weeks.
Jackson has developed into a passable flex option even as a backup for the Bills. Head coach Doug Marrone has no allegiance to Spiller, as he had nothing to do with drafting him, so it's conceivable that Marrone could stick with Jackson as long as the veteran continues to outshine Spiller.
With that said, Spiller is clearly the more dynamic player, and he should be a better fit for Marrone's frenetic, no-huddle offense moving forward. Spiller averaged six yards per carry last season, so he clearly has the ability to make big plays. It's up to Marrone to figure out the best way to utilize him.
The Bills have had to deal with some solid run defenses, so that has as much to do with Spiller's struggles as anything. Things won't get much easier with games against the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins over the next month, but the Bills have to run the ball effectively in order to have any success.
As rookie quarterback EJ Manuel gets more comfortable, opposing defenses will have to show him more respect as well. This should open up running lanes for Spiller moving forward.
It's certainly possible that Spiller won't live up to his first-round billing this year, but it would be premature for fantasy owners to give up on him. The main issue is that nobody will offer fair value in exchange for him due to the fact that he is struggling, banged up and competing with Jackson for carries.
Spiller is a game-changer, though, and all it takes is one big play to change the opinion of many. Week 4 will be tough sledding against the Ravens, but Spiller proved last season that he has what it takes to be a fantasy stud, so hang in there and reap the rewards when he inevitably gets back on track.
Week 4 Projection: 65 rushing yards and four receptions for 36 yards
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