Fantasy Football 2014: Who Gets the Edge Between CJ Spiller and Andre Ellington?

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IJuly 22, 2014

Clemson freshman running back Andre Ellington (23) leads senior C.J. Spiller (28) onto the field during the first half of their NCAA college football game against Florida State Saturday Nov.7, 2009 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson S.C. (AP Photo/ Richard Shiro)
Richard Shiro/Associated Press

In nearly every fantasy football draft, a person will get to a pick and just be absolutely torn between two options. Former Clemson teammates C.J. Spiller and Andre Ellington are two players who could do that to a lot of owners this year.

They are being drafted back-to-back as far as running backs go, according to Fantasy Pros, as the 16th and 17th backs taken, respectively. Ellington is being selected 32nd overall, while Spiller is being taken 35th.

Both players are even relatively similar in style. They are more quick than strong and can tear up a defense on any given play. Those types of offensive weapons can make or break your squad.

Furthermore, fourth-round picks are enormous in building a fantasy team. Your first few picks should be studs, and are as close to "sure things" as it gets, while the last few rounds mostly come down to luck.

But starting in the fourth round, things get very interesting and important. So let's break down both Ellington and Spiller and figure out which guy you should pick.


The Case for Ellington

Ellington was not particularly heralded as an NFL draft prospect. He was seen as undersized and too old (he's already 25) and fell to the Arizona Cardinals in the sixth round.

Now, teams are probably kicking themselves for passing him up. In the Cardinals' first seven games, Ellington wasn't much of a factor at all, never receiving more than seven carries in a game.

Then Rashard Mendenhall went down with a toe injury, Ellington dominated the Atlanta Falcons to the tune of 154 rushing yards, and he's now atop everyone's "breakout player" lists.

He couldn't replicate his enormous day against Atlanta again in 2013, but Ellington still posted some solid performances. He put up 158 total yards against Tennessee and had 64 yards on 15 carries against Seattle's vaunted defense.

Ellington is incredibly shifty and has breakaway speed that helped him amass 5.5 yards per carry on 118 carries. He also has the ability to catch passes out of the backfield and brought in 39 passes as a rookie.

That type of game-breaking potential surely has fantasy owners salivating, and they should be even more encouraged by the fact that Ellington is in line to assume lead back duties.

Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports 910 in Phoenix even reported that Bruce Arians stated he expects Ellington "to get 25-30 touches per game." That sort of workload could mean enormous numbers for him in 2014.

Arizona's offense has some promise as well. They get Jonathan Cooper back after he missed his entire rookie year, and his presence at guard will be huge for the running game. Rookie tight end Troy Niklas is a phenomenal blocker, too.

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 15:  Running back Andre Ellington #38 of the Arizona Cardinals carries the ball against the Detroit Lions at University of Phoenix Stadium on September 15, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images


The Case Against Ellington

Ellington was a sixth-round pick for a reason. It's somewhat because of his size and lack of strength, and he is more of a change-of-pace player than anything else.

His entire fantasy potential is essentially resting on one huge game, which was partially the product of one 80-yard run.

And while 25-30 touches per game may sound nice, Ellington has never been a workhorse back in the NFL or college, and there is plenty of reason to think he will break down. 

Lastly, Arizona's offense is mediocre. They gained an average of 346.4 yards per game last year and scored 23.7 points per game. Both totals were right around the middle of the league.

Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are both on the wrong side of 30 now, and the offensive line is a pretty big question mark.

Oh, and the Cardinals have only had one 1,000-yard rusher since 2007: Beanie Wells, who ran for 1,047 yards in 2011. Does anyone really expect a second-year sixth-round pick to break that trend?


The Case for Spiller

Spiller was the complete opposite of Ellington coming out of Clemson. He was a bona fide star, the ninth overall selection, and everyone expected big things.

He has put up 4,091 total yards in his four-year career thus far and has seemingly only gotten better every year.

After an impressive 1,244-yard season in 2012, in which he scored eight total touchdowns and averaged 6.0 YPC, Spiller rushed for 933 yards in 15 games in 2013 and struggled to stay 100 percent healthy.

But he's still shown a heck of a lot of explosiveness thus far, and everything looks right for him to become an elite back in 2014.

Buffalo has slowly been building up its offense, and second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel will help the team take another big step forward in 2014. Second-year receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin also bring a lot of talent to the squad.

But the real prize was 2014 first-round selection and yet another former Clemson star in Sammy Watkins. He brings a whole new level of talent to the receiving corps and has the type of awesome potential to make everyone around him better.

There's no way that a fully healthy Spiller doesn't take advantage of this young and dynamic offense to take yet another step forward and become a full-fledged fantasy star.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 09:   C.J. Spiller #28 of the Buffalo Bills runs against the New York Jets during their season opener at MetLife Stadium on September 9, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images


The Case Against Spiller

It really comes down to one thing with Spiller: consistency (or lack thereof). A look at his 2013 game log (via ESPN) shows how volatile his stat lines are.

Over 100 yards one game, then less than 25 the next game and under 10 the next. Then back up over 145, only to fall back under 25 yards one week later. I'm not even making that up, that's an actual sequence from Weeks 9 through 14 from last year (they had a bye Week 12).

He's dealt with a ton of injuries that have contributed to that inconsistency, but that makes him even more risky from a fantasy standpoint. Having a running back who hasn't proven he can take a pounding and stay on the field is a major concern.

The fourth round is a high investment to make on a player who struggled to stay on the field in 2013 while only scoring two touchdowns on 235 touches.

And don't forget about Fred Jackson, the ageless wonder who outplayed Spiller last season and will be looking to do so again this upcoming year.

That's not good news for an already inconsistent and risky guy like Spiller.


Verdict: Draft Ellington

This is (obviously) such a close call because there are legitimate positives and negatives to both players, but Ellington wins out by a hair.

If nothing else, it's because we haven't seen him get anywhere near his ceiling, and it looks like he'll be counted on heavily by a talented offense out in Arizona.

Spiller has the injury history and Jackson to worry about, and those are two major concerns. Even if Ellington isn't averaging 5.5 YPC, he'll still be the main guy in that offense.

If you're debating between these two running backs, Ellington should be your guy.


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