Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller had an underwhelming season last year, causing fantasy owners to question whether he would be a one-hit wonder.
Those having their reservations about Spiller should give him the benefit of the doubt. The electric all-purpose back is entering a contract year and aiming to squash trade speculation; therefore, he will run as well as he ever has within an offense and team circumstances tailored for him to thrive.
Spiller has as good a combination of size and speed this side of Adrian Peterson. In an uptempo, innovative offense drawn up by head coach Doug Marrone, a healthier Spiller figures to be a force during the 2014 NFL season.
Although there will be other backs vying for carries, such as Fred Jackson and Bryce Brown, Spiller is a cut above in terms of talent level. ESPN's Stephania Bell spotlighted the techniques Spiller has sought in the offseason to improve his longevity:
Focus on flexibility for @CJSPILLER this offseason to improve in-season durability. Says he's "naturally tight" but yoga is a big help.— Stephania Bell (@Stephania_ESPN) July 21, 2014
As John Wawrow of the Associated Press pointed out in August, Spiller suffered a quadriceps injury and a high ankle sprain that slowed him for the majority of 2013. Combine that with one of the worst quarterback situations in the league, and he wasn't exactly in an ideal environment to excel.
Spiller is eager to get back to a 2012 Pro Bowl form that saw him average six yards per carry en route to a career year that saw him amass 1,703 yards from scrimmage, per Wawrow's report:
Oh yeah, it's definitely a fire burning. I haven't forgotten what was written out there. I've got my axe ready to chip away some wood. [...] Obviously, I wish I wouldn't have gotten hurt. But that's one of the things that just happen. But to be able to do what I was able to do with me just having one healthy leg, I thought it was very impressive.
Yes, Spiller still racked up 933 yards on the ground and had 33 receptions while playing through pain.
First-round NFL draft pick EJ Manuel is entering his second season under center, where he should have a better grasp of the intricate offense and will have acclimated better to the speed of the professional game.
Adding rookie receiver Sammy Watkins to the mix, along with Mike Williams, will also force defenses to account for the pass even more, opening up opportunities for Spiller to rip off big gains on the ground.
The fact that Spiller can catch ought to make him a friendly target for Manuel. Spiller can also split out wide and create matchup nightmares with his speed and quickness. Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have a better feel for how to best handle and utilize Spiller, too. And now he's healthy, hungry and has plenty to play for and prove this season.
As far as the trade rumors, general manager Doug Whaley has denied them, per ESPN.com's Mike Rodak. There is no use reading into them at this time. Cian Fahey of Football Outsiders offered his take:
Trading Spiller makes no sense. Fred Jackson celebrates his 4,000th birthday soon and Bryce Brown isn't a feature back.— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) July 26, 2014
An apparent, emerging preseason assertion is that Jackson will ascend to the top of the depth chart. These numbers from Buffalo's last preseason contest, via Adam Levitan of Rotoworld, would back that up:
Bills' first-team O played 47 snaps vs PIT. I had Fred Jackson with 26 snaps, Spiller 12, Dixon 9. Zero 3rd-down or RZ touches for Spiller.— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) August 17, 2014
But Jackson is 33 years old, well past the apparent shelf life of age 30 for modern NFL running backs. How much longer can he produce?
Who will lead the Bills in rushing in 2014?
The common acronym associated with pro football careers is applicable here: Not For Long.
The Bills are on an upward trajectory, and Buffalo has been waiting for the 27-year-old Spiller to emerge as the face of the organization. Keeping the pressure off Manuel as he continues to grow into the hopeful franchise quarterback has to be of optimal importance for Marrone and Co. Spiller is their best option to do just that.
Fantasy football enthusiasts can bet against a uniquely skilled marvel like Spiller at their own peril. Jackson is no better of an option, Brown has limited experience and production and Anthony Dixon has never been a No. 1 ball-carrier.
Of all the players in Buffalo's crowded backfield, Spiller is the clear candidate to emerge as the spark the Bills need to take the next step, control possession better and get them into AFC East contention. In the process, he will make fantasy owners bold enough to take the risk on him quite pleased in putting up exceptional numbers.
C.J. Spiller's Projected 2014 Fantasy Stats: 220 carries, 1,200 yards, 7 TDs; 40 receptions, 460 yards, 2 TDs