Is C.J. Spiller, Clemson's amazing running back/kick returner, overrated? The Clemson Athletic Department obviously thinks not, as they paid a lot of money to get him back this year.
So, is he actually worth the money and hype?
The easy answer is yes and no. Spiller was not overrated coming into the season, and he has certainly played outstandingly this year. But at the same time, many analysts and fans have overrated him, calling him the best player in the country.
Spiller is one of the best player's in the country, that's for sure. But the best? Not even close. He's not even the best running back in the country, but we will get to that later.
Spiller is a great returner (16 kick returns for 549 yards and three TDs, eight punt returns for 206 yards, and one TD), but he is an above-average running back at best (172 carries for 894 yards and seven TDs).
He is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, which is the worst of his career, and is averaging only 81.3 yards per game on 15.6 carries per game. He was a much better running back in 2006, when he rushed for 938 yards and 10 TDs on 129 carries.
Spiller is a receiving threat out of the backfield, with 29 catches for 421 yards and four TDs. But he is too much of a big-play player, and doesn't show enough consistency in any facet of his game for him to be considered the best player in the country. While it's great to have a guy who can break a 70-yard run, it's even better to have a guy you know will grind the defense down for 80 yards every drive.
You also have to consider Spiller's level of competition. Clemson has only played two really good teams this year: TCU and Georgia Tech. Spiller played well in both of those games (199 rushing yards, 148 receiving yards, 114 kick return yards, zero punt return yards, two total TDs), but not well enough for Clemson to win.
The Georgia Tech game was especially bad, as Spiller disappeared for most of the game. In Clemson's other loss (to lowly Maryland), Spiller had only 72 rushing yards and seven receiving yards with no TDs. He also attempted one punt return for zero yards and two kick returns for 103 yards and one TD. Most of those kick return yards came on his 92-yard, awe-inspiring TD return where he shook multiple tacklers.
That's Spiller's biggest problem, his tendency to disappear in games. For him to be the best player in the country, he needs to perform on a day-in, day-out basis.
Spiller is up for many awards, so let's break down which awards he deserves and which awards he doesn't.
Heisman Trophy : No. Both Mark Ingram and Tim Tebow are better than Spiller, and Toby Gerhart, Colt McCoy, Case Keenum, and Kellen Moore are just as good as Spiller. Spiller might get invited to New York, but he should not be anywhere close to winning it. The only way this changes is if he absolutely goes off against South Carolina this week and against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, leading Clemson to wins in both games.
Doak Walker Award : No. Mark Ingram and Toby Gerhart are better pure running backs than Spiller, as are many others in the country. Spiller has the 46th most rushing yards in the country, and is tied for the 75th most rushing TDs in the country. Realistically, there are about 60 better pure running backs in the country than Spiller. The Doak Walker Award is for the best running back in the country, not the best player who happens to play running back. So no, Spiller should not win this, nor should he have even been a semifinalist.
ACC Player of the Year : Yes. Clemson won the ACC Atlantic and Spiller is their entire team, so he is definitely the ACC Player of the Year. The only other people who could even be considered candidates are Jonathan Dwyer and Ryan Williams, and neither of them has led their team the way that Spiller has. If Spiller doesn't win this, something's wrong.
First-Team All-ACC : Yes. Spiller should be the first-team specialist player, because he does it all. Were it not for Spiller's threat as a return man, he might not be on the first-team list, because Dwyer and Williams are both better pure running backs. But, he is an amazing all-around player, and will definitely get this honor.
First-Team All-American : Yes. Spiller should be the first-team All-Purpose player, because, once again, he does it all. Name one other player in the country who can harm you in the kick game, rushing game, and receiving game as much as Spiller. You can't.
So, back to the original question: Is C.J. Spiller overrated? Yes, he is, but only slightly. He has singlehandedly taken a Clemson team with little else besides him to the ACC Championship Game, and is one of the most dynamic players in the country. Barring a major injury or something else quirky, he will be a top 15 pick in the NFL Draft in April, and will be a more-polished version of Reggie Bush for some team. If it weren't for Clemson trying to overhype him and ESPN buying into it, he wouldn't be overrated at all.
Here's to hoping that South Carolina can stop him this weekend.
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