As many can admit, last year was not the year anyone was expecting out of the Bills' offensive backfield. As a high note, no one was expecting Ryan Fitzpatrick to have the solid season that he did, yet as a low note, no one expected the Bills running backs to limp out of the gates, so to speak.
It is not quite clear what factor is the main reason behind the Bills' lack of success in that department. Coming into the year, two of the Bills' previous starting backs (Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson) were injured.
That paved the way for C.J. Spiller, who had just been drafted in the first round, to validate his draft status. Needless to say, Spiller did not get the ball rolling. His season totals of 283 yards rushing are also not keeping defensive coordinators up at night.
Despite this tough season for Spiller, all hope is not lost; in fact there are plenty of good reasons why he struggled so much. First, he never had a game with more than nine carries. It can be tough for a running back to get in the groove if he never gets the chance to work out the kinks.
No one can argue that Spiller should have been more effective to earn more carries, and that is also a fair argument, as he posted an average of 3.8 yards per carry. But you know what? Both Steven Jackson (3.8 ypc) and Rashard Mendenhall (3.9 ypc) posted similar yards on average. The main difference was that they both got many more carries, as on the season, each went over 1,000 yards rushing.
If you also factor in that C.J. was trying to break in all the while Buffalo was showcasing Marshawn Lynch to boost his trade value and then needed the reliable Fred Jackson just to be able to compete, you can see how C.J could get lost in the mix.
This year provides room for optimism, as Buffalo needs Spiller to be successful almost as much as he needs to be successful for them. This year, offenses will probably be looking to shut down the passing game the Bills offer.
With that in mind, and this being the second year of Gailey's offense being in place, one should expect significant strides to be made on that side of the ball as well. Based on the draft, you can see that there was a good deal of confidence placed in this unit.
Several things could happen that derail C.J.'s chances of success in Buffalo, however. If you look at the offense as currently constructed, it looks like a poor man's version of the Saints, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Their backfield is by committee with an overachieving, yet undersized north-south runner starting, a flashy former first-round pick who is a hybrid runner-receiver, and of course, both teams took versatile backs in the draft this year, that offer a mix of what they currently have.
In a perfect world, I see Spiller taking on more of a LeSean McCoy role in the offense than a Reggie Bush-type role. If Johnny White plays lights out, he can help provide a solid back-up and eventual replacement for Fred Jackson when his Bills days are over.
There are also plenty of reasons for optimism. Spiller is no stranger to adversity; after averaging 7.3. yards per carry as a freshman at Clemson, he had some down years as a sophomore and a junior, and we all can pretty much recall his senior campaign that propelled him into the top 10 picks in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Another reason to be excited is the fact that a guy who he compares favorably to LeSean McCoy more than doubled his production as he got more familiar with the league. I think this will be the year that we some significant growth in C.J.'s game. How does C.J. compare to recently drafted running-backs(these are their totals from just their rookie years) this chart will provide some insight.
Based on this chart, Spiller compares to Bush and Charles in many ways. But in comparison, Charles plays for the AFC West a division not known for its tough run defense.One must also take into account that the very next year McFadden rushed for just 3.4 YPC. So only time will tell, it is also worth noting that while all these players have had varying success only McCoy and Charles both weren't first rounder picks and 1st Rounders like C.J. tend to get more opportunities than other backs due to their draft status, even if they don't take the world by storm as first year players.