Fantasy Football 2013: Crazy for C.J. Spiller

Imagine you’re sitting at your start-up draft and you have the third pick.  Now imagine that Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green are the first two players off the board.  With the top two wide receivers off the board, you’re left to have your pick of the running backs. Now the tricky part – should that pick be Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson or Ray Rice?  Any of those players would be reasonable options, but I have other ideas.

Let me start by telling you a tale of two running backs.

In 2008, there was a rookie running back who was the third rushing option on his team.  Despite being the low man on the totem pole, he showed significant promise and was already the most dynamic pure runner on his team.  The following season he was drafted as the RB27 in keeper/dynasty leagues.  He went on to have a breakthrough season and lead his team with 254 carries while finishing as the fourth best fantasy running back.  He averaged 5.3 yards per carry that season and caught 78 passes at ten yards a pop.  It could have been even better, but he ceded goal line work to his running mate.  In 2010, he was the RB4 off the board and the fourth overall pick.  He proceeded to finish as the RB10 ranked that season, the RB1 in 2011 and the RB6 in 2012.

In 2011, there was another running back who was the low man in a running back committee.  He was also the most dynamic playmaker on his team, but was stuck behind an aging but gifted veteran.  At the start of the 2012 season he was the RB34 drafted in keeper/dynasty leagues.  He proceeded to lead his team in carries with 207 and finished as the RB7 in fantasy football.  He averaged a staggering six yards per carry and caught 43 passes at almost 11 yards per catch, but ceded goal line work to his running mates.

Everyone reading should already know the two players are Ray Rice and C.J. Spiller.  Rice spent time frustrating owners playing behind Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. Spiller, of course, has dealt with Fred Jackson and even Tashard Choice on the goal line.  Just like Ray Rice in 2011, Spiller’s time to shine has arrived.  Will he lose some goal line opportunities to Jackson again in 2013?  Probably, but does it really matter?  Ray Rice had just 14 carries inside the opponent’s ten yard line in 2010, but still finished as the tenth best running back.  In 2011, he had 30 carries inside the ten and finished as the top running back in fantasy.  Spiller had just six carries inside the ten in 2012, but was still the #7 ranked back.  If he can get 30-40 more touches and another five to ten goal line touches, he will challenge for the top spot.

If you could go back in time to 2010 and draft any running back, who would it be? The only names that belong in the conversation are Peterson, Arian Foster, McCoy and Ray Rice. With Spiller presently on the precipice of fantasy greatness similarly to Rice in 2010, shouldn’t he be considered one the top options moving forward?  In early 2013 mock drafts, he’s being selected eighth among running backs.

Here’s some more food for thought.

Adrian Peterson had one of the most remarkable seasons in NFL history in 2012. He was stopped a miniscule nine yards shy the all time rushing record less than one year after blowing out his knee.  He averaged an astounding six yards per carry on 348 touches and scored 12 touchdowns.  With all things considered, it was the best season a running back has ever had.  He’s a legendary and possibly robotic running back.  Someday we’ll be telling our kids how their NFL heroes don’t compare to him.

We’re all together so far, right?  Good, now please don’t close your computer in disgust after reading the next sentence.  C.J. Spiller was better last season.  Wait! No, please come back and hear me out.

To those of you who stuck around, thank you and here’s my reasoning – Spiller was better on a per touch basis and averaged .82 fantasy points per touch while Peterson averaged .78 per touch.  Secondly, Spiller forced 66 missed tackles on 250 touches (one missed tackle for every 3.8 touches) and Peterson forced 76 missed tackles on his 411 attempts (one missed tackle for every 5.4 touches).  Also, Minnesota had the third best run blocking line in the NFL compared to Buffalo’s #22 ranked unit.  Lastly, Peterson also played along side a slightly more efficient quarterback than Spiller with Christian Ponder finishing just slightly ahead of Ryan Fitzpatrick according to Pro Football Focus.  To salvage my reputation, I’ll close this paragraph by acknowledging that Peterson’s performance and consistency when combined with his knee injury trumps everything Spiller did this season.  Perhaps a better way to put it would have been that Spiller was a more efficient runner, but saying it that way is just boring.

If Spiller had the same number of opportunities as Peterson (and managed to stay healthy) he would have scored 337 fantasy points last season. He would have tied for the top overall spot amongst all players with Drew Brees. It’s not likely Spiller will see that heavy of a work load next season, but it’s safe to assume that the new coaching staff will feed him the rock with more consistency than Chan Gailey.  If he can total 300 touches, or just 50 more than 2012, he should finish as a top three running back.

C.J. Spiller was the most elusive running back in 2012.  He’s also just 25 years old and has a measly 388 career carries.  He has a career yard per carry average of 5.4 and averaged six yards per carry in 2012.  His role may not be as clearly defined as some of the other options, but McCoy may be in a committee next season and who knows how Jamaal Charles will be used under Andy Reid.  Ray Rice and Arian Foster are getting older and racking up carries at an alarming rate. Trent Richardson has some questions about his knees and didn’t display the game breaking skills many had hoped for as a rookie.

Despite currently being taken in the second round of mock drafts as the ninth back overall, Spiller  is squarely in the top five for me and I have a hard time making a more solid case for any other running back in the league.  He may not be the safest choice, but safe choices should be reserved for neighborhoods and driving habits. We’re trying to build dynasties.

For more great articles, check out Dynasty League Football.

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