What a propaganda piece that Vine of 2014 C.J. Spiller is. For one thing, it could give the impression the result of the play was a TD. It wasn’t, in fact he scored zero rushing TDs last year. Instead it was his last snap of 2014. Yes, that’s the play he was injured on. This sums up why he must be one of the more frustrating running backs to own (I can’t say, I’ve never owned him). There is new optimism for him because he has left the Bills for the Saints and with that move comes some hope that he will be utilized correctly as a committee back who can make plays in space. In general the fantasy powers that be are ranking him about right — he’s the 23rd RB in FantasyPros ECR (expert consensus rankings). I think many folks rank him in the 24-30 range so the bump to 23rd comes from those experts ranking him in the 15-20 range and that’s too high for me. This post will explain why.
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Spiller had a very good 2012 for the Bills and it came somewhat out of nowhere. Then he was a massive disappointment the next year as a near universal first round fantasy pick. Now it seems likely that he will be the primary receiving back for the Saints while Mark Ingram handles most of the 1st/2nd down work as well as getting goal line carries. That may give the impression that only scraps are left for Spiller but history shows us that Sean Payton and Drew Brees can make multiple Saints RBs worth owning and starting. Pierre Thomas is currently an unsigned free agent making Ingram and Khiry Robinson his other competition.
Take a look at the Saints historical inclination towards throwing to their RBs. Here we have the targets and receptions to RBs (not counting fullbacks) for the last 4 years as well as the number of receptions from their lead receiving back:
|Year||Targets||Receptions||Lead RB Receptions|
Looks encouraging to me… but let’s dig a little deeper. Last year Pierre Thomas caught 45 passes in only 11 games, a 65 full season pace and that was in a down year for the Saints. Looking at these numbers it seems likely that Spiller is in store for 70+ receptions this year, so it is indeed encouraging. But he is a running back so let’s consider his usage when he’s taking handoffs as well. I’m going to use Darren Sproles’ workload as basis for Spiller’s. In 2011, Sproles’ only season in which he played 16 games for the Saints he carried 87 times. In 2012 he played in 13 games and carried 48 times and in 2013 it was 53 totes.
Assuming Spiller is healthy, I think the 87 carries Sproles received in 2011 works as a floor for Spiller. Sproles has never amassed more than 93 rushing attempts in a single season while Spiller has never received fewer than 74. From 2011-2013 he carried 107, 207 and 202 times. In 8 full games last year plus the game he was injured early in, he carried 78 times. Counting the game he was injured in as half a game, he was on pace for 147 carries. But he didn’t have Mark Ingram to compete with in Buffalo, he had the old (yet seemingly ageless) Fred Jackson. In any case Ingram certainly qualifies as more legitimate competition than Fred Jackson was. More importantly, Spiller’s touchdown potential is his biggest limitation because Ingram is expected to take most or all of the goal line work.
Potential Risk Factors…
Injury History: C.J. Spiller is considered by many to be an injury prone back and that perception is probably not far off. Yet it may surprise some that his games played(started) from his rookie season of 2010 forward are 14(1), 16(11), 16(9) 15(10), 9(5). While that may look encouraging, I’m fairly sure that in at least one year, 2013 for example, he was playing through a significant injury. I see it as somewhat likely that he will not go through 2015 unscathed but that is true of many running backs. I believe Spiller to be at slightly higher than average risk for injury.
Game Flow: The great thing about being the primary 3rd down back in the Saints offense is that going off game script will have little effect on his output. In games where the Saints are behind by a significant margin Mark Ingram will often be on the bench while Brees throws again and again. Many of those throws will target Spiller. On the other hand when the Saints are blowing out an opponent he may not be involved late, so you have to hope that he got his early. But implied by said blowout are points and yards so you have to like everyone’s chances to get least some fantasy points in that scenario. Spiller looks like a player who will not be hurt when the score dictates that the play calling goes off script.
Age: No longer a youngster, he’ll be 28 years old when the season starts.
Projecting C.J. Spiller…
Finally here are 3 sets of projections for you. These are by hand projections (that is, not algorithm generated) and I’ve got one for each of three different scenarios which I’ve called Low (or floor), Median and High (or ceiling). They are all meant to represent what is likely to happen, not extremes. For instance, an extreme low projection would be that he hurts himself in the preseason and doesn’t play at all, but that’s not useful for us. Therefore even for the low projection I’m assuming he’s mostly healthy.
|Proj||G||Rush Att||Rush Yds||Rush TDs||Rcpts||Rec Yds||Rec TDs||Points*|
*Standard fantasy points scored .1 pt per Rush/Receiving Yard, 6 pts per TD, -2 Fumble Lost.
Value: Fantasy Pros ECR (Expert Consensus Rankings) has Spiller as the 23rd RB and Jay ranks him at number 27 (and also thinks he’s overrated going into this season). Similarly ranked RBs include Joique Bell, LeGarrette Blount, T.J. Yeldon, Todd Gurley, Tevin Coleman, Rashad Jennings, Giovani Bernard and Isaiah Crowell. I view Spiller as having both a higher floor and lower ceiling than most of these running backs. I’d pick Spiller before Jennings, Bernard and Crowell but after the rest of that group, even though he will probably end up outperforming most of that group because he’s relatively safe. The reasoning behind this is I want the upside guys and I don’t see as much upside in Spiller. Yes, he could get more carries if Ingram were injured but injury could propel any time share RB into a much greater role so that’s a line of thinking that we need to apply universally in order to be fair to the other guys. If your takeaway from this is that you want to take him ahead of nearly all of those players I think that’s fine too. Of course training camps have barely started so we will know a lot more as the season nears.