CJ Spiller is now the Bills’ starting running back, thanks to his breakout season last year. He was obviously underutilized last year under Chan Gailey, but that should change as the Bills plan to feed him the ball a ton this year. The increased workload this season shouldn’t reduce Spiller’s effectiveness very much and could launch him to becoming one of the greatest running backs in Buffalo Bills history. Let’s take a look at how his career has compared to other great Buffalo running backs: OJ Simpson and Thurman Thomas.
Simpson, like Spiller, was an early first round draft pick (Simpson was first overall out of USC). Thomas was the 40th overall pick in 1988. Both Simpson and Thomas played active roles as running backs in their rookie seasons, while Spiller was primarily a kick and punt returner in his first season. Simpson had 181 rushing attempts, Thomas had 207, and Spiller had a meager 74 carries.
Spiller didn’t even get 100 offensive touches (rush attempts and receptions) until his second season in the NFL. His average touches per game are laughable compared to those of Simpson and Thomas, as his ten game average touches per game was less than ten until his 29th professional game. Simpson and Thomas’ ten game averages never dipped below thirteen in their first 46 games (Spiller’s current NFL game total).
While the gap in touches was huge, especially in the first thirty games, Spiller’s yards per touch average was right in line with Simpson and Thomas’ averages. Simpson was a consistent performer in terms of average touches and yards per touch through his early career. Thomas, however, gained an increased workload in his second season, which had an adverse effect on his yards per touch average.
Spiller shined once he started to get the ball more often. Spiller has shown the ability to be better than Simpson and Thomas when he gets the ball. His career yards per touch average is currently 0.93 greater than Simpson’s after 46 games. Its 0.65 more than Thomas’ average.
I didn’t mean to inadvertently criticize Thurman Thomas’s production earlier. He was an absolute workhorse for the Bills early in his career. He was able to gain a total of 100 yards or more in 76 of his 180 career games. While Simpson was a consistent and solid rushing threat, Thomas beefed up his total yards total thanks to the quick passing attack led by Jim Kelly. Even still, Spiller is almost matching his performance on an average of four fewer touches per game.
While Spiller has been underutilized, he has proven the ability to play equal to, if not better than, two of Buffalo’s greatest running backs. His proper utilization under coaches Marrone and Hackett should prove to be a big problem for opposing defenses. Can he maintain his current level of production? Can Spiller become the third Bill to reach 2,000 yards from scrimmage?
This could be a fun season.