Regardless of your feelings about Tuesday's trade of running back Marshawn Lynch to Seattle, one undeniable fact has emerged from the situation: the Buffalo Bills' backfield is a heck of a lot easier to understand now.
With Lynch on his way to the Pacific Northwest for a fourth-round pick in 2011 and a sixth in 2012 that could become a fifth, Buffalo will now rely on veteran Fred Jackson and rookie C.J. Spiller to shoulder their rushing workload. For a team that needs to concentrate on the run much more than it has through four losses, the Lynch trade makes things fairly straightforward: both Jackson and Spiller should be fairly busy dudes for the rest of the season.
It's Spiller, however, that needs to see the more dramatic increase in playing time.
Typically, the first running back selected in a given NFL Draft is going to have a major role for his new team right out of the gate. That hasn't been the case for Spiller, who has just 14 rushes and 12 receptions through his first four professional games. That's going to change simply because Lynch is out of the picture, but Chan Gailey would be wise to make the most of this opportunity.
It's been a while since the first running back selected in the draft has been this useless for his new team through his first four games. What follows is a chart of the first running back selected in the draft in each of the past eight seasons, and their statistical output through their first four games. This ought to provide you with a dash of perspective on just how frustrating Spiller's role has been.
That's right, folks. Not since our very own Bills took an injured Willis McGahee and put him on the shelf for a year has the first running back taken in the draft been as unproductive as Spiller has been. That's sort of depressing, right?
Spiller's numbers compare most favorably to Steven Jackson, who as a rookie was playing understudy to one of the NFL's all-time greats in Marshall Faulk. I get now that the Bills were giving Lynch the bulk of the rushing workload early in the season to facilitate yesterday's events, but that shouldn't dilute the fact that Spiller should have had a much, much more significant role regardless of the team's ulterior motives. Marshawn Lynch is not Marshall Faulk, after all.
Here's the thing: exactly zero of the running backs listed above were given huge workloads. Not even Peterson, arguably the best physical runner currently playing the game, averaged 20 carries per game early in his rookie season. It's not like we're clamoring for Spiller to get Peterson touches; quite the opposite, really. With Fred Jackson the Bills' most reliable runner at this point in time, force-feeding Spiller carries would be an unwise move, as well. 10-15 rushes and another three to five receptions shouldn't be very difficult to carve out for Spiller, and that type of workload shouldn't wear the rookie down.
Let's not sugarcoat this fact: C.J. Spiller is the best player currently wearing a Buffalo Bills uniform. His talent is undeniable, and even while being largely ignored by Buffalo's coaching staff, he's made an impact on the team. This guy never needed training wheels in the first place.
Jackson should, and will, be a big part of Buffalo's offensive game plans going forward. He's certainly been the most valuable back on the roster over the past two years, and his role is an important one. But Buffalo won't begin to grow an identity - the identity that Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey want them to have - until they start allowing their hand-selected star offensive weapon to begin to put his stamp on the NFL. Spiller has a chance to be a seriously outstanding player - one that is feared by opposing defenses league-wide. There are no more excuses. Now is the time to free C.J. Spiller.