ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Brad Smith #16 of the Buffalo Bills rushes and picks up a first down during an NFL game against the Oakland Raiders at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 18, 2011 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills spent the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft on running back C.J. Spiller, then gave him a five-year, $25 million contract that guarantees him $20.8 million. This past July, the team made waves by signing free agent quarterback, wide receiver and return specialist Brad Smith to a four-year, $15 million contract to predominantly be the team's Wildcat quarterback.
Through three games, Spiller and Smith have combined for 20 touches. In the first two (we don't have rep count data for Week 3 yet), the two players combined for 38 snaps - out of a possible 256 in quality playing time. That's an awful lot of investment for very specific role players.
Yet the Bills are humming along offensively, having produced 106 points in the first three games. Keyed by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson, Buffalo's offense is regarded as one of the best in the league - and Spiller and Smith are afterthoughts.
Despite their limited roles, Bills head coach Chan Gailey has been able to milk effective (if spotty) production out of his two gadget players early in the season. Spiller is still averaging 8.2 yards per rush, while Smith - as the Wildcat quarterback, and one of the team's go-to options in short-yardage situations - is averaging 4.6. Still, combined, they've rushed just 17 times (for 114 yards).
One may wonder just how effective these players could be if they were steered more towards every-down roles by Gailey. The team has its base skill personnel set: four receivers, one tight end and one back see the most playing time, and then players like Spiller and Smith are sprinkled in from there. But Spiller and Smith are also players that Gailey is looking to get involved; their reps-to-touch ratios are amongst the highest on the team by far, thanks largely to not being on the field much.
Both Spiller and Smith saw playing time as slot receivers against New England, but both were non-factors, as well; the two combined for four touches and two yards while seeing, again, very little field time. Meanwhile, Ruvell Martin was trotted onto the field as a blocking fourth receiver and Naaman Roosevelt - on the practice squad a week ago - saw a ton of playing time in four-receiver sets.
Then again, maybe this is the way Gailey wants it. Having proven yet again that he's an innovative and resourceful offensive mind, perhaps he's saving these two players as proverbial aces in the hole for when they're most needed. Right now, the offense isn't broken, and therefore doesn't need to be fixed. That likely means, however, that Spiller and Smith will remain side shows to a very explosive and entertaining main event.