"(C.J. Spiller) could be an every-down back. I don't see any reason he couldn't carry 20-25 if he needed to. But he’s a valuable, versatile player. He can play wideout. We’re fortunate to have two very good backs. I’m going to try to make sure we keep them fresh and wear ‘em out at the same time. Does that make sense?" - Chan Gailey in February 2012
Every year here at Buffalo Rumblings, we run a summer series in which we talk about the ten most important Buffalo Bills players entering a given season. Where in past seasons we've focused the series on guys that needed to perform if the team was going to succeed, this year's focus will just be on the team's ten players most likely to directly influence the team's successes or failures in 2012.
Next up in our countdown: running back C.J. Spiller, who is coming off a solid six-game close to the 2011 season.
In his first 24 games as a professional football player, Spiller amassed 398 rushing yards. Fans were already calling the former No. 9 overall pick a bust. Then Fred Jackson got hurt, Spiller got his first real crack at a full-time rushing gig, and he responded with a strong finish to his second season that included 446 rushing yards, plenty of big plays and six total touchdowns in six games.
Spiller was not at Jackson's level, mind you. In 10 games as the starter, Jackson compiled a whopping 24 runs of 10-plus yards; Spiller's 11 runs of 10-plus yards in the final six games, while pretty respectable, doesn't quite measure up to Jackson. In most rushing and receiving categories, Spiller was right behind Jackson, but not his equal; it's fairly well-known that Jackson's blocking reliability (and to an extent, better size) make him a more well-rounded back, as well.
There's one area, however, where Spiller was Jackson's equal last season - touchdown production. Both players scored six touchdowns - and based on the fact that Spiller equaled Jackson's touchdown production on 63 fewer offensive touches, one could easily argue that Spiller has more scoring potential than Jackson, who has never put up elite-level touchdown numbers (though he very well could have sans injury last season).
Today, Spiller is no longer considered a bust - he's considered an asset with considerable upside. But with Jackson healthy and returning to the lineup with a brand new contract extension, it's not exactly easy to define Spiller's potential role for next season, either. What he proved himself capable of in his six-game stretch as a starter, however, is that he deserves not just a role, but a prominent one. His big-play ability, versatility and scoring potential make him a must-have on the field.
We've said it over and over again this off-season: it's on Gailey to figure out how to use Jackson and Spiller simultaneously in his offense. It has not happened yet. Spiller, however, has always had the ability to diversify and electrify Buffalo's offense in ways that we (nor apparently Gailey) have not yet conceived. We talk about outside receivers all the time, but in terms of players on the roster that have an opportunity to take the Bills' offense to the next level, Spiller tops the list. And now he's got a body of work behind him that makes him deserving of that opportunity.