Sept 9, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller (28) runs for a touchdown during the first half of their game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE
In his last six games, Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller has run for 560 yards on just 81 attempts - that's 6.9 yards per carry, for those of you keeping track - with four touchdowns. He's added 23 receptions for 197 yards and another two scores in that time frame.
His most recent effort - which unfortunately came in a 48-28 dismantling of the Bills by the New York Jets - was a 169-yard performance in which he ripped off runs of 56 (a touchdown) and 49 yards. (He also had a 30-yard reception that, unfortunately, he fumbled away.)
Spiller has accomplished all of that largely with Fred Jackson out of the picture. Jackson left Sunday's loss with a right knee injury that may keep him out of the lineup for a bit. When Jackson returns, a fair argument can be made that he should be playing second fiddle to Spiller.
This is an easy opinion piece to write not just at a time when Spiller's path to feature back carries is unencumbered by a second quality back, but when he's pretty much the lone bright spot on a football team. Until Jackson is healthy, the opinion is irrelevant. For now, Spiller is Buffalo's feature back.
When Jackson is healthy enough to play again, however - and right now, all indications are that that will be relatively quickly - things will get interesting. The team clearly plans on utilizing both backs when they've got that option, but given his torrid pace of late, it's fair to wonder whether Spiller should be getting more of the workload than perhaps the team had planned.
The rationale behind that line of thought doesn't have anything to do with a healthy Jackson, either. Jackson is still not very far removed from putting up MVP-type numbers - two leg injuries notwithstanding. When healthy, he's just as nifty and reliable as ever. No, the only bit of rationale you need to make this argument convincingly is this: Spiller is a home run threat in an offense that really, really needs a home run threat.
Spiller is coming into his own as a runner. The things that plagued him early in his career - underdeveloped vision, impatience and a tendency to bounce things to the outside too readily - are no longer issues. He is a threat to take it the distance just about every time he takes a handoff. Buffalo is not going to find that from its passing game this season, so it's imperative that they get it somewhere else. That's Spiller.
The best part: the Bills can prioritize Spiller in the running game without marginalizing Jackson - a very important piece to the offense, without question - too drastically. Jackson is the better blocker, receiver and route-runner, anyway. When both players are healthy again, it would behoove Chan Gailey to look hard at giving Spiller the bulk of the carries and making Jackson the complementary back. That plan increases the odds of hitting the home run, plays to each back's skill set, and may even extend Jackson's shelf life, as well.
Bottom line: Jackson will always be Jackson, and we all know that Fred Jackson is pretty swell. Spiller, however, has the makings of being a truly special player.