"We're going to try to use me as much as possible and not let teams just get one bead on me, saying I can just run the ball. I'll be utilized in space, in the slot or whatever the case may be to try to help us find those mismatches and take advantage of them." - C.J. Spiller, in an NFL Network interview on June 1
The NFL's off-season is very long. When you write about a specific team every day, sometimes you have to bend the rules to engender discussion. That's why, for months, we left open the idea that someone other than C.J. Spiller might be the best football player on the Buffalo Bills. Let there be no doubt about the fact that few of his teammates can hold a candle to Spiller on the field, and none eclipse him. For now, Spiller is the face of the franchise.
All one needs to realize it is a pair of eyes (and perhaps NFL Game Rewind if you didn't happen to catch any Bills games last year). Spiller was elite in 2012, and managed to reach that level despite an excruciatingly small workload that had him average just 15.6 touches per game, 13 of which were direct handoffs. No matter how passing-oriented football gets, if your running back averages six yards per carry, has home run ability and is only receiving 13 carries per game, there's a major philosophical problem gumming up the works. Chan Gailey learned that the hard way.
Still, it's nice to know that your eyes don't deceive you: Spiller checks out in the advanced stats category, as well. Football Outsiders labels him a "superstar" in their 2013 almanac, and notes that he led running backs in its signature DVOA statistic last season. Pro Football Focus, meanwhile, noted that Spiller forced 53 missed tackles on just 207 carries, which made him the most elusive back in the NFL by a large margin.
Spiller did not receive All-Pro recognition and barely squeaked into the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement despite averaging 6.0 yards per carry, accumulating 1,703 yards from scrimmage (1,244 on the ground) and scoring eight touchdowns. The reason he didn't receive these accolades: the aforementioned lack of touches. (The lack of team notoriety and his only having been "on the scene" for a year helped, too.) As Spiller himself noted this summer, however, the workload problem isn't expected to be a problem anymore.
Is Spiller an elite running back? Yes - or, at bare minimum, he certainly was in 2012. The question regarding Spiller shouldn't be whether or not he's elite, but if he can stay at that level. That's particularly true knowing that not only are more touches expected, but the Bills have overhauled their passing attack this off-season, with several new faces at receiver and, of course, massive change at quarterback. Spiller is the type to keep opposing coordinators up late into the night; he's the alpha dog for a new-look offense.
Another question that's fair to ask regarding Spiller: how far can he carry a pro football team by himself? That may be a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but the new offense should by all rights run through him, and the defense is making yet another philosophical and scheme shift, as well. As the team's lone established star, shouldn't it be fair to wonder if Spiller may end up being the biggest singular driving force of this season, for better or for worse?
Regardless, what we do know about Spiller is this: he was elite last season, and if he can manage to even stay at that level in 2013, watch out.