C.J. Spiller stats: were the Bills too easy to game plan for in 2013?

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Spiller was banged up in 2013, but the Bills wanted to make sure he got his touches anyway - and ultimately, that made Spiller one of the easiest players to game plan for in the NFL last season.

As Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller was working through an ankle injury, a decline in productivity, and the shattered expectations of fantasy football owners in 2013, Bills fans quietly and sporadically wondered if the decline was due not just to injury, but to a high degree of predictability that Spiller would end up with the ball when he was on the field. It turns out that that theory has a lot of merit.

In fact, Spiller may have been one of the easiest players to game plan for in the NFL in 2013. By the time the season was over, defenses could guess with 62.2 percent accuracy that the ball would be headed in Spiller's direction if he was on the field - because that's exactly what happened. Spiller played 389 snaps, and was either handed the ball or targeted via pass on 242 of those plays.

Among running backs that saw at least 320 snaps last season (there were 45 of them), only one running back was utilized more often when he was in the lineup than Spiller: Ryan Mathews of San Diego. In essence, that made Spiller the second-easiest running back (if not player) to defend in 2013. He finished the season with 933 rushing yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

In the chart below, I've compiled the play time and intended target data for all 45 running backs that averaged at least 20 snaps per game last year. (Some of them were role players, while others, like Arian Foster, were every-down backs that only played part of the season due to injury.) You'll note that many of the players that ranked high on the percentage list (which takes the sum of runs plus passing targets, then divides by snaps played) had comparatively small sample sizes to some of the bigger-name backs in the league; there were extenuating circumstances for players like Spiller (injury) and Stevan Ridley (Bill Belichick's doghouse), as examples, that likely led to inflated figures.

Lest you be left wondering, Spiller played a fully healthy 567 snaps in 2012 and saw a combined 264 runs and pass targets, putting him at a much more reasonable 46.6 percent likelihood that the ball was headed his way that season. (He was a Pro Bowl runner that year and nearly broke the league record for yards per rush, ending the season at 6.0 yards per carry.) He saw only 22 fewer touches between 2012 and 2013 despite playing 178 fewer snaps, so it's clear that when he was available, Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett wanted to make sure he was getting the ball.

Ideally, Spiller's workload will stay in the same wheelhouse, percentage-wise, as his 2012 usage, while his playing time increases dramatically in 2014. That will lead to a much more efficient player, and hopefully, an offense that is much more difficult to prepare for.

Player, 2013 team Snaps R+T Intended %
Ryan Mathews, Chargers 472 318 67.4%
C.J. Spiller, Bills 389 242 62.2%
Chris Ivory, Jets 331 189 57.1%
Stevan Ridley, Patriots 333 190 57.1%
Rashard Mendenhall, Cardinals 459 238 51.9%
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers 470 237 50.4%
Zac Stacy, Rams 566 285 50.4%
Reggie Bush, Lions 610 303 49.7%
Steven Jackson, Falcons 417 206 49.4%
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals 464 228 49.1%
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks 710 345 48.6%
Eddie Lacy, Packers 680 328 48.2%
Ben Tate, Texans 481 230 47.8%
Trent Richardson, Colts 502 240 47.8%
Arian Foster, Texans 327 156 47.7%
Alfred Morris, Redskins 605 288 47.6%
Adrian Peterson, Vikings 674 319 47.3%
Andre Brown, Giants 360 168 46.7%
Le'Veon Bell, Steelers 677 310 45.8%
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars 647 294 45.4%
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos 703 315 44.8%
Bernard Pierce, Ravens 398 177 44.5%
Andre Ellington, Cardinals 405 176 43.5%
LeSean McCoy, Eagles 873 378 43.3%
Joique Bell, Lions 547 235 43.0%
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs 845 363 43.0%
DeMarco Murray, Cowboys 672 283 42.1%
Chris Johnson, Titans 798 331 41.5%
Darren McFadden, Raiders 336 139 41.4%
Matt Forte, Bears 928 383 41.3%
Fred Jackson, Bills 663 272 41.0%
Pierre Thomas, Saints 564 231 41.0%
Ray Rice, Ravens 704 287 40.8%
Frank Gore, 49ers 745 302 40.5%
Darren Sproles, Saints 357 142 39.8%
Danny Woodhead, Chargers 491 193 39.3%
Giovani Bernard, Bengals 614 241 39.3%
Rashad Jennings, Raiders 548 210 38.3%
Bilal Powell, Jets 618 234 37.9%
Daniel Thomas, Dolphins 339 126 37.2%
Donald Brown, Colts 373 137 36.7%
Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons 435 158 36.3%
Lamar Miller, Dolphins 622 212 34.1%
Chris Ogbonnaya, Browns 521 124 23.8%
Roy Helu, Redskins 526 104 19.8%
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