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C.J. Spiller a breakout year candidate in 2013

The Bills had the NFL's sixth-best rushing attack in 2012, and there's a very good chance they could be even better in that area in 2013.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone spent three years as the offensive coordinator for Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints from 2006-08. The offense that he and Nathaniel Hackett are installing in Buffalo is not precisely the same attack that Sean Payton has orchestrated for the last seven years, but it's the closest NFL-level approximation that we have for the moment.

Consider, then, the fact that in the past seven years, the Saints have produced a whopping seven running backs that have rushed for at least 500 yards in a single season. Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram have all produced to varying levels of success, and while the Saints have not consistently had one of the league's better running attacks in that stretch, they clearly run an offense that allows for production from the position. Now in Buffalo, Marrone - the Payton disciple - has a better running back than Payton has ever had in New Orleans.

C.J. Spiller

  • Age: 25 (26 in August)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $1.3 million in base salary in 2013.

We know what Spiller can be at this point: an elite, matchup-proof tailback capable of taking over games by himself. He just needs more touches and the full confidence of a coaching staff. If 2012 was his breakout year, then 2013 could be the year that Spiller cements himself as one of the game's best at his position. Those are the expectations.

Fred Jackson

  • Age: 32
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $2.15 million in base salary in 2013.

Jackson was not the same player in 2012 as he was in 2011, when he was the NFL's leading rusher prior to a season-ending leg injury while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. He was injured twice in 2012 - ultimately landing on IR - and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry as Spiller leapfrogged him on the depth chart. Now 32 years old, Jackson will need to re-define himself as a No. 2 back and a complement to Spiller within the new offense. That role may keep him healthy enough to be an effective player for another year or two as his career draws to a close, and his leadership qualities will be welcome on an incredibly young offense at several positions.

Tashard Choice

  • Age: 28 (29 in November)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2013 season. Scheduled to make $715,000 in base salary in 2013.

Acquired in a pinch during the 2011 season when Jackson succumbed to injury, Choice is now entering his third season with the Bills. He was re-signed to a one-year deal for the second straight off-season after producing well in spot appearances last season, and it's well-known at this point that he's a positive locker room presence, as well. He's got a strong chance of holding down the third running back spot again, but the fact that he doesn't play special teams (or at least didn't for Bruce DeHaven) is something to keep an eye on.

Zach Brown

  • Age: 24
  • Contract: Signed through the 2014 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

Brown stuck with the team via the practice squad after originally signing as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh last spring. He's in the same position now as he was then: unless the team keeps more than three backs (which isn't out of the question), he'll need to beat out an established veteran in Choice for a roster spot.

Kendall Gaskins

  • Age: 22 (23 in November)
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

Drew Smith

  • Age: 23
  • Contract: Signed through the 2015 season. Scheduled to make $405,000 in base salary in 2013.

It's interesting that the two running backs the Bills acquired this off-season, Gaskins and Smith, are both big, between-the-tackles backs (Gaskins checks in at 238 pounds, Smith at 225) with some experience at fullback. The Bills have struggled to grind out short yardage over the past few seasons, and that fact alone opens the door for one of these rookie backs to make the roster. Their bids will strengthen if they can play special teams, as well. Keep an eye on this duo.


Spiller will receive more work than he did in 2012, restoring sanity to a Bills fan base still recovering from the insanity of watching their favorite team's best offensive player go unnoticed far too often a year ago. Jackson is still a valuable player that will undoubtedly carve out a role for himself offensively, provided that he can stay off the injury report for the first time since 2010. It's murky beyond those top two; can Choice hold off some interesting young competition for the third spot in the pecking order, and will the Bills keep more than just three backs in a back-heavy offense? It's going to be an interesting summer at this position, but when the regular season begins, Spiller deserves to be the man.