Tuesday, 17 November 2009
C.J. Spiller - how high could he go?
Nobody has done more to help their draft stock in recent weeks than Clemson running back C.J. Spiller. It's a down year for Heisman candidates and whilst I appreciate Mark Ingram's efforts for Alabama, for me C.J. Spiller deserves the award more than anyone else. He's been carrying Clemson on his back for most of the year and is simply a threat to score every single time he touches the ball - there's no other prospect in college football right now that can match his playmaking qualities.
The thing is, it's becoming increasingly hard to project where he could go in the draft. There are things that could push him quite high - production, speed (particularly if he lights up the combine) and that ability to break off a big play in so many different ways. Throw in the fact it's not a great class at the offensive skill positions - particularly running back - and teams looking for a spark might be willing to take Spiller higher than expected.
On the other hand, concerns remain about his durability and necessity to work as part of a committee. One thing that often gets mentioned is the fact Spiller is a senior running back - a rarity these days as many prospects at the position leave early to restrict the work load they take before entering the pro's. But let's look at Spiller's number of carries compared to some of the other running backs that entered the NFL in recent years:
C.J. Spiller - 543 carries
Ray Rice - 910 carries
Matt Forte - 809 carries
Darren McFadden - 785 carries
Donald Brown - 698 carries
Chris Johnson - 624 carries
Beanie Wells - 585 carries
Jonathan Stewart - 516 carries
Knowshon Moreno - 498 carries
As you can see, Spiller's college work load has been carefully managed whilst featuring in a two-back system alongside James Davis. He'll enter the league touching the 600 carry mark, which would put him about par for the position. There are other durability concerns, specifically with a hamstring problem Spiller has suffered. In any sport, competitors that rely on elite speed are prone to hamstring injury's and once they start to happen, they can re-occur at any time. This is something that will need to be checked out thoroughly by NFL scouts.
So let's get to the point - where could he go in the draft? In my first 2010 mock of the year, I had him going 16th overall to the San Diego Chargers. He was the third offensive skill player to leave the board after Dez Bryant (6th overall, Chiefs) and Damian Williams (13th overall, Jets). Now, I don't believe Bryant really warrants going that early. I put him there because I felt a team like Kansas City might look for a weapon on offense - Scott Pioli has shown he doesn't mind reaching to fill a big need (re: taking Tyson Jackson 3rd overall in 2009).
I firmly believe Spiller is more of a playmaker than Bryant. The Chiefs also need a running back, so in this projected scenario could they consider Spiller? Undoubtedly, yes they could. That might sound surprising - C.J. Spiller going as early as 6th overall? Hey, don't rule it out. As I've said, he is an outstanding playmaker and whether right or wrong, teams value guys who can make things happen. Let's be honest, we've seen it before (Miami taking Tedd Ginn Jr. 9th overall in 2007). It doesn't have to make sense to actually happen.
If Spiller turns up in Indianapolis for the combine and runs, as expected, a time close to Chris Johnson's 4.24 forty yard dash, teams will sit up and take notice. So far he's only being talked about as a late first rounder or at best a mid-first rounder. C.J. Spiller's stock is going upwards only as each week passes, so bare that in mind.
On the other hand, as much as we've seen teams draft skill players early in the past, we've also seen a lot of teams prefer to wait until later on to draft running backs. A case in point - Oakland haven't got much return from their $60m investment in Darren McFadden, whilst Chicago and Baltimore have got maximum value from second round picks Matt Forte and Ray Rice.
Because Spiller is best suited in a two back system and if hamstring problems do put doubts in people's minds, he could fall back into the mid-late first round. However, I have a hard time believing he'll drop any further, particularly considering the lack of alternatives in this particular draft class.
So what about the Seahawks in all of this? If the season ended today, they would be picking eighth overall. The second pick from Denver would come in at 28th overall, despite the Broncos' recent three-game losing streak. As things stand, I expect Tim Ruskell will target first and foremost defensive lineman. But let's speculate for a second that the top four are off the board by the eighth pick (Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Derrick Morgan and Carlos Dunlap). Let's also suggest the top quarterback (Sam Bradford) is gone as is the top left tackle (personally, I'd say Charles Brown but it seems more likely to be Russell Okung). It's not an unrealistic example to expect the top prospects at QB and LT to be gone that early and the stellar defensive line class is likely to be tapped into early and often.
I actually think there's a chance that in this situation, the Seahawks would also consider C.J. Spiller if he was available. I want to stress that it's still early days and a lot can change between now and April, least of all the final draft position. But this is a Seahawks team that needs a spark on offense. Sure, there are other pressing needs. The team's total lack of a pass rush on Sunday in Arizona will almost certainly force the front office to re-think personnel amongst the defensive line. The Seahawks need a long term answer at quarterback and the offensive line needs a boost.
But if we're going to speculate about prospects who might be on Seattle's radar in the first round, Spiller has to be part of the discussion. If he were to last until later in the first round, I have to believe he'd warrant very serious discussion with the pick acquired from Denver.
I've posted two videos below showing highlights from his performance in Clemson's latest victory against North Carolina. In the game he became the first player in team history to score a rushing, receiving and passing touchdown, taking his stats for the year to 1952 total yards and 14 touchdowns. You can see the clips in high definition from a different angle here and here.
Posted by Rob Staton