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.


kearly said...

Before the 2009 season even started, I saw some 2008 highlight reels of the top RB prospects and while Jahvid Best was the most popular candidate and Spiller was somewhat anonymous, I personally thought Spiller had the most exciting highlights of any of the top candidates and it wasn't even close.

Ginn is a decent comparison because like Ginn, Spiller adds additional value as a very dangerous return man. The Seahawks currently have 3 above average returners in Wilson, Burleson, and Rankin. However, Wilson is too valuable to risk injury in returns, Burleson is similar because he's a starting WR, and Rankin is a fringe player on the roster.

I liked Spiller even before his terrific senior season. However, I think if the Seahawks drafted Spiller with their first pick, it would be a Ted Ginn sized mistake. If Spiller is still around for the suddenly falling Broncos pick, he'd make a lot more sense.

The Seahawks have needs at a multitude of positions and RB is just one of them. The team could use help everywhere, ahem, except LB (cocks gun, blows brains out).

Spiller should only be considered if he is the best value available.

Rob Staton said...

I honestly believe the way things are going, Spiller is going to be a high pick. Possibly top ten. If he continues to produce and then sets the combine on fire, it could happen.

I don't think it'd necessarily be a mistake for Seattle to take him with their first pick if afforded the opportunity. The Seahawks don't have anyone on the roster who can really create something out of nothing and get you some cheap points. There are more pressing long term needs, specifically on both lines and the long term future at QB. However, sometimes the board will dictate to you and I certainly think there are scenarios where you can justify taking Spiller early and some where you can't. But I wouldn't rule it out and I expect he'll go higher than most mock draft pundits are predicting, particularly if, as expected, he runs in the 4.2's.

Swampfox said...

Is Reggie Bush a reasonable comparison for Spiller?

Rob Staton said...

I think I'd understand why people would compare Bush to Spiller. Obviously they both posted very good all purpose yard stats, and they have that ability to be multi-threat. Having said that, I don't like the comparison physically (and not just because Bush hasn't lived up to expectations).
They are different, Bush is taller and bulkier. Spiller is smaller but shiftier. I expect Spiller to run a time similar to Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson at the combine, possibly faster even (definitely 4.2 potential). Bush ran a 4.33 at his pro-day and those times tend to vary in accuracy. But essentially Spiller will project to be a threat in the NFL in the same ways, even if Bush has struggled with the weight of expectation in New Orleans.

Kyle Rota said...

I'd be against taking Spiller in the top ten under pretty much any circumstances, to be honest. My own take on RBs is that unless they are going to be complete (block, catch, run 250 times) pro-bowl caliber players they shouldn't go in the top-20. And unless they're absolute freaks (as in good size/speed numbers) as well as complete players, they shouldn't go top-10.

Rob Staton said...

I think Spiller ticks a lot of those boxes, he can run/catch/block (his run blocking is as good as you'll see, watch him block Derrick Morgan in week 2). Can he run 250 times? He's taken a bigger load at Clemson this year, but that is the area that concerns me the most. Then again, the vast majority of NFL backs are spelled these days. We both loved Knowshon Moreno and Denver insist on splitting carries with Buckhalter et al.

I think, in terms of speed, he's a freak. He could easily post Chris Johnson like numbers in the forty yard dash, which is elite speed. He isn't huge, but he's not too small either (about 5'11", 195lbs). He could probably add 5-10lbs and not lose his speed. His production is insane this year and that's including 2-3 games where the team rested him because of the quality of opposition. He should be in the running for the Heisman.

Whether it's right or wrong, I think he could very easily be a top ten pick. But teams will see value in a guy who, given a yard, will take it to the house - whether he's running, catching or returning a kick. Unlike Jahvid Best, I also think he's capable of running the tough yards up the middle. That was one area that surprised me with Spiller.

Kyle Rota said...

Look at the number of sub-200lb backs who are really carrying a load. Using DYAR (Yeah, I'm into the fancy stats if you gotta use stats) only one is in the top-half (Johnson at #2). To be fair, Bradshaw is #18 as well. Of course, Bradshaw also splits carries with another quality back.

Being spelled is one thing. That's a primary reason I have 250 and not 300 being my rushing minimum for a complete feature back. But there's a difference between splitting carries and the increasing specialization of the league. If Forsett is stealing 100 carries a year, not a big problem for a back who contributes in other phases. But if Forsett is closer to 175 carries, you have to ask yourself if you're getting that great a return on a top-10 pick. Because there are tons of speed backs in the middle rounds (pulling from 2009: who are just too small to carry the load, so why spend that top pick? For inside running? That's great, but you'll probably want a thicker short-yardage option anyways, if for no other reason than to spare Spiller the beating inside.

As for Moreno, teams almost always have rookie RBs split carries as most rookies aren't used to all the inside running NFL teams do, and RBs especially seem to hit the rookie wall otherwise. If in 2 years Moreno isn't starting, then I'll be ready to call the pick a mistake. But I'm not surprised he is splitting carries in his career thus far.

I also never expect a RB coming out of a major football program to add weight. Especially a senior. Part of that is because I don't pretend to know if a guy can put on pounds or not. But part of it is because they've had plenty of time to put on weight already.

He could end up a top-10 pick, I agree there. I'm just hoping Seattle isn't the one who makes it happen. I'd rather address RB in the middle rounds if we're not getting a full-time feature back. It's impossible to really place guys before the combine and scouting processes are through, we saw guys like Crabtree, Andre Smith, Michael Oher, Michael Johnson etc fall after being considered top guys here. I don't envy you the task of trying to make a mock in November, Rob.

Rob Staton said...

Excellent analysis as always Kyle. Thanks for breaking that down, very useful in trying to judge Spiller's stock (or any other RB) and potential benefit to the Seahawks as an early round pick.

Kearly said...

"I honestly believe the way things are going, Spiller is going to be a high pick. Possibly top ten. If he continues to produce and then sets the combine on fire, it could happen."

.. but it shouldn't. Any team that drafts a 150-200 carry a year RB with a pick that high is insane. RB is a relatively low impact position, and take a RB who carries 50-60% of the running plays, and you halve that already low impact. Tedd Ginn isn't a bad player, but the reason he was a mistake in the top 10 was simply because he wouldn't see the field enough to be worth such a big investment.

Also, its worth noting that despite being fungible and easy to find good RB's outside the top of the draft, RB has the 3rd highest bust rate in the 1st round (after QB and WR). That's why I've never understood high 1st round RB selections. Why take one of the biggest risks possible when good options are almost always available later with less investment and far less risk.

The Seahawks do need a Spiller type playmaker or 3 on this offense, but just as a rule, I'd never take them in the top half of the 1st, experts opinions be damned. Doubly so if its a "split carries" type like Spiller.

Rob Staton said...

I would tend to agree Kearly. However, we've seen how teams become enamoured with speed (Heyward-Bey a classic example, Ginn another) and reach on prospects because of it. I think there's a good chance Spiller could get into the top ten on a sparkling combine performance... teams will look at his production, the fact he's a Heisman possibility and then the work outs and fall in love with the guy.

Now, from a Seahawks perspective, there are most certainly guys I would take ahead of CJ Spiller. But in the same sense, there is a situation where x,y and z are off the board and he warrants consideration. I wouldn't reach on a prospect who is risky for other reasons just because they play a different position and that position hasn't had as big a bust rate in recent history. I try to take each prospect on their own merits.

Having said that, there are legitimate concerns about drafting Spiller that have been well represented in this discussion. This is a Seahawks team with many short and long term needs and drafting a running back, albeit a spectacular playmaker, might be a luxury. Spiller is a very intriguing prospect however and warrants consideration.

kearly said...

I think Mr. Rota said it best. Spiller will be exciting enough that top 10 consideration is not out of the question, but I hope the Seahawks aren't the team to do it.

Its important to remember that top 10 picks are a fairly rare commodity. Last year, the Seahawks had the highest pick in 10 years, and wasted it on a LB. Excluding the 2009 draft, this years draft pick would also be higher than any draft pick in a decade. My hope is that it is not wasted it this time.

neal said...

Just started following here guys. I don't think the Ted Ginn references are at all fair to Spiller. He's a much thicker guy, with just as good speed and really good moves and cuts, not just a straight speed guy. Think more like a Percy Harvin without the pot. JMO

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