Wednesday, 31 March 2010

CJ Spiller, RB, Clemson

By Kyle Rota

Name: CJ Spiller
School: Clemson
Position: HB
Height: 5107 V
Weight: 196 V
40: 4.37 V

Athleticism: I wasn’t as impressed with Spiller’s athleticism as I would like to be, though it is still very good. He flashes superior athleticism, but too often he looks like he is running at 90% speed, which is very good but nowhere close to elite. He has better stop/start than change of direction and he does have elite speed when he sees a lot of space ahead of him. There are different ways to grade this (potential/actual), but I feel best grading it based on what I expect to see in the NFL. 7.0

Run Inside:
Spiller is not a very good inside runner, and in the NFL he will need to improve in order to be effective. He has fantastic stop/start, allowing him to make some plays inside when defenses overpursue, but he is below average in every other way. He doesn’t have great vision inside, runs a little upright and without great balance, and lacks size. He’ll need to improve on those skills to earn a higher grade, but they are all things he could improve upon. 5.5

Run Outside: Spiller’s deficiencies running inside are countered with his effectiveness running outside. When he sees green ahead of him, he can get to his top gear pretty quickly and that top gear is very fast. He sets up his blockers better on the outside, he’s much shiftier outside, and he runs faster outside. 7.0

Run vision: 6.0 He has good vision outside the tackles, but he misses holes when running inside.

Tackle Breaking: 5.5
He’s not very big and doesn’t break many tackles when running inside. He is very shifty outside the tackles, though. Most runs are inside the tackles, so his grade here is weighted that way.

Receiving: 7.0 Looked very good as a receiver, showing the ability to run a limited selection of routes and make difficult catches.

Run After Catch: 6.5
When he gets to the outside, he is very shifty and he uses his athleticism well. Doesn’t have the power to break tackles, but has everything else.

Blocking: 6.0
This is a little harsh and I could certainly understand a higher grade. Spiller did not have any problems with blitzers, but against down linesmen he couldn’t overcome a lack of size. A good protector who can be left on the field without worrying his coach, but he doesn’t have the potential to be great here unless he unexpectedly adds a lot of weight.

Power: 6.0
While Spiller lacks the size to overpower tacklers, he has a very muscular build and does a decent job falling forward.

Elusiveness: 6.5
This grade is comprehensive, which hurts Spiller. He is not very shifty inside the tackles, but exceptionally shifty outside the tackles.

Effort: 6.5 I love his effort as a blocker, his willingness to do everything his team asks (return man, runner, and receiver). He conserves his energy, particularly as a runner, which means I can’t give him a 7.0 here.

Fumbles/Errors: 6.0 He had the ball stripped twice in the five games I did on Spiller, which is pretty high, but it doesn’t seem like a consistent problem. Threw two HB passes, one into triple coverage and the other to a wide open target for a TD.

Character: 6.5 According to everyone, Spiller is a great guy who is involved in the community. Plays through pain and has some leadership qualities. No problems here, should be a hard working guy who avoids the police blotter.

Overall: (This one will be long, even by my standards) Normally, by the 4th game I do on a RB I’m getting bored, because they have stopped showing me anything new. That was not the case with Spiller, who has so many games that seemed to conflict with eachother. The last game I did, the bowl game against Kentucky, showed a much more athletic Spiller than the other games. He also seemed to be a much better inside runner against Wake Forest and Florida State than in the other games. Etc. There could be any number of reasons for this discrepancy, but I feel the most likely is a combination of injury and adjustment to a starter’s role (conserving more energy, except in the bowl game where he could give everything he had without worrying about next week).

The problem is, that doesn’t sound good when projecting Spiller to the NFL. I think that Spiller should abandon his duties as a return man, not because such a role is unimportant but because those collisions tend to be more violent and all that running will sap his energy. He also doesn’t offer much as an inside runner. Ideally, Spiller is a back who catches maybe 5 passes a game, plays on 3rd down almost regardless of the playcall, and gets most of his carries on outside plays (with some inside runs to keep defenses honest). In that role, Spiller could be a very useful player. Of course, then we have to talk about injuries. I don’t include an individual “injuries” grade because I am not qualified to distinguish between a 6.0 and a 6.5 here, but I do consider it for the final grade. Spiller, when he is knicked up, becomes a much less effective athlete (particularly speed/elusiveness, and he loses his normal toughness). You draft Spiller because of his athleticism, so losing that is a huge problem. That will have to be considered by teams, since Spiller has had a history of minor injuries.

My belief (which is a general guideline open to exceptions, not binding rule) is that you only take a running back in the first round if he can run all the plays well, block effectively, and threaten as a receiver. Spiller’s struggles running inside mean that I wouldn’t take him before the beginning of the second round, and really I only saw one game (Kentucky) where I was wowed by what I saw from Spiller. Maybe he was hurt, maybe he was conserving energy – that’ll be the case in the NFL too, though, and should be considered by teams before deciding where they would take Spiller.

Computed Grade: 6.46

Final Grade: 6.4


FWBrodie said...

It's so hard to wrap your brain around the idea of passing up such a fun player to watch as Spiller, but I think you're right. Picking a player that won't help the offense on most/every play with such a high pick seems like more of a luxary than a smart decision for a team with so many holes.

Matthew Baldwin said...

I think if you can get a homerun threat like Spiller 20+ touches a game, you take him at 6. If he's more like 12-15 touches, he's worth our pick at 14.

I'm not sure how many touches he can get, but Carroll needed a back like Spiller to make his offense work at USC (Bush and McKnight).

10-12 carries a game?
3-4 passes/screens a game?
2-3 kickoffs a game?
2-3 punts a game?
1-2 wildcat a game?

I'm not sure, but I know we wouldn't have averaged 10 points a game over the final 5 Sundays if Spiller was in the line-up.

Hawktastic said...

The difficulty with this is that the prototypical "home run threat" is much more difficult to find the further down the draft board you get. Seattle is in desperate need of playmakers, not role players and that might mean reaching for a player or two a little bit. We need offense!

That said, I'd take Best instead. :-)

Matthew Baldwin said...

I'm a fan of Best too, but the injury history is alarming; especially the concusions. Doesn't he have 2 already?

Concusions are like broken noses. The risk increases dramatically with each incident. I read that the risk of a 3rd concusion increases by 400% when you've had 2.

Didn't Steve Young have to retire after 6? Westbrook?

akki said...

Good point on the lack of kick returns. If we really think he's going to be a feature back with 20 carries a game, he won't be returning kicks and punts. Burleson was free to return punts and kicks when he was a backup, but his special teams role was really scaled back when he became a starter.

Who do you see as a current NFL comp to Spiller other than the hyped-up Chris Johnson comp? Westbrook?

Kyle Rota said...

Akki - I think he is a lot closer to Felix Jones than Chris Johnson. Johnson has a whole nother type of speed, and that's not being negative on Spiller. Johnson is faster than just about everyone else.

Anonymous said...

I am a Spiller fan but I also think your right about him. I want this guy

Take BPA #6 ... trade 14 for Marshall and a pick ... do what ever to get Karim

JohnnyB said...

Two problems with your analysis. You don't explain why Spiller has had such remarkable success with the deficiencies you list. Fantastic blocking? Inferior opponents? What?

Secondly, you repeated the popular misconception that Spiller lacks size, yet he is as big as Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Chris Johnson, and many other of the best RBs in NFL history. In fact, he is pretty much prototypical size for a HOF RB in the NFL. What's up?

Jules said...

Given the fact that you projected Spiller to the Hawks at number 6 and the many people suggesting he might be a poor man's version of Chris Johnson, is there any chance you could compare the two? For example what were the knocks on CJ coming out of college into the pros? I'd love to see him in a Hawks uniform if for no other reason that it would add some excitement for Hawk fans who have been disappointed by the lack of explosiveness and big play ability the past 4 years.

Also, any chance you see the Hawks going in a different direction if the rumored trade for Brandon Marshall is true? I think that if the rumors are accurate and the Hawks gave up the 14th pick and Branch in a sign and trade for Marshall that again the new regime has given up too much and seems to be getting pilfered in the trading game. I guess the other way to look at it would be you got Marshall for a 3rd round pick last year and Branch...

Look forward to your thoughts and thanks for the excellent insight leading up to the draft. Go Hawks GO!

akki said...

Actually, Spiller does lack size. Maybe a month ago, I saw some link (which I can't find now) that showed the prospects' weight to height ratios, and compared them to some current running backs. Best, Spiller, and McKnight were all clustered near the bottom of the list with Chris Johnson and Warrick Dunn, but also Leon Washington, Lorenzo Booker, Darren Sproles, Darren McFadden, and Forsett. McCluster was all the way at the bottom, I think.

Chris Johnson supposedly has broken all rules of how a guy that small could get that many carries and not get hurt. Dunn similarly was called too small to play in the NFL, but succeeded. Then you have a bunch of 3rd down back types, and McFadden, who can't break tackles.

Comparing Spiller to your HOF guys
Spiller: 5'11" 196
Johnson: 5'11" 200
Sanders: 5'8" 200
Smith: 5'9" 216
Sanders and Smith aren't stout to the level of Maurice Jones-Drew, but they're certainly more solidly built than Spiller or Johnson.

JohnnyB said...

Emmitt Smith was ten pounds lighter when he was first drafted. As far as Sanders, 4 pounds heavier and three inches shorter is "more solidly built?" Not sure how you get that. Sanders was smaller than Spiller is, plain and simple.

I think it can be seen from the list that Spiller (and Johnson) is right in there, size-wise, with the most successful backs in the NFL.

Here's a couple more similar backs who had long careers:
Walter Payton 5'10" 200
Tony Dorsett 5'10" 192

Kyle Rota said...

Thanks Akki, took the words right out of my keyboard.

Anon - I too am really intriguied by Deji Karem. I know absolutely nothing about how he plays football, which is obviously the most important trait, but I like the build, speed, and explosiveness he showed at his pro-day. I'm hoping to find a game or two on him, but that's a little difficult.

JB - Akki addressed your second point the same way I would have, but I'll tackle the first. Generally, speed backs do better in college than the NFL. The average NCAA defensive player is nowhere near as athletic as the average NFL player at the same position, meaning that speed backs don't outrun defenses as often). It wasn't a great year for many ACC defenses, even VT (typically a defensive powerhouse) finished the regular season ranked 53rd in rushing defense, though it wasn't a poor year either. Clemson's OL also seemed to run block a lot better than they pass blocked, they typically have strong offensive lines. I don't include stuff like that in a scouting report as a general rule, but you're right that asking those questions is important.

Jules - Rob Stanton projects Spiller as the 6th overall pick. I think it'd be insane to take him that high. Partly because I don't think Spiller is that special, but also because RBs are a position (especially given Bates and Gibbs) that can be found later. I also think if we pay Spiller 9 million a year and the salary cap returns, we're going to be facing tough decisions in the back-half of Spiller's contract whether can pay 9 million a year for a situational back.

As for Chris Johnson, IMO a better comparison for Spiller is Felix Jones. Chris Johnson possesses incredible speed/acceleration that Spiller doesn't have - has better top-end speed and plays faster more often. That's not knocking Spiller, I'm not sure anyone has Chris Johnson speed. I was only able to obtain one Chris Johnson game leading up to the '08 draft, so I'm not really qualified to compare Johnson to Spiller as prospects, I have seen way more of Johnson as a pro than a collegian.

Jones and Spiller are both guys who look more muscular than they way, are big-play types who may struggle to produce consistent yardage. I believe Jones is a decent receiver as well, but I don't know for certain. He flashed receiving ability at Arkansas, but I haven't seen him too often in the pros. But I think that's the best athletic comparison for Spiller, plus both have similar running styles. Spiller may be a far superior blocker, I'm not sure.

As for Marshall, others may disagre with you, but I don't. I'm scared of Marshall because of his personality and suspensions. Because of his status as a prior offender, any legal trouble is likely to result in a big (8 games to a year is my guess) suspension. And if I were a betting man, I'd bet money that Marshall gets in more trouble. That's not even considering his immaturity (arm-through-TV incident, suspensed at Denver, possibly refusing to suit up at the end of the year) and the headaches he might bring. Marshall is one of my favorite NFL players to watch, but he's someone I'd rather watch from a distance. I really hope we don't give up #14 for him.

Kyle Rota said...

JohnnyB - Pulling up names of old greats has a problem - NFL players are bigger and stronger now. 5'10 200 was comparitively bigger then than now. If you look at the list of backs 5'10+ and under 200lbs who played at least some of their career in the 2000s (modern NFL), there just isn't a big list.

And height most definitely matters. I'm about 5'10 175lbs, and one of my good friends is ~ 6'1 180lbs. Yet, we do various games of strength and work out together, and I am much stronger than he is (not just my arrogance talking, he admits it). Using an extreme example, Kevin Durant (6'9 225) and Shaun Alexander (5'11 225) are the same weight, but I have 0 doubt in my mind that Alexander is much stronger. Obviously that's extreme, but it illustrates how strength is related to more than just weight.

akki said...

Yeah, back when Dorsett and Payton playing, the Seahawks had Michael Jackson starting at an ILB spot, at maybe 225 lbs tops?

Jamaal Charles is one name I left off, which could be an argument either way. Similar size to Spiller, he excelled when put into a feature back role late in the season. But he also admitted that he was out of gas at the end of the season, after carrying the load for only 8 games.

JohnnyB said...

Well, since Chris Johnson is almost exactly the same size as Spiller, I guess you think he's pretty much doomed, and can't survive as a RB in today's NFL due to his small size?

Kyle Rota said...

I think it's pretty rare. Obviously exceptions exist. But do you want to bet 50 million dollars on the exception? Ted Thompson said it best when he said (paraphrase, it's been over a year since I last read it): When you leave your normal parameters and draft an "exception", occasionally you hit gold. But most likely you'll swing, miss, and look stupid doing so.

But comparing Spiller to Johnson is lazy anyways - they just aren't very similar. They have different builds, they run differently (Johnson runs faster more often, Spiller runs higher and more physically) and they are at different levels athletically.

JohnnyB said...

The list of HOF RBs we're talking about are some of the most recent HOF RB inductees. Not sure who else you want to compare to, if you're talking about the most successful RBs in the history of the NFL. There is an ideal size for quickness, shiftiness, acceleration, and speed of the human body, and these guys exemplify that ideal size. It's actually the bigger RBs who are the exceptions if you look at history of success in the NFL.

And as far as comparing Johnson and Spiller, from what I've seen, their running style is very similar if you look at what they rely on most to succeed. Neither are stop and go shifty. Both are top speed shifty. In other words, they make their best cuts at higher speeds, which makes them extremely difficult for linebackers and DBs to get to once they get past the line. They both use upfield vision to gain most of their yards. And they both have blazing speed. Johnson looks pretty upright to me. In fact, considering how successful Johnson has been and how much Spiller is like him, no way Spiller drops out of the top half of the first round and it would be shocking if any other RB was taken ahead of him.

Zem said...

Spiller gets a bad rap for the inside running. Up until this year, he never had to do it. Clemson had James Davis run inside,and Spiller run outside. Clemson's offensive line has been weak and soft for a long time and I think Spiller didn't trust his o line, hence the fact that he consistently bounced it outside. This is a mental issue and can be fixed. He's plenty capable of running inside though.

I don't need to look it up to wager a guess that the Wake Forest game was either before or after the Florida State game, a game in which he played on a bad ankle, couldn't run outside because he lacked his regular speed, and resorted to running inside. I didn't watch the WF game but saw the entire Clemson game, and he was outstanding.

Do I think he's worth the sixth pick? No, but I think he's worth the 14 and will be a good running back in the NFL. He has NFL quality skills, outstanding feet, quickness, elusiveness, good speed, always falls forward. Ball security is an issue, he has it in the inside hand a little too much for my liking.

He has weak ankles, and battled sprains frequently at Clemson, thats my only real red flag.