C.J. Spiller, RB - Clemson
Weight: 195 pounds
40 time: 4.37
As explosive and dynamic as any running back or offensive weapon that has entered the draft in the past few years, C.J. Spiller was amazingly productive at Clemson after having been one of the top players in the country coming out of high school.
Spiller literally re-wrote the record books in his time at Clemson: he is the ACC's career leader in all-purpose yards with 7588, which is also second in NCAA D-I history; Spiller has set 31 Clemson records in several categories; he is third in school history in career rushing yards with 3,547; he tied an NCAA record for most kick return touchdowns in a career with eight; he joined Reggie Bush as only the second player in NCAA history to finish his career with 3,000 yards rush, 1,500 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving, and 500 yards in punt returns; he’s also one of two players in Tigers’ history to score a touchdown five different ways (rushing, receiving, throwing, kickoff return, punt return); he finished his career with 32 rushing touchdowns and 11 receiving touchdowns.
C.J. did all of this while splitting time at running back for three years with James Davis. As talented a returner as we’ve seen enter the draft in the last 5-10 years, Spiller has fantastic vision and he sees the field as well as any player in the country. He also has some of the quickest feet of any player that I’ve ever scouted, regardless of position. Spiller’s elusiveness and quickness in the open field are among the best that I’ve ever seen and he’s simply an electric player in every facet of his game. C.J. also has great intangibles both on and off the field and was a team leader for Clemson this past season. Spiller was also an extremely successful sprinter in track, having finished second in the ACC 100 meters last year to teammate wide receiver Jacoby Ford; his career-best time is 10.22 (to put in comparison, Tennessee Titans’ running back Chris Johnson ran a 10.38-second 100 meter dash when he was in college); it goes without saying that C.J. was easily one of the fastest players in college football the past four years; he was a three-time All-American in track for Clemson.
As a runner, Spiller excels at taking the ball to the outside, however he also had success running between the tackles in college. He has the size and bulk needed to hold up as an every-down back and he is capable of carrying his team on his shoulders. He’ll break a few tackles on occasion, however this isn’t his strength as a running back. He does hold up well as a blocker in the passing game. Spiller doesn’t have many glaring holes in his game, which is why he’s thought of so highly in scouting circles. The biggest question that I have is whether or not he has what it takes to consistently hold up as the main running back for his team; he was able to do it in college his senior year, but he doesn’t have much experience doing it consider James Davis stole so many carries from him.
Carrying the full load in college for one year is much different than being able to do it for an entire career in the NFL. What helps is that, with the success of Chris Johnson in the NFL, a dynamic runner thanks to his speed and quickness who also is the exact same size as Spiller, teams are going to be more inclined than before to take a player like Spiller who is a bit smaller but offers tremendous upside as a weapon on offense. Spiller dealt with a few minor injuries in his career, which included a hamstring injury in 2008 and foot injury in 2009. Durability shouldn’t be a problem, but it is something that scouts will need to look into. I project that Spiller will be drafted in the first round, specifically among the Top 20 picks.
I personally feel that Spiller has all of the tools and skills needed to develop into the next version of Chris Johnson for a team in the NFL; a slightly-undersized all-purpose threat who can beat you deep any time he touches the ball. He has the talent to be an every-down ball carrier like Johnson grew into this past season, however he may need a year to get a complete feel for the game at the next level, also like Johnson needed as a rookie. Spiller adds one dimension that Johnson does not have, and that is in the return game, where Spiller has the potential to develop into one of the top returners in the NFL. Spiller is a special talent; he had an outstanding high school career, a college career that broke NCAA records, and now he’s set to take on the NFL, with the potential to become a tremendous asset for the team that drafts him.
Notes: C.J. was named the ACC’s Player of the Year in 2009; he was also named first-team All-ACC as a junior and sophomore, and honorable mention All-ACC as a freshman. He graduated in three-and-a-half years and he received a standing ovation from the Clemson Board of Trustees when he crossed the stage, the first time that has ever happened for a student-athlete. He’s also the first Clemson running back to make first-team Academic All-ACC and first-team All-ACC in the same year. Coming out of high school, Spiller was rated as the top running back in the country and the No. 8 overall player in the country by Rivals.com. He averaged more than 10-yards per carry as a running back in high school.
If you missed out on Chris Johnson in your dynasty league draft a couple years back, here’s your do-over. While Spiller didn’t match Johnson’s 40 time at the Combine, he was faster over 100 meters. There is no question he packs just as much speed and explosiveness as the most recent member of the 2,000-yard club. To wit: 21 of his 51 career touchdowns covered 50 yards or more. Is that Johnsonesque enough for you?
There may be mild concerns about Spiller’s size, but the fact that he shared the workload for three seasons in college only served to keep his mileage down heading into the pros. He won’t be drafted to carry 30 times a game between the tackles, and he will get on the field early on as a returner. Worst-case he’ll share carries as a rookie, but his skills suggest he’ll be the more productive member of any RBBC. The only fantasy worry here is that Spiller might lose goal-line carries to the bigger back in the tandem, but as Johnson demonstrated in Tennessee this season bigger isn’t always necessarily better. Best-case, Spiller matches the 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns Johnson mustered in his first year in the league; better still, Spiller tops those numbers with no LenDale White-types to steal goal line touches.