I am sure many Saint’s fans asked themselves who is C J Spiller when news broke that the team had signed Spiller to a four-year, 16 million dollar contract with nine million guaranteed. Saints fan’s are among the best and most loyal in the league but I can’t blame them for not knowing much of anything about C J Spiller. He did play his first four seasons in distant, snowy and rarely relevant Buffalo. So let’s dive into who C J Spiller is and how he fits in the Sean Payton offense.

WHO IS C J Spiller ?

C J Spiller went to college at Clemson where he was a dynamic playmaker for the Tigers. In four seasons he rushed for 4,480 yards and 32 touchdowns and where he averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He also showed some serious ability to catch passes and return on special teams. Evidence of his burst is obvious when you see he had five return touchdowns on special teams and averaged 14 yards per catch.

In 2009, his senior season, he was showered with honors, unanimous All American, ACC Player of the year, ACC Offensive player of the year among others. He was such a playmaker for the Tigers, they retired his number 28 the following season. In the 2010 NFL Draft the Buffalo Bills selected him with the 9th overall pick.

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Despite showing flashes of potential in his first four seasons with the Bills he had never been consistent enough. Injuries, inconsistent offensive line play and poor play calling were the primary factors. But Spiller has played well enough at times that the Saints should be very excited about what he can do in 2015. With that said being said, let’s look into how Spiller fits into Sean Payton’s offense.

HOW HE FITS WITH THE TEAM.

It’s no secret that Sean Payton loves running backs who can catch as well as run. The Saints offense is predicated on efficient passing and a good strong running game. Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles have all had varying degrees of success in the Payton system.

At times C.J. Spiller has looked more like Reggie Bush then Pierre Thomas, and other times he has looked like a hybrid of Sproles and Thomas. At five foot eleven and 200 pounds Spiller is not built to be a bell cow back. But he can be an effective change of pace back, useful in the slash and dash role. To get some idea of how effective Spiller can be, let’s take a look at his 2012 season. Not only did he play in all 16 games but his dynamic ability to force missed tackles and gain big chunks of yards was obvious.

In 2012 he rushed 207 times for 1,244 yards for an eye-popping six yards per carry. He also managed to reel off a couple of 20-plus yard gains, including a 62-yard sprint vs Miami. His touchdowns do not pop off the page but that’s forgivable since he was by and large the only offensive weapon that Buffalo had in 2012. His receiving numbers also do not pop off the page but if you look closer you realize with improved quarterback play, that he could be the next in a series of great Saints pass-catching backs.

After looking over his numbers from the 2012 season, I decided to pop over to Pro Football Focus and see what their numbers and advanced player measurements could tell us about Spiller.

In 2012 Spiller averaged 3.58 yards after contact–impressive considering that the players ranked above him are guys like Doug Martin and Adrian Peterson. Also the great Marshawn Lynch was behind Spiller with only 2.77 yards after contact. What’s even more impressive is that Spiller forced 66 combined missed tackles on just 250 carries and receptions. Peterson and Lynch both had over 330 carries and receptions and both only forced slightly more missed tackles.

So what does all this tell us ? Well quite simply Spiller’s first year in New Orleans may be the first time he is in an offensive system that fits his skill set. His previous coaches in Buffalo either didn’t use him enough or tried to force him into a role he isn’t suited to fill. He is not a lead back, and in New Orleans I would not expect him to be. With Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson already established I expect Spiller to carve out his own niche.

Ingram showed flashes of being able to catch the ball last season. I like what I saw from him in that regard. And there is no denying he can be a beast when asked to run the ball. He attacks the hole with power and does not go down easy. I am not so sold on Robinson being any more than a change of pace back. He can catch the ball and can run with power but he is very inconsistent. Spiller’s role will be to share carries with Ingram and to present opposing defenses with yet another weapon to try to stop. Get him the ball and space and watch him work.

With him and Ingram on the field the same time, I’d be very worried if I was a defensive coach. I fully expect Ingram and Spiller to pull a 40/40 split on carries with Robinson and rookie Murphy taking up the rest. I really hope Sean Payton does not ask Spiller to return kicks or punts. He has done it very sparingly in the NFL and with his injury issues–it’s something I would abstain from having him do. Plus he has had some fumbling issues in his career, 17 fumbles in four years with eight of those being lost

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Blake Lyons likes the acquisition of C J Spiller

IN SUMMARY

Spiller could very well be the signing that sends the Saints offense back to being among the leagues most difficult to stop. With his ability to catch, run and generally just make life difficult on opposing defenses, I fully expect the Saints to get him the ball in measured doses. They know he is a finite resource and that they can’t afford to waste him. I predict he will get around 550 yards rushing with five touchdowns, and 800 yards receiving with seven receiving touchdowns. I am being conservative on those numbers, knowing his injury history and knowing that most predictions are quite useless come game time.