Stud Showdown: CJ Spiller vs Jamaal Charles

By Jonathan Vandersluis

The first round of your fantasy football draft is not nap time. While some people may feel comparing two elite players is a “coin flip,” tell that to Jamaal Charles’ owners from 2011 and players that drafted DeMarco Murray and Darren McFadden last year. That’s why we’re here today: to dig into a decision that you will no doubt have come draft day. After getting into it on Twitter about C.J. Spiller‘s fantasy prospects for 2013, FakePigskin.com‘s Ricky Sanders and I decided to take our argument outside of the 140 character limit on Twitter and share it with you!

We made a little friendly wager about who will have a better fantasy season in 2013: C.J. Spiller or Jamaal Charles. Ricky will present his case for Spiller and I will present mine for Charles. After reading through each of our analyses, feel free to give your take as well in the comments section below. So without further ado, let’s dive in!

 

The Case for Spiller:  First, let me introduce myself. My name is Ricky Sanders (@RSanders85) and I write for a triad of different fantasy publications: Going9Baseball.com, FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com and most applicably FakePigskin.com. I have been playing fantasy football literally since grade school with my degenerate friends (so about 15 years). Although this is my first season with FakePigskin, I have been giving advice to friends and family for years.

C+J+SpillerYou probably have heard Bills’ offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s famous/infamous quote by now. “We are going to give him the ball until he throws up.” What does this really mean and why is it so great for fantasy? Well number one, it finally gives us assurance that Fred Jackson (whose annoyed Spiller owners for a while) will be nothing more than a sidekick. Handing Spiller the reigns to assume full-on lead back duties is huge. The knock on Spiller before had been that he won’t touch the ball enough times to be a top running back but clearly the new coaching regime has a change in philosophy. So with that being said, why take him over Jamaal Charles? Isn’t Jamaal Charles the NFL all-time leader in yards per carry? Why yes, yes he is. However, Charles backers seem to always “forget” that Spiller actually averaged a higher YPC average last season. Spiller, in 207 carries, averaged 6 yards a pop and produced 1244 rushing yards because of it. Charles carried the ball 285 times for 5.3 YPC and 1509 rushing yards. Even though Spiller was limited, the difference in carries wasn’t substantial enough to think that a few more carries for Spiller would start to significantly lower the YPC. Not only was he more efficient per play in the running game, but he also shined in the passing game. Spiller averaged a very impressive 10.7 yards per catch with 43 receptions (more than Charles). Basically, Spiller had to deal with splitting carries (Fred Jackson received at least 6 carries in all 10 games he played) and still caught more passes than Charles. The speedy Kansas City running back managed only 35 catches at a 6.7 yard average. To pile even more on, Spiller converted 77% of his targets to Charles’ 73%. If all of these statistics are not enough, Spiller produced more fantasy points than Jamaal Charles in a standard PPR league 253-244.

With a higher workload on the horizon, what’s not to like? C.J. has already set his goal for the 2013 season: he wants to rush for 2000 yards. Sound crazy? It’s not. Did you know that Spiller rushed for the exact same average that Adrian Peterson did last season? If you forgot, Adrian Peterson rushed for 2097 yards. Depending on how much of an uptick Spiller sees in carries, I see 2000 as a distinct possibility. While 6.0 YPC may be too much to ask, even with a minimal drop, the increase in workload at the very least makes him a lock for last years’ numbers right? He finished as the 7th overall RB in standard (6th in PPR). Touchdowns are usually brought up when discussing both Charles and Spiller, so I wanted to mention those too. Jackson was used as the goal line back, at least within the 5, under old coach Chan Gailey. Doug Marrone is well known for his fast-paced Bill Belichickian type system. Under his system, it just seems an old back like Jackson just doesn’t fit. Even in the red zone, getting to the line of scrimmage quickly is important. Spiller is absolutely the perfect fit. So if you’re going to “run a guy until he throws up,” there’s no better chance for a hit to the stomach to induce vomiting than at the goal line. In my opinion, at the very least he gets half the goal line carries now instead of essentially none. Lastly, the offense will turn to a rookie QB, either E.J. Manuel or Jeff Tuel (now that Kevin Kolb is on Injured Reserve).  If you were the coach, would you feature your explosive running game or unproven quarterbacks such as those? If anything, Kansas City’s QB situation improved by a long shot which should increase passing attempts. Between that and Andy Reid’s history of not giving his running backs as many carries as he should, Charles presents downside that Spiller simply does not. Draft Spiller beginning at #3 overall and bask in a player that may have the most upside of any player not named Adrian Peterson.

 

The Case for Charles: I don’t doubt that Spiller will get all the touches he can handle nor do I doubt he will be effective with those touches. But let’s very dig into the stats from last year: 207 carries for 1244 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and 43 receptions for 458 yards (10.7 yards per reception). But before you fall in love with them, don’t just breeze past the fact that he averaged 4.66 yards per carry and 6.76 yards per reception in the first two years of his career. Sure, he could have improved some in year three, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that those lofty averages from last year are at all repeatable. To make matters worse, the Bills offensive line also lost top lineman Andy Levitre to the Titans and versatile veteran backup Doug Legursky just suffered a significant knee injury.

With rookies E.J. Manuel and Jeff Tuel starting under center, some see opportunity for the coaching staff to put the ball in Spiller’s hands a lot. I see a lot of 8 man boxes. As you can see below, his effectiveness was extremely limited against stacked boxes in 2012.

  • Total: 6.01 YPC, 6 TDs
  • 7 in the box: 3.72 YPC, 3 TDs
  • 8 in the box: 3.54 YPC, 0 TDs

Now, one could make the argument that an increase in touches would enable Spiller to overcome that regression in rushing and receiving averages. You can quote Hackett about running Spiller “until he throws up”, but if you do so, don’t ignore that Spiller himself said the next day that he was wary of such a heavy workload. He even admitted that 20 carries a game would be very tough for him.

That is exactly my concern. You don’t just take a smaller back (5″11, 200) and up his workload by 50% (to get to 300 carries) and expect that he’s going to hold up. I am expecting an increase to much closer to 250 carries with similar catches to last season’s 43. Considering that regression in averages, (I’ll give him 5.2 YPC and 8 YPR,) that would bring his totals from the year to approximately 1300 rushing yards and 350 receiving yards, a very admirable season, but not worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Adrian Peterson.

Charles, on the other hand, has already proven that he can handle a huge rushing load (last year’s 285 carries). Plus, as my colleague has mentioned, Jamaal Charles is the NFL career rushing yards per carry leader. He has never had a single season with less than last year’s 5.3 YPC! Think for a second about what that means. Everyone talks about Spiller’s upside but Charles’ upside is just as compelling. Charles is just as fast and elusive as Spiller and is playing behind a significantly better offensive line (you can read an awesome breakdown of every NFL offensive line here).

There has been some concern about Andy Reid coming into Kansas City and ruining Charles with his supposed history of “misusing RBs”. Over the last seven seasons in Philly, (including 2009 in which there was a committee between McCoy, Westbrook and Weaver), the lead RB in the Eagles offense averaged 15.5 carries and 4.3 receptions per game (248 and 69 over full season). Yes, there will be a reduction in carries from last year’s 285, but if Reid continues to coach as he did in Philly, (and we have no reason to believe he won’t,) Charles’ receptions should double from 2012.

Finally, the Chiefs didn’t just add Andy Reid, they also added the best QB that Jamaal Charles has ever played with, Alex Smith. While he’s not an elite QB, Alex Smith can run an effective offense, won’t turn the ball over and the Chiefs will move the ball. That same can’t be said about Jeff Tuel (expected Week 1 starter) and the Bills. Moving the ball more effectively also means Charles will get a few extra Red Zone touches and greater chances to score.

Jamaal Charles has proven to be effective over his career with a bigger rushing load, and already has two top 10 fantasy RB seasons under his belt to back that up. The offense will ensure Charles will be getting more consistent touches than ever before and he will continue to post those high yards per carry averages he has piled up his whole career. If you see Spiller as a threat to Adrian Peterson as the #1 RB, it’s because you are taking a leap of faith and trusting that the coaching staff at their word. I personally don’t buy it and neither does Spiller. You can’t win your fantasy league in the first round but you certainly can lose it. Don’t bet on the upside of Spiller while forgetting all the concerns. Take Jamaal Charles, the guy with just as high a ceiling but with the much higher floor and none of the risks.

Who do you like better? Spiller or Charles? Feel free to give your take in the comments section below.

Follow Ricky on Twitter @RSanders85 and check out his work at FakePigskin.com and follow Jonathan on Twitter @TopTeamFantasy.

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Jonathan Vandersluis

About Jonathan Vandersluis

Jonathan has been playing fantasy sports for almost a decade, first football and then quickly to baseball and basketball too, and founded TopTeamFantasy.com in 2013. He has always been a numbers guy, so fantasy sports provided the perfect place for him to combine his analytical skills with his passion for sports. Jonathan makes Toronto, Canada his home, but loves to travel every chance he gets and explore new places. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Jonathan_TTF, he’d be glad to answer any of your questions and help you win your fantasy league.