C.J. Spiller's effect on Fred Jackson
Is a time-share looming in Buffalo, or will Jackson once again carry the load?
Throughout the preseason, "Decisions 2012" will give ESPN Fantasy writers an opportunity to address some of the key questions and storylines facing fantasy owners as they prepare for their drafts.
Will C.J. Spiller's emergence in December crush Fred Jackson's fantasy value in 2012?
Fred Jackson was on his way to a top-five RB fantasy season in 2011 before a broken right fibula ended his campaign in Week 11. To that point, his backup C.J. Spiller had mustered 3.1 offensive touches per game, thus offering absolutely no threat of a backfield platoon. Meanwhile, Jackson had averaged 93.4 rushing yards per game -- third in the NFL -- and had surpassed 40 yards receiving in half of his starts. He had, in fact, proven an exception to the rule that rushers who've reached age 30 can't succeed, but an asterisk must be attached to that note, because Jackson played two years in the Arena Football League and one in NFL Europe, and thus has less NFL-level wear-and-tear than most backs his age.
But once Jackson was injured, Spiller took over, and particularly in the fantasy playoffs earned a lot of friends. He scored a TD in four of six weeks and averaged 18.3 touches per game; in the final three contests of 2011, he scored 28, 19 and 16 fantasy points. On tape, we can finally see what the Buffalo Bills saw when they drafted him No. 9 overall in 2010: a quick perimeter player with breakaway speed. Now entering 2012, the question is how will the workload break down in the Bills' backfield?
Despite his age (now he's 31), I still prefer Jackson. He's a more complete player than Spiller has shown to be at this point in their respective careers, and at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds -- compared to Spiller's 5-11, 197 pounds -- Jackson is somewhat more suited for interior carries.
I think you see this partway proven by the fact that while Jackson was healthy last year, Spiller lined up a bunch at wide receiver. But the numbers also show a bias: According to Stats, LLC, 63 percent of Jackson's carries qualified either as "middle," "left" or "right" (as opposed to "left sideline" or "right sideline"), while for Spiller that number was 56 percent.
Each man catches it very well, and Spiller probably is more likely to take a long one to the house. But despite Jackson's disappointing broken leg in '11, I don't think it's fair to say that Spiller is a safer health bet. After all, part of the reason he wasn't used much to start the 2011 season was a balky knee. He had hamstring problems in his rookie season, and his time at Clemson also was marked by leg injuries.
This winter, the Bills scrapped the final year of Jackson's contract, essentially giving him a $3 million bonus. That's a nice gesture, but it's hardly a cap-altering deal, and gives the team flexibility to change its mind if Spiller's arrow continues to point way up; it won't cost the Bills any additional dollars to cut Jackson before the '13 or '14 portions of his new contract kick in.
And that makes sense, because in his limited action last season, Spiller did prove a devastating player in the open field. In that regard, he's simply too good not to use a bunch. You'll see some two-back sets this season, with one or both guys sent into pass patterns. Spiller, in particular, is a tough matchup as a receiver, because he's too fast for most one-on-one coverage. But Jackson's ability to make uncannily excellent split-second decisions in the box sets him apart. Spiller doesn't have that in his game yet. He didn't set up blocks as well in 2011, and was caught running backward on a few occasions late in the year.
Expecting Jackson to resume a top-five pace in 2012 is folly. Spiller finally proved in December of his second pro season that he "gets" the NFL game, and as such we're headed for some form of platoon in Buffalo. There will be weeks where Spiller's box score line looks heartier than Jackson's, especially weeks when the Bills fall behind, because Spiller can still split out wide and get looks as a nasty fourth receiver.
But if I'm taking bets on which guy is going to lead the team in rushing TDs, rushing carries and rushing yards, it's still the workmanlike, dangerous, instinctive, bigger Jackson. In my new ranks, I've got Jackson listed as my No. 15 RB (and No. 35 overall), while Spiller is listed as my No. 27 RB (and No. 65 overall).
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- Berry: Love, hate and good cheer
- Week 17 flex rankings
- Harris: Week 17 free-agent finds
- Matthew Berry's fantasy football top 200 for Week 17
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
2012 Fantasy Football Draft Kit
ESPN.com's fantasy analysts offer all the information you'll need to succeed in your draft and all season long.
• Draft Kit Home
• Join/Reactivate a league
• Follow ESPN Fantasy on Facebook
• The NFL on ESPN.com
Profiles and Projections for 2012
• Top 300 | Cheat Sheets
• Analysts: Berry | Harris | Karabell
• Quarterback: Rankings | Preview
• Running back: Rankings | Preview
• Wide receiver: Rankings | Preview
• Tight end: Rankings | Preview
• Def./Special teams: Rankings | Preview
• Kicker: Rankings | Preview
• IDP: Rankings | Preview
• Other formats: PPR | TD-Only | Keepers
• Analysts: Berry | Harris | Karabell
• The Magazine: Position profiles
The Talented Mr. Roto
• Mock 1: 10-team standard (May 7)
• Mock 2: 12-team standard (June 14)
• Mock 3: 12-team PPR (July 17)
• Mock 4: 10-team standard (Aug. 7)
• Mock 5: 10-team, 2 QBs (Aug. 13)
• Mock 6: 10-team auction (Aug. 21)
• Mock 7: 12-team standard (Aug. 29)
• Twitter Mock Draft
Geico Fantasy Draft Special Podcast
• Top 2012 storylines: 20 to 11 (Aug. 3)
• Top 2012 storylines: 10 to 1 (Aug. 7)
• Quarterback preview (Aug. 10)
• Running back preview (Aug. 17)
• Wide receiver preview (Aug. 21)
• TE, D/ST, K preview (Aug. 28)
• Injury updates: QB | RB | WR | TE
• Staff sleepers and busts
• Top faces in new places
• Are TEs worthy of flex consideration?
• Ten hotly debated players for 2012
• Does the two-QB approach work?
• Better predicting kickers' values
• Don't overanalyze strength of schedule
• How to use value-based drafting
• Will Cam Newton repeat his rookie success?
• Metrics to consider in finding IDP breakouts
• Streaming D/ST units
• Finding potential rebound candidates
• Harris' 10 flag-planted players for 2012
• Harris' super-deep sleepers for 2012
• C.J. Spiller's effect on Fred Jackson's value
• Where should Trent Richardson be drafted?
• Will Green-Ellis' TD success continue?
• Ben Tate's impact on Arian Foster's value
• Will Cruz, Nelson fall back to earth?
• Is Jones-Drew poised for drop-off?
• When to draft Darren McFadden
• Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker?
• Are Panthers RBs unstartable?
• How much will Gore's fantasy value decline?
• How will Charles, Hillis split workload in KC?
• When should you draft Adrian Peterson?
• Rivers' new favorite WR: Meachem or Floyd?
• Vincent Jackson's impact with new team
• Choosing between Bryant and Austin
• The polarizing Michael Turner
• Roddy White or Julio Jones?
• Lloyd effect on Pats' other receivers
• Will any one Patriots RB emerge in 2012?
• Making sense of Saints backfield
• Can you trust DeMarco Murray?
• What is Tim Tebow's value with the Jets?
• Assessing the values of Bucs RBs
• Can Robert Griffin III match Cam Newton?
• Joyner: Underrated PPR WRs for 2012
• Karabell: Top 35 rookies for 2012
• Kiper: Keeper-league targets
• Joyner: Underrated WRs for 2012
• Joyner: Underrated RBs for 2012
• Kiper: Fantasy rookies to target, avoid
• Joyner: Underrated QBs for 2012
• Karabell: Will DeSean Jackson bounce back?
• Joyner: How O-Lines impact QBs in fantasy
• Karabell: Reggie Bush outlook
• Karabell: Early ADP trends
• Karabell: Redskins RB situation
• Joyner: Undervalued, overvalued RBs
• Karabell: Be wary of Steve Smith
• Joyner: Why CJ2K will be top fantasy RB
• Joyner: Five breakout players in 2012
• Karabell: Five keeper-league targets
• Adrian Peterson outlook
• Peyton Manning's health
• Peyton Manning expectations
• Darren McFadden outlook
• Andre Johnson's health
• Projecting Cam Newton
• Second-tier RBs to consider
• Arian Foster versus Ray Rice
• Will DeSean Jackson bounce back?
• Michael Vick expectations
• Mark Sanchez versus Tim Tebow
• Will Rob Gronkowski repeat as top TE?
• Where to draft Gronkowski, Graham
• Aaron Hernandez expectations
• Can RG3 match Newton's rookie season?
• Will Jamaal Charles return to form?
• DeMarco Murray outlook
• Is Beanie Wells being undervalued?
• Rashard Mendenhall versus Isaac Redman
• How will Drew Brees handle turmoil in NO?
• Why has Matt Schaub's ranking fallen?
• Is this the year Matt Ryan breaks out?
• Tight end sleepers for 2012
• Jonathan Stewart versus DeAngelo Williams
• Which rookie RBs could surprise?
• Demaryius Thomas versus Eric Decker
• Better late pick: Rookie WR or Randy Moss?
• Is Jordy Nelson's TD total repeatable?
• Is Eli Manning an elite fantasy QB?
• Will Philip Rivers bounce back in 2012?
• Can Victor Cruz repeat his breakout 2011?
• Andrew Luck's short- and long-term value
• Expectations for Trent Richardson
• Will Julio Jones outperform Roddy White?
• Is it wise to draft a QB early?
• Will Reggie Bush repeat his 2011 numbers?
• Brandon Marshall expectations