Draft Spotlight: CJ Spiller
CJ Spiller – RB – Clemson
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Spiller is not the kind of back who can carry a team by rushing 20-25 times a game over the course of a 16-game season. Like a Reggie Bush or Felix Jones, though, he can be a situational player who gives the offense big-play capability out of the backfield. He has a rare burst through the hole, and not many safeties can run him down once they lose the angle on him. He is a competitive runner who will fight for yards and has balance to bounce off hits and keep his feet to gain more yards. Spiller is apt to be the first back taken in the draft in spite of his lack of power and bulk.
Inside: Known as a speed back, he has strong muscle definition throughout his frame and runs a lot tougher than most give him credit for. Most dangerous when starting inside and using his quick feet and vision to bounce outside, but isn’t afraid to take it north-south if that’s what’s needed. Keeps his pads down and legs moving through trash inside, often falling forward for extra yardage. Will be challenged to hang onto the ball when facing strong NFL linebackers.
Outside: Excels outside the tackles. Excellent vision and agility, with elite breakaway speed. Few safeties will get an angle on him once he’s past the linebackers. Has the speed to turn the corner. Patient running on stretch and zone plays, able to cutback and blow through a hole. Can press the line, then evade penetrating defenders by bouncing outside with quick feet. Able to leap diving defenders and stay in balance after landing. Doesn’t shy away from contact at the second level — willing to plow through a tackle for an extra yard. Ball security can be an issue, as he gets a little loose with the ball when running outside. A potential Pro Bowl punt and kick returner because of his pure speed, willingness to attack the lane, quick cuts through traffic and superior elusiveness with the ball in his hands.
Breaking tackles: Runs with some lean; elusive and strong enough to avoid defenders in space and run through arm tackles. Quick stop-start move to freeze would-be tacklers or let them fly by if they leave their feet. Head fakes or just out-quicks most any defender in space — usually at full speed. Isn’t big enough to consistently get through the grasp of defensive tackles at the line or the wrap of linebackers, but gives good effort.
Blocking: Doesn’t act like a track star playing football. Willing to stand up to ends and linebackers in pass protection, although he lacks the bulk to sustain and may struggle to stay strong against top pro linebackers. Will throw a shoulder into much bigger defenders to chip on a lineman before heading to the flat for a check-down pass. Gives effort to help teammates running downfield.
Receiving: Versatile offensive weapon who catches passes over the middle or in the flat, but will also line up in the slot and on the outside. Lightning-quick and ultra-elusive after the catch, often leaving defenders standing still as he jukes them outside or inside. Blows by safeties in coverage, especially on out-and-up routes. Inconsistent hands as a receiver. Will catch most easy passes with his hands and high-point the ball in traffic, but also has lapses of concentration and short-arms passes when expecting a big hit over the middle. Needs to be crisper coming in and out of his routes to sell them better at the next level. Solid hands on punt returns, and actually catches kickoffs at helmet-height with his hands.
Intangibles: Improved his strength and running toughness over the past couple of seasons to become a more complete running back. Looked to be a leader on offense with James Davis, quarterback Cullen Harper and wide receiver Aaron Kelly no longer on the squad in 2009. No major character issues or off-field incidents. Named to the ACC All-Academic team in 2008.
NFL Comparison: Felix Jones, Cowboys
Spiller is a super-explosive home-run threat with excellent speed. Has the vision and patience to find running lanes and the hands and body control to be an effective receiver. Possesses the foot quickness and agility to change direction on a dime and make people miss in space. Fiery kid who throws his body around and fights for extra yards.
Lacks the bulk to be a bell cow at the next level. Does not have the leg drive to be an effective short-yardage back. Dances too much in the hole and has too many negative plays. Struggles to sustain blocks in pass protection.