Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller

Continuing a series analyzing the economics of the Buffalo Bills roster, position by position:

Position: Running back

Total cap value: $12,988,332
Compared to NFL average: 53.7 percent more
NFL positional rank: 4th

Portion of Bills' total cap number: 9.4 percent

2014 cap numbers:
C.J. Spiller: $5.916 million (5th on Bills, 9th among NFL running backs)
Fred Jackson: $3.85 million (Bills: 9th; NFL: 16th)
Anthony Dixon: $1.016 million (Bills: 30th; NFL: 55th)
Bryce Brown: $570,000 (Bills: tied for 47th; NFL: tied for 102nd)
Frank Summers: $570,000 (Bills: tied for 47th; NFL: tied for 102nd)
Evan Rodriguez: $570,000 (Bills: tied for 47th; NFL: tied for 102nd)
Ronnie Wingo: $495,000 (Bills: tied for 59th; NFL: tied for 158th)

[+] EnlargeCJ Spiller
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesBills running back C.J. Spiller can become a free agent after the 2014 season.
Average per year:
Spiller: $5.219 million (6th on Bills, 10th among NFL running backs)
Jackson: $4.35 million (Bills: 9th; NFL: 12th)
Dixon: $1.166 million (Bills: 27th; NFL: 45th)
Summers: $570,000 (Bills: 51st; NFL: tied for 120th)
Brown: $537,720 (Bills: 57th; NFL: 149th)
Rodriguez: $525,000 (Bills: 59th; NFL: tied for 151st)
Wingo: $495,000 (Bills: tied for 77th; NFL: tied for 209th)

Most overpaid: Spiller. This is probably more of a commentary on the state of the running back position in the NFL more than it is on Spiller. Teams aren't giving running backs large contracts these days. Currently, Spiller's cap number is 416 percent higher than the NFL average at his position. Among Bills players, only Mario Williams has a larger gap from his positional average. This all sets the table for the Bills' upcoming negotiations with Spiller, who can become a free agent after this season. Are the Bills willing to pay Spiller top-five money for his position? Or can they get by with a rotation of younger players? I think the Bills would love to have Spiller's speed and big-play ability around for several more years, but he might still need to prove that he can be the lead horse in the backfield. He's not Adrian Peterson.

Most underpaid: None. This will likely be the final year that the Bills have this much cap space tied up in their running backs. At 33, Jackson isn't going to command the same deal that he received in 2012. Even though Jackson's production hasn't declined -- if anything, he's coming off one of his best seasons -- the Bills will need to consider the future with Jackson, not the past. Will he be worth $4 million a year or more as a 35-year old back? That's unlikely. If the Bills re-sign Spiller, there might be less willingness to bring back Jackson. I think the Bills would like Brown to develop into one of their lead backs, and if that happens, then he'll be underpaid. But for right now, there's no player worthy of that distinction.
With three of their 10 organized team activities in the books, the Buffalo Bills have just scratched the surface of the team-building process that will continue through the summer.

During last week's practices there were impressive catches, dropped passes, a few interceptions, and even a fumble. Viewed individually, none of it is of much consequence this time of year.

But if patterns begin to develop, that's where we can begin to draw more substantial conclusions, both good and bad.

With the Bills set to begin their second week of OTAs this week, here are some areas where trends have cropped up. We'll be looking to see if they continue:

Robey's role: When the Bills signed Corey Graham to a four-year, $16 million deal in March, we scratched our heads a little. Graham is a good player, but the Bills' top three cornerbacks last season -- Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, and Nickell Robey -- were a strength of the team and all were returning. When the Bills hosted some of the draft's best cornerbacks on pre-draft visits, we continued to scratch our heads. When the Bills selected cornerback Ross Cockrell in the fourth round, it gave an even greater indication that something might change at cornerback.

With McKelvin and Gilmore out of OTAs this week because of hip surgery, the Bills' first-team cornerbacks were Graham and Ron Brooks. The next group on the field was Cockrell and Brandon Smith, followed by Robey and Mario Butler. That wasn't shocking to us, because Robey isn't considered an "outside" cornerback. Rather, he excelled in the slot last season. But when the Bills' first nickel unit came onto the field this week, it was Cockrell and Brooks outside with Graham in the slot. The next wave featured Robey in the slot with two younger players manning the outside.

What do we make of that? It could mean that Jim Schwartz doesn't value the 5-foot-7 Robey in the same way that Mike Pettine did. Would that mean Robey's roster spot is in jeopardy? Probably not, but it could indicate reduced playing time for him. The other possibility is that the Bills are simply tinkering with their personnel, seeing what they have in Brooks in what could be a make-or-break training camp, while getting Cockrell on the field as much as they can. We'll be watching to see whether this trend continues this week in OTAs.

Duking it out: Who will replace Jairus Byrd in the starting lineup at safety? The top two contenders are Da'Norris Searcy and Duke Williams. With Aaron Williams (shoulder surgery) out of OTAs this week, Duke Williams and Searcy made up the first team in the back end. That means we're in wait-and-see mode as far as who will get the first crack next to Aaron Williams. If he returns this week, I would lean toward Duke Williams remaining with the first team and Searcy sliding down to the second team with Jonathan Meeks. If Aaron Williams doesn't return, the question about who will get the first chance to replace Byrd will remain on the back burner.

Two-headed attack: As noted by WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia in his Friday practice notes, the Bills put Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller on the field together for some selected plays in OTAs this week. It's something I can remember seeing early in training camp last summer but rarely during the regular season. With Spiller back to full health, offensive coordinator Nate Hackett may try to vary his usage within the offense. Spiller's receiving numbers dipped last season, but if he can be motioned into the slot with Jackson remaining in the backfield, he will cause matchup problems for defenses.

Dixon's position: The Bills' signing of Anthony Dixon added a low-cost depth player to their backfield. When the Bills traded for Bryce Brown earlier this month, it signaled that Dixon may be used more as a fullback or goal-line back than a tailback. So far in OTAs, that hasn't been the case. Physically, Dixon is a far cry from Frank Summers or Evan Rodriguez, and his body type is more in line with a traditional running back. Brown was sidelined Friday with an undisclosed injury, and with fellow running back Ronnie Wingo dealing with a hamstring injury, Dixon got plenty of work at tailback. Ultimately, I think there is room for both Dixon and Brown on the 53-man roster, especially if Dixon contributes on special teams.

Bills draft preview: Running back

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
As we step away on vacation, we'll provide a position-by-position preview of next month's draft from a Buffalo Bills perspective:

Position: Running back

Current personnel: Fred Jackson (signed through 2014), C.J. Spiller (2014), Anthony Dixon (2016), Ronnie Wingo (2015), Anthony Allen (2015)

Draft need: Moderate

State of the position: The Bills may not have an immediate need at running back, but there is change on the horizon. Both Jackson and Spiller are set to become free agents after this season, adding a significant layer of uncertainty to the position. Jackson, 33, is more durable than his age would suggest and could be in line for another deal. Still, it's rare that running backs play past age 35, so the Bills must begin planning for the post-Jackson era now.

Spiller's case is more complicated. The possibility of trading Spiller has been on the radar since the end of last season. The odds are stacked against the Bills making a move involving the former first-round pick before this season, but like Jackson, the Bills must plan for the possibility that Spiller may not be in Buffalo much longer. The Bills signed Dixon to a three-year deal last month but he's a larger back who figures to be mostly a role player; he doesn't project to be a lead back for the Bills, with or without Jackson or Spiller.

Sweet spot: Mid rounds.

Possible targets: Andre Williams (Boston College), Jeremy Hill (LSU), Lache Seastrunk (Baylor)
When the Tennessee Titans released running back Chris Johnson earlier Friday, each NFL Nation reporter was polled on his or her team's chances of signing Johnson. For the Bills, I said their interest was 'low,' because of the presence of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the backfield.

Then came news Friday afternoon from ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky, who reported that the Bills and Miami Dolphins were the two teams closest to making a move with the Titans before Johnson was released.

It's a nugget that could be as much about C.J. Spiller as it is about Johnson.

With Spiller and Jackson, there would be few opportunities for Johnson to get carries. That wouldn't be the most efficient use of Johnson, who has rushed for at least 1,000 yards each season since being drafted in 2008, so something would have to give.

Both Spiller and Jackson will become free agents this season. Jackson is 33 -- and has faced injury issues in both knees -- but he performed much more consistently than Spiller last season. It would be almost unimaginable for the Bills to move on from Jackson, their offensive captain, in favor of Johnson.

That leaves Spiller, who never got into a groove in first-year offensive coordinator Nate Hackett's system. Although Spiller averaged 4.6 yards per carry, he averaged fewer than three yards per carry in six games. On plays with at least five yards to gain for a first down, Spiller lost yardage on 14.4 percent of his runs, the worst rate among NFL running backs with a qualifying amount of carries.

Hampered by an ankle injury, Spiller played 34 percent of offensive snaps, considerably less than Jackson's 56 percent and the fewest since Spiller's rookie season. Spiller's 185 receiving yards were also the fewest since he was a rookie.

Spiller said following the season that he would not request a trade.

“A trade? Nah. I don’t have any reason to. [I’m] satisfied,” he said on Dec. 30. “You know, I don’t have any, you know, bad feelings with this organization or with [CEO] Russ [Brandon] or with, you know, [general manager] Doug Whaley. You know, I like Coach [Doug] Marrone and I like [running backs] Coach [Tyrone] Wheatley, so I have no reason to go nowhere else, but you know that’s stuff I can’t control. But I wouldn’t go up there and ask for one.”

Spiller has a $5.9 million cap hit this season, the sixth-highest on the Bills' roster. However, trading Spiller would only save about $1.8 million. Still, there would be incentive for the Bills to trade Spiller this offseason instead of losing him to the open market next offseason.

Now that the Titans have released Johnson, the Bills have the opportunity to sign him without having to give up anything in a trade. If they choose to pursue Johnson further, it would continue to cast doubt on Spiller's future.
Offensively, the Buffalo Bills' most pressing needs this offseason are at offensive line and tight end.

But what about running back?

There isn't much question at the position next season, as Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are expected to carry the load once again. In the NFL, though, it's good business to keep an eye further down the road.

Jackson turned 33 last week and enters the final season of his contract. While it would be a shock if Jackson decided to finish his career outside of Buffalo, his age and contract situation present some uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Spiller could also enter the final season of his deal. His six-year rookie contract includes a voidable final year (2015), which could put him on the market next spring.

It's entirely possible that both Jackson and Spiller could return in 2015. If they don't, the Bills have little depth at the position. They promoted Ronnie Wingo from the practice squad last October and he barely saw the field. At this point, he may not be more than a depth-level player.

In January, the Bills signed Anthony Allen, who spent two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He brings some experience and special-teams ability that could earn him a roster spot with a strong preseason, but he's not a viable replacement option for Jackson or Spiller.

Enter this May's draft.

The Bills aren't going to target a running back in the first round unless it's an Adrian Peterson-type player, general manager Doug Whaley said last week. There isn't a Adrian Peterson-type player in this year's draft, so don't hold your breath.

But what about the middle rounds? That could be the sweet spot for the Bills to draft a running back.

At last week's combine, the Bills interviewed Boston College running back Andre Williams, who was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

"His agent, Erik Burkhardt, had made a good suggestion: Bring a notebook to write down the names of all the people you meet with," wrote TheMMQB.com's Jenny Vrentras. "But in Williams’ first formal meeting, with the Bills on Friday night, he was greeted by eight people upon entering the room. He shook each person’s hand, but there simply wasn’t enough time in the 15-minute window to write down everyone’s name."

Williams is expected to be a mid-round pick and the Bills have a potential long-term need at running back. Still, it's dangerous to read into the Bills' interview, as every NFL team sits down with dozens of players in Indianapolis.

Because of that, it's far too early to say the Bills are "interested" in Williams, but it's not too early to consider running back as a draft need for Buffalo.

Williamson's take: C.J. Spiller

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
We recently chatted with ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson, a former scout for the Cleveland Browns, about a variety of Bills topics.

First, let's dissect C.J. Spiller's season and his role within Buffalo's offense:

Overall view: "I think he's capable of being one of the best multi-purpose weapons in the league. But I think he's closer to Percy Harvin than he is to Adrian Peterson. Just because he has 'RB' next to his name, I think that can misconstrue what he really is. Frankly, I think he's been really, really effective up until this past season and I don't think he was ever healthy this past season. He rarely looked like himself, and I don't think he's all of the sudden forgotten how to be fast, explosive, and I think he's entering the prime of his career and just never looked super healthy to me. In spurts he did, but [not] for a couple of games in a row."

[+] EnlargeC.J. Spiller
Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports The Bills should use C.J. Spiller as more of receiver-type running back where he can get out in space.
Role within offense: "I think that he needs to be used right. By that I mean, he can't be a workhorse back, because he's so reliant on speed and explosiveness and he's not that big, obviously, that if he is going to get hammered play after play and run up the gut 15 times a game, you're going to use him up too fast. I think he needs to be closer to a [Darren] Sproles type, where you split him out wide and run wide receiver routes with him, get him in space, run more draws. I think it'll eventually go that way. They have a lot of young receivers now. Put [EJ] Manuel in the shotgun, detach Spiller, move him all over the place. I don't think you're going to see them lining up in the 'I' [formation] and running basic plays over and over and over. I expect them to be a pretty creative offense, as Manuel learns. [But] he's not ready for that now. He can't be Drew Brees. [Chan Gailey] probably had a better feel for how to use Spiller. But I think this new staff has some creative feel to them. They're drafting receivers. I think they want to spread the field. I just don't think the quarterback is ready yet. And I don't know if he ever will be, to be honest."

Manuel's effect on Spiller: "I think they can kind of go hand-in-hand. I mean, Brady had [Danny] Woodhead, Brees has Sproles, but it's real easy to say, 'We want this dynamic, do-it-all back who can be a mis-match in the passing game.' Your quarterback needs to know how to get him there. He has to do all the pre-snap stuff to put him in motion against a linebacker and be able to recognize those different mismatches, especially in the passing game. Or, 'Hey, how are they going to count this guy?' If he's in the game, are they counting him as a receiver? Are they going to go to nickel? 'Well then, let's bring their tight ends in and run it with them against this smaller front.' Or vice versa. And 'OK, what kind of coverages have they been playing against Spiller as a detached player?' 'Wow, we can't exploit that if we put him in motion and call 'X' play.' But [Manuel] is nowhere close to being able to do that. I mean, Brees, Manning, and Brady and those guys can use that type of weapon a lot better than Manuel can or maybe ever will."

Spiller's negative plays: "I don't think he moved like we're used to him moving. Because of the nature of the back he is, he's going to have more negative runs than [Fred] Jackson. If there's little blocked for him, Jackson is probably the better player, just because he'll put his head down and get two [yards] when they block for one [yard]. Spiller will get zero or one [yard] when they block for one. When they block for four, Spiller might get 70. I don't think he's Chris Johnson, I think he's better than that, but he certainly has a real hit-or-miss style to him and he's not going to break a ton of tackles behind the line of scrimmage."
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the Buffalo Bills:

1. There will be plenty of talk this offseason about EJ Manuel and the struggles of the Bills' passing offense, but Buffalo's running game can't be overlooked. On the surface, it was a strong attack: the Bills gained 2,307 total rushing yards, second only to the Philadelphia Eagles this season. But if the goal of the run is to set up the pass, Manuel was put in a tough spot. The Bills ranked 21st this season on runs of first-and-10 or longer, averaging 4.02 yards per carry. That's not the way to start off a drive and it left Manuel with difficult second-and-long situations.

[+] EnlargeFred Jackson
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesThe Bills will tell you that running back Fred Jackson's contributions this season go well beyond his statistics.
2. Who was the better Bills running back this season? With a 4.6-yard average, C.J. Spiller edged out Fred Jackson, who gained 4.3 yards per carry. Digging deeper, though, reveals some troubling stats for Spiller. On plays with at least five yards to gain for a first down, Spiller lost yardage on 14.4 percent of his carries, the worst rate among qualified NFL running backs. Expanding that criteria to include plays where Spiller was stopped for no gain, his rate was 22.3 percent, third worst in the NFL. Jackson, at 7.8 percent, had the best rate among qualified running backs.

3a. The perception is that Spiller is worth putting on the field because of his ability to break long runs. The reality, at least this season, was different. Spiller gained at least 11 yards on 8.9 percent of his runs, which ranked 13th in the NFL. Jackson checked in at 8.3 percent, so how much advantage does Spiller really offer the Bills in that area?

3b. Back in November, coach Doug Marrone compared Spiller to Reggie Bush, who played for Marrone early in his career with the New Orleans Saints. "Guys that can break plays and guys that are extremely explosive," Marrone called them. Here's some food for thought: This season, Bush lost yardage on 8.5 percent of his runs (on plays with five-plus yards to gain) and broke runs of 11 yards or more on 12.6 percent of his carries.

3d. In Spiller's defense, he played through most of the season with an ankle injury. Still, his performance before the injury wasn't necessarily different. Through the first two games -- Spiller's run of injuries began in Week 3 -- he had six carries of zero yards or less, or 18.2 percent of his total runs through Week 2. That's not too far off his mark of 22.3 percent for the entire season.

4a. On Thursday, we revealed our ESPN.com All-AFC East team, as voted on by our four ESPN.com NFL Nation writers who cover AFC East teams. There was a significant amount of reader feedback on the selection at running back, where Chris Ivory earned the nod over Jackson. As mentioned Thursday, my selection was Jackson. He had a strong season as a runner and receiver, especially in the red zone. But there is an argument to be made for Ivory. He averaged 2.11 yards after contact per rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which ranked third in the NFL. Jackson ranked fifth.

4b. My hypothesis for why our other AFC East writers may have leaned toward Ivory was the possibility of stronger performances within the division, the best chance for writers to get an up-close look at other teams' players. But that wasn't the case. Jackson averaged 4.99 yards per rush and had three touchdowns against divisional opponents. Ivory averaged 4.13 yards per carry and had one touchdown.

5. One tidbit that stood out from Monday's season-ending news conference: general manager Doug Whaley gave what I believed was a lukewarm assessment of quarterback Thad Lewis. "We are pleased with Thad. We brought him in on a trade; he came in and was very serviceable," Whaley said. "We look forward to his further development, but again we will not hold ourselves back from picking a person that would help us take a winning step." Hardly a ringing endorsement there, and one gets the sense that the Bills are keeping their options open at quarterback. Statistically, Lewis had a better season than Manuel, but the Bills predictably stood by their first-round pick on Monday.

6. When the Bills evaluate their run defense from this season, this is likely to stand out: Opposing teams had much more success running to the offensive left than they did the offensive right. On runs to the right, the Bills allowed 4.19 yards to the right edge (5th in the NFL), 2.96 yards to the right tackle (5th in the NFL), and 3.38 yards to the right guard (8th in the NFL). On runs to the left, the Bills allowed 6.77 yards to the left edge (31st in the NFL), 6.3 yards to the left tackle (32nd in the NFL), and 4.89 yards to the left guard (27th in the NFL). Since the Bills flipped personnel from one side of the formation to the other, it's tough to pin the problem on one or two players. Instead, plays like Bobby Rainey's 80-yard run in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have skewed the average for runs to the left.

7. Comparing spending to production is one way to analyze the performance of a general manager in assembling his team. In that regard, it was a disappointing season for New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese, whose offense ranked 28th despite having the NFL's fifth-highest combined cap number on that side of the ball. On the flip side, Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, his team's de facto GM, got the most bang for his buck. The Bengals had the 10th-ranked offense but had the sixth-lowest offensive cap number.

8. Defensively, it wasn't the best season for Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery or Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. The Bears had the fourth-highest defensive cap number but the NFL's 30th-ranked defense. The Vikings had the sixth-highest cap number and the 31st-ranked defense. Meanwhile, Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman assembled the NFL's second-best defense with the league's fourth-lowest defensive cap number.

9. On the subject of contracts, I'm not enamored with the Bears' decision to extend Jay Cutler for seven years. Is it a true, iron-clad pact that will keep Cutler in Chicago through 2020? That's unlikely. But the Bears' flurry of contract extensions last week -- they re-signed Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings, guard Matt Slauson, kicker Robbie Gould, and fullback Tony Fiammetta -- is something that could backfire. It's an approach that reminds me of the Tom Heckert and Andy Reid era in Philadelphia, when the Eagles gave long extensions to defensive tackle Mike Patterson (seven-year extension in 2006), offensive lineman Shawn Andrews (seven-year extension in 2006), cornerback Sheldon Brown (six-year extension in 2006), defensive tackle Sam Rayburn (five-year extension in 2004), and cornerback Lito Sheppard (five-year extension in 2004). Like the Eagles, the Bears are usually in the hunt for the playoffs but can't quite put it all together. Instead of rewarding the players that couldn't get you over the hump, why not look elsewhere and shake things up?

10. Shaking things up is just what the Houston Texans did last week and I'm intrigued to see how the NFL's first coaching hire of the offseason, Bill O'Brien, performs next season. The Texans have the personnel to get over the hump but were snakebitten by injuries and shaky quarterback play this season. O'Brien is known as a creative, offensive-minded coach who will have the first overall pick and a chance to turn things around quickly. It's a situation not unlike the Indianapolis Colts prior to the 2012 season. Coming off a disappointing 2011 season where key injuries -- Peyton Manning, most notably -- held them back, the Colts drafted Andrew Luck and were right back in the playoffs.
Back in September, we broke down the Buffalo Bills' 53-man roster, position-by-position. Now that the Bills' season has ended, we'll review those grades:

Position: Running back (preseason grades)

Fred Jackson -- 57.1 percent
C.J. Spiller -- 33.5 percent
Frank Summers -- 19.4 percent
Tashard Choice -- 9.1 percent
Evan Rodriguez -- 1.6 percent
Ronnie Wingo -- 0.3 percent


Preseason take: When looking at some of the other top rushers around the league -- Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, and Arian Foster -- none have a player of Jackson's caliber as a second option. The one knock against this unit would be its lack of another young player to develop. The Bills had Kendall Gaskins (rookie) and Zach Brown (first-year) in training camp, but neither stood out. Choice, whose contract expires after this season, is an upgrade-able piece. Grade: A-

Postseason review: Back in the preseason, many expected Spiller to overtake Jackson as the "lead" back in the offense, especially after comments from offensive coordinator Nate Hackett. Ultimately, it was Jackson who was the top dog. Still, the point remains the same: few teams have the one-two punch that the Bills have at running back, so this grade was accurate. In the end, Choice was upgradeable: the Bills waived him in early December. In terms of young players, Ronnie Wingo fits the bill but saw just four snaps this season. His future remains uncertain.


Preseason take: The biggest concern for the Bills lies with Spiller. If he becomes the "featured" back in the Bills' offense, as he is expected to be, can he hold up over the full season? Spiller will need to prove he is durable, even when taking 250 or more carries in a season. Likewise, Jackson is 32 years old and hasn't played a full season since 2010. Losing either would put some stress on the other. Grade: B-

Postseason review: Spiller did not prove he was durable. After taking more snaps than Jackson in the first two games, Spiller suffered a quad/knee injury in Week 3 and then an ankle injury in Week 4. He was never the same. He still finished the season with 202 carries, which was just shy of his career high. Meanwhile, Jackson played a full season, which was remarkable given a nagging knee injury, and later, a rib injury. Combined, Spiller and Jackson missed just one game, so this grade should have been higher.
After finishing with a 6-10 record, the Buffalo Bills will select ninth overall in the 2014 NFL draft.

With the draft pushed back two weeks -- it will be held May 8-10 -- it gives the Bills over four months to prepare to make their selection -- or trade it.

That's what happened last season, when the Bills traded down from No. 8 to No. 16, where they selected quarterback EJ Manuel.

Without any glaring holes on their roster -- at least at the moment -- the Bills could have flexibility in the first round in the upcoming draft.

Here is a look at the Bills' most recent first-round selections:

2013 -- QB EJ Manuel -- No. 16
2012 -- CB Stephon Gilmore -- No. 10
2011 -- DT Marcell Dareus -- No. 3
2010 -- RB C.J. Spiller -- No. 9
2009 -- DE Aaron Maybin -- No. 11
2009 -- C Eric Wood -- No. 28
2008 -- CB Leodis McKelvin -- No. 11
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller reflected Monday on a frustrating season that saw him post his worst statistical marks since his rookie season in 2010.

Hampered mid-season by an ankle injury, Spiller finished with 927 rushing yards on 201 carries -- a 4.6 yard average -- and fell short of his own expectations that he set prior to the season.

[+] Enlarge C.J. Spiller
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesRunning back C.J. Spiller didn't quite achieve the career highs he had predicted for himself at the beginning of the 2013 season.
"I was way down," he said, adding that he wanted to gain 1,500 yards rushing, score 15 touchdowns, and average six yards per carry.

In the preseason, first-year offensive coordinator Nate Hackett said during a radio interview that he would run Spiller "until he threw up." Instead, Spiller's snap percentage fell from over 50 percent last season to about one-third of the snaps this season, but Spiller said Monday he did not feel expectations were unfairly high.

"Nah, I told you all that I wasn't going to throw up. I mean, nobody can never put any higher expectations on me than what I put on myself. Everybody was talking 2,000 [yards]. I already had a goal in my mind what I wanted to do individually as a player, so I was just letting y'all guys speak that stuff and y'all was making all the fantasy owners mad and happy at the same time," he said. "I'm definitely looking forward to coming back and really, really exploding in this offense."

Spiller seemed content Monday with his role within Hackett's offense, saying he has no intention of requesting a trade.

"A trade? Nah. I don't have no reason to. Satisfied. You know, I don't have any, you know, bad feelings with this organization or with [CEO] Russ [Brandon] or with, you know, [general manager] Doug Whaley," Spiller said. "You know, I like Coach [Doug] Marrone and I like Coach [Tyrone] Wheatley, so I have no reason to go nowhere else, but you know that's stuff that I can't control, but I wouldn't go up there and ask for one."

Instead, Spiller said he will focus this offseason on moving forward from his injury and continuing to adapt to the offensive scheme.

"[The injury] had a big effect on how I played because I was in and out of games, really wasn't myself until late in the season," he said. "But now I'll finally get some rest, let it heal as much as it can and then come back next year and really try to explode."

Spiller was used less in the passing game than under former coach Chan Gailey. His 33 receptions and 185 receiving yards were both the lowest marks since his rookie season.

"This is the first year in the offense, so we'll go back and look at some things and see what we can do to bounce ideas off each other, see if we can split me out wide and do certain stuff," he said. "If we able to do that, that's fine, but if not, then I can't sit around and pout about it. I just have to do what's asked of me and first and foremost I got to be running the ball effectively, and then we'll get the passing game going.

"We have so many weapons on offense, it's just crazy than what we've had in previous years. So that's probably one of the reasons why I'm not going to have as many passing yards because of what we got in the receiving room."

Marrone 'pissed' as Bills slide in finale

December, 29, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Perhaps it was appropriate that the Buffalo Bills' season finale was played in a steady rain, because any momentum built by back-to-back wins was washed away with a 34-20 loss Sunday to the New England Patriots.

Coming off their first consecutive victories this season, the Bills had a chance to make it three straight and start their offseason on the right foot. That didn't happen.

"I think it would have been much different if we ended on a three-game winning streak," coach Doug Marrone said. "I think this game kind of burst that bubble."

More accurately, it was Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount who sent the soggy Bills back to Buffalo on a losing note. Blount set a Patriots franchise record with 334 all-purpose yards, slopping through the wet turf for 189 rushing yards, including a pair of long touchdown runs.

Otherwise, the Patriots were not as sharp as they could have been. Quarterback Tom Brady finished with a 68.4 quarterback rating, throwing a fourth-quarter interception that gave the Bills life late in the game -- until they were forced to settle for a field goal.

It was the kind of game that exemplified the Bills' season. Just when things were starting to go right, something immediately went wrong. There may have been no better example than late in the third quarter, when T.J. Graham caught 12-yard touchdown pass -- only for Blount to return the ensuing kickoff 83 yards to set up a Patriots touchdown.

"Right now I'm pissed," Marrone said after the game. "I am upset. ... I mean, I'm mad. I have to smile because that's what I have to do. [That's] the media training."

The Patriots were heavily favored in this game. The Bills were starting their backup quarterback, Thad Lewis, in a venue where the team has never won, against a coach and quarterback -- Bill Belichick and Brady -- who have walked over their division rivals time and time again.

Still, Marrone liked his chances.

"I actually had in mind coming in here and winning the game. I really did. I felt really good about coming in and winning this football game," he said. "I felt that we had good plans. I felt that we had a good formula for what we needed to do to win."

That's not unusual -- find a head coach who enters a game planning to lose it -- but Marrone had a point. The Patriots have looked susceptible all season and Sunday was no different. Consider that C.J. Spiller rushed for more than 100 yards and Lewis completed five passes of 20 yards or more, and the gap between the AFC East's best and worst team doesn't look so wide.

"Do I feel that, you know, we can beat them? Yes, I do," Marrone said. "But today we didn't. And the first time we played them, we didn't."

The teams' first meeting, the season opener, was decided on a Patriots game-winning drive and field goal late in the fourth quarter. Sunday's loss wasn't quite that close, and in both cases, the Bills walked away with a defeat.

To Marrone, nothing else needs to be said.

"You've got to go out there and do it at the end of the day, and we haven't done that," he said. "To say that you are closer or anything like that, until you win, you really don't have a leg to stand on."

Offensive snaps: Graham's time dips

December, 16, 2013
A look at snaps played by Buffalo Bills' skill-position players in Sunday's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, while analyzing how the totals reflect the way players were used (totals provided by the NFL):

QB EJ Manuel -- 76 of 76
WR Robert Woods -- 66 of 76
WR Steve Johnson -- 64 of 76
RB Fred Jackson -- 52 of 76
TE Scott Chandler -- 49 of 76
TE Lee Smith -- 45 of 76
FB Frank Summers -- 29 of 76
WR T.J. Graham -- 24 of 76
RB C.J. Spiller -- 22 of 76
WR Marquise Goodwin -- 15 of 76
FB Evan Rodriguez -- 8 of 76
TE Chris Gragg -- 5 of 76
WR Chris Hogan -- 0 of 76
WR Marcus Easley -- 0 of 76

ANALYSIS: This was a more diverse attack from the Bills. Only Woods and Johnson played more than 70 percent of snaps. ... Spiller played 29 percent of snaps, down from 39 percent a week ago, but his production spiked. He finished with 67 yards on 13 carries. You just don't know what to expect game-to-game, or even play-to-play, with Spiller. ... Graham's playing time dipped to 32 percent, his lowest total since Week 4 against the Ravens (26 percent). Graham hasn't had a catch in the past three games. ... Summers was a healthy scratch last week but came back strong Sunday, playing in 38 percent of snaps and catching the go-ahead touchdown pass.

Offensive snaps: Spiller plays 39 percent

December, 10, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- A look at snaps played by Buffalo Bills' skill-position players in Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while analyzing how the totals reflect the way players were utilized (totals provided by the NFL):

QB EJ Manuel -- 67 of 67
WR Robert Woods -- 66 of 67
WR Steve Johnson -- 59 of 67
WR T.J. Graham -- 46 of 67
TE Scott Chandler -- 38 of 67
RB Fred Jackson -- 37 of 67
WR Marquise Goodwin -- 26 of 67
RB C.J. Spiller -- 26 of 67
TE Lee Smith -- 12 of 67
WR Chris Hogan -- 8 of 67
TE Chris Gragg -- 8 of 67
FB Evan Rodriguez -- 5 of 67
RB Ronnie Wingo -- 4 of 67
WR Marcus Easley -- 0 of 67

ANALYSIS: Spiller played 39 percent of snaps, up from 38 percent last week against Atlanta. However, his production diminished greatly, down from 9.9 yards per carry to 2.0. ... Woods played 99 percent of snaps after being eased back in last week (80 percent). ... Graham has played in about two-thirds of snaps over the past two weeks. He has been targeted a combined five times but does not have a catch ... Rodriguez got a look at fullback in place of Frank Summers, who was inactive for the first time this season. ... Wingo saw four snaps and finished with one catch and one carry. It wouldn't be surprising if the Bills tried to work him more into the final three games, for evaluation purposes.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 14

December, 9, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 27-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Bills must take hard look at Spiller: Here we are again. For the fourth time this season, running back C.J. Spiller averaged 2 yards or fewer per carry. Since the Bills did not list Spiller on the injury report last week, it's hard to blame injury for his performance, unless Spiller comes out this week and says he wasn't fully healthy entering the game. Of Spiller's 11 carries Sunday, seven gained 2 yards or fewer, a disturbing trend that puts the Bills at a crossroads with their former first-round pick. Spiller is signed through the 2015 season, but it's going to be hard for the offense to move forward unless Spiller can become a more consistent runner. We saw his explosive potential again Sunday, when he had an 83-yard catch-and-run touchdown called back by a penalty. However, the Bills must ponder whether those plays are worth the harm his running style causes the offense on an all-too-regular basis.

[+] EnlargeStevie Johnson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Bills have a decision to make in the offseason regarding the future of receiver Stevie Johnson.
Ditto for Johnson: The Bills will need to decide this offseason on wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who is due a $1.75 million roster bonus for 2014. Johnson is the Bills' leading receiver, but that's not saying much within one of the NFL's worst passing offenses. Johnson has been hurt by three factors: (1) inconsistent quarterback play from EJ Manuel, (2) a bevy of injuries that have caused him to miss two games this season and limited him in others and (3) critical mistakes, including a lost fumble near the end of the Bills' loss in Toronto and a pass off his hands that was intercepted by the Buccaneers on Sunday. The Bills must consider, then, whether their quarterback will be better, whether Johnson can stay healthy next season and whether Johnson can limit his costly errors. If not, they might move on with their second-round pick this past April, Robert Woods, as their top receiver.

Hedging Manuel in 2014: The one player who we know will still be with the Bills next season is Manuel. They won't move on from their first-round pick anytime soon. There have been times this season when he has looked promising, particularly three weeks ago against the Jets. Yet that's not enough. The Bills must hedge their bets and contemplate adding insurance for Manuel next season. Whether that comes through drafting another quarterback or signing a veteran backup is a topic for later, but if Manuel is having the same problems at this time next season that we're seeing now, and the Bills haven't improved their depth at quarterback, it will be a tough spot for the franchise. While Manuel has plenty of time to turn things around, there needs to be a backup plan in place going forward.

What about Graham? Like Johnson, the play of T.J. Graham has to be taken with a grain of salt, given the Bills' situation at quarterback. However, for Buffalo's third-round pick last season, Graham seems to be heading nowhere fast. He's a speed threat, no doubt, but the Bills have seen that come to fruition far too few times this season. More specifically, it's easy to get excited about his 40-yard touchdown catch against the Jets or his 47-yard grab against the Bengals, but Graham has exceeded two catches in only one game this season but has gone without a catch in three others, including the past two. You can point to either Graham or Manuel (or both) for such a lack of results, but either way, it's not a good sign for the Bills.