Should CJ Spiller Be the First Overall Draft Pick?
August 18, 2013 | Justin Bonnema
No, CJ Spiller shouldn’t be the first overall pick. That honor belongs to Adrian Peterson, and Adrian Peterson alone.
I know what you’re thinking. You probably hate-clicked the headline, and now that your assumption of it being a mere hyperbolic ploy to stroke my groundless opinion seems to be correct, you’re ready to hate-click the exit button.
Or maybe you’re generally curious to see if I’m actually able to talk you out of drafting AD first overall.
Either way, allow me to at least humor the both of us.
I think it’s best that we start by clearing up a misconception regarding the first overall pick. We all agree that it should be a running back. If you don’t agree then you have a little more research to do. But what some don’t understand is that the first pick is the most logical one; not necessarily the one who is going to score the most points over the course of a season.
Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Thankfully we have history (and spreadsheets) to shed a little light on the matter.
In the chart below you’ll see 13 years of first overall draft picks. In the second column is the player drafted first as per ADP data from My Fantasy League. In the third column is where they finished in the standings by total points as per the data collected by Fantasy Playmakers. The fourth column is where they finished among running backs. The final column is the leader in points of the year in question, for perspective purposes.
*missed significant time because of injury
First thing of note is that the first overall draft pick was, is and always should be a running back. That’s the only given.
Second, in the leader column you can see the clear shift in power as of 2007, when quarterbacks became the dominant point scorers. Before that, the top-five were mostly made up of running backs. There’s a myriad of reasons for this shift. Not only have the rules changed to favor offenses, league-wide strategies also changed to favor RBBC (running back bastard committee), which was followed by more spread formations. Not to mention the fact that the last decade has treated us to what may be the greatest era of quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. But I’m no historian, so I’ll leave that for others to debate.
Third, and most important, only twice in the last 13 years has the first overall selection finished as the highest scoring player. It only makes sense that those two players were the man largely responsible for The Greatest Show on Turf, and LT’s 2006—the greatest fantasy season in fake football history.
In other words, it’s highly unlikely that Adrian Peterson is going to finish as the highest scoring player, or even the highest scoring running back for that matter (see column four). In fact, history all but guarantees it.
So why draft him first overall? That’s where we get to include logic in our stats. We know that we should draft a running back, regardless. We also know that winning in fantasy football is about consistency. Consistent players yield consistent points. Sure, it’s nice to have explosive weeks but if those weeks are followed by duds, what good does it do you?
The table above is a measure of consistency. The average rank of the past 13 first-round selections by points scored is 13.2, which means you’re getting a scorer that’s going to finish at least in the top 15. That’s important. If you were to eliminate the two seasons in which there was significant time loss by injury, that number climbs to nine. Ipso facto, you’re nearly guaranteed a top-10 player in total points scored.
Furthermore, as far as running backs are concerned, history tells us that the first RB drafted finished, on average, in the top five (again, see column four). That’s value, my friends. Value that can’t be ignored.
Peterson has finished as a top-five running back four times in the last six years. The next closest is Arian Foster, with three. If not for his injury in 2011, it’s likely Peterson would have five top-five finishes in the last six years. You can’t get any better than that. He’s the model of consistency. And his superhuman recovery from an ACL tear only cements his status as the game’s best.
Logic is simply defined as “interrelation or sequence of facts or events when seen as inevitable or predictable”. Until he gives us a reason to pick someone else above him (like he did last year) we have no logical reason pass on AD.
Now that I’ve completely abandoned the premise of our point, let’s get back to CJ Spiller and how he should be the first second overall selection.
Why CJ Spiller Should Be the Second Overall Pick
The recent trend has seen Doug Martin go immediately after Peterson. It comes as no surprise as his impressive rookie season landed him the third spot among running backs for points scored with 1,454 rushing yards, 472 receiving, and 12 total touchdowns. He’s fast, elusive and enjoys an offense that renders no competition for carries. He’s a solid first-round pick, regardless of format.
But what about our man Clifford Jr.?
He finished the season as the seventh highest scorer with 1,244 yards rushing, 459 receiving, and eight total touchdowns. All on 250 touches, 118 fewer than that of Martin.
Just off of those stats alone we have a hypothetical that states Spiller, if used the way Doug Marrone claims he’ll be used, will finish ahead of Martin in the standings come December.
Not convinced? Let’s get into some advanced stats provided by Pro Football Focus.
It’s worth noting that Spiller was rated as the second best running back, falling just short of Adrian Peterson. Martin was rated as the eighth best. But how a back “technically” performs is of little use when building fake rosters. We want tangible evidence that justifies one player over the other.
Martin was second in yards after contact with 1,005 and forced 53 missed tackles. Spiller was sixth with 742 and also claimed 53 missed tackles. Martin was targeted 62 times as a receiver, catching 49 of them (79%). Spiller was targeted 55 times, catching 43 of them (78.2%).
On the surface, these players—their stats at least—are very similar. The biggest difference being total yardage and opportunity.
Here’s the key stat that separates the two. Martin played on 78.1% of the Buccaneers offensive snaps while Spiller played only 56% of Bills snaps. If we were to assume, and it’s safe to do so, that Spiller’s snaps see a significant increase, based on the numbers from last year, he will outperform Martin without question.
For instance, Spiller was second to Peterson in yards after contact per attempt with 3.6 (AD registered a 3.9). Let’s play the extrapolation game and give Spiller the same amount of rushing attempts as Martin. In vacuum, Spiller would have 1,145 yards after contact, trailing, once again, only Peterson.
Same goes for yards per carry, which I put little stock in. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say we extrapolate the fact that Spiller had six yards per carry and give him the same opportunity that Martin had.
Martin carried the ball 112 more times than Spiller. Take Spiller’s average and multiply it by 112 and you have 672, or a total of 1,916 for the 2012 season. Furthermore, as long as we’re stretching our statistical potential, if we were to compare Adrian Peterson’s workload to Spiller’s and apply the same math, it calculates to Spiller rushing for 2,090 yards, just seven shy of Peterson. And keep in mind that Peterson only dreams of being the receiving threat that Spiller is.
And to tap back into some of the consistency discussion from earlier, it’s worth noting that 33.5% of Martin’s yearend point total came in Weeks 8 and 9. I’m not saying he’s boom or bust, but if you were to subtract that from his average the numbers might tell a different story (he would still be a top-12 running back as Scott Watson points out in his RB consistency rankings).
Of course, it stands to reason that with increased workload comes a decrease in production. Meaning it’s not likely for Spiller to average six yards per carry. But you can make that same argument for any player, including Peterson who also managed six yards per carry even with his workload. It’s very unlikely he repeats his 2012 performance.
The Complicated Conclusion
That’s a lot of numbers. Let’s reduce this down to the simplest terms possible. Spiller has the potential, if used correctly, to outperform both Martin and Peterson. He’s only 26 years old and his workload is insignificant with a total of 388 carries in his career.
For perspective, Peterson had 348 carries just last season and Martin had 319.
What’s funny about these three players, the top three in my rankings for what it’s worth, is they all play on suspect offenses. They all have quarterbacks that are either one year removed from backup roles or have never even taken a snap as a professional in a regular season game. So there’s really no argument that exists, in terms of offensive production, to take one above the other.
You remember that Marrone character I mentioned earlier? He first served as Sean Payton’s offensive coordinator back in 2006. His first term saw then rookie Reggie Bush catch 88 passes for 742 yards. I’m of the opinion that Spiller is a better back than Bush.
And the beauty of it is, he’s falling to the middle of the first round. Those of us caught in the middle of the heat would prefer he stay there. But those of us with an early draft pick might want to reconsider our reach.
CJ Spiller is the next CJ2K.
How do you like that for hyperbole?