10 New Orleans Saints who must make an impact in 2015: No. 2, C.J. Spiller


Arguably the single most shocking moment of recent New Orleans Saints team memory was the trade of Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks. Now we aren’t going to sit here and pretend that Jimmy Graham was a perfect player or that he had the kind of impact in 2014 that he had in the past. However, one of the things that Graham did constantly bring to table was his ability to function as a mismatch for the team. As brilliant as Drew Brees and Sean Payton have been in the execution department, it is sometimes forgotten how truly great Payton is at using various weapons to attack opponents schematically.

One of the key pieces to any Payton offense is a playmaker; a player whose singular gifts are so great that if given the opportunity they are able to change the landscape of a game within a single play. The first was Reggie Bush (at least in New Orleans), a player whose physical gifts are as spectacular as we have ever seen. Even though Bush never truly lived up to his potential he was still an incredibly effective chess piece for the Saints offense. If you for even one second doubt the effect Reggie Bush had on defensive coordinators the night before game day…just go watch his game against AZ in the playoffs. Nuff Said.

After Reggie the Saints added Darren Sproles who served the role of ‘chess piece’ that could dictate coverage and match ups which opened the offense to other players. Once Sproles left the offense became incredibly Graham centric. While Jimmy remains a spectacular candidate his lack of versatility made it so that his own numbers were good, but he didn’t have the same schematic versatility of his predecessors.

That brings us to the second player on this list, and in my own humble opinion, the greatest weapon that Sean Payton has ever gotten to play with.

Number 2: Running Back C.J. Spiller.

The simplest way I can put this is to say the only possible way C.J. Spiller doesn’t break the league this year is if he gets hurt. Whether you are looking at fantasy leagues, or the real stuff, the idea of Spiller finally being put in a wide open offense that will be built around getting him the ball in ways that best compliment his skills is awe inspiring. Spiller has always been one of the most talented backs in the league, but a combination of injuries and what I like to call the ‘Bills effect’ have prevented him from becoming a consistent game breaker.

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Spiller only had one season where he was both healthy AND being used properly, and that was in 2012. In that season Spiller accumulated over 1700 yards while also averaging 5 (YES FIVE!!!) yards per carry. That was for a team with no QB (Saints have Drew), no receivers (Saints have Brandin Cooks), and while sharing the load with another great back in Fred Jackson.

Now to be fair it’s not like he isn’t going to be sharing carries with Mark Ingram, in fact expect Mark to be the one carrying the heavier load, but also expect Spiller to be the one who gets more touches. What makes Spiller so devastating is that he really has the complete toolbox. Spiller has 4.3 type speed, excellent elusiveness, great balance and ‘cut back’ ability, all while maintaining enough size and power to be able to run up the gut as well.  Frankly there is simply nothing Spiller can’t do as a back as he even has very good hands and YAC ability.

The ONLY reason the Saints were able to steal Spiller for a bargain deal is because he was underutilized in Buffalo. His one truly great season he had a higher usage rate than any of his others and was also healthy for the year.  That is really the biggest question with C.J, whether or not he can maintain his health for the whole year. Make no mistake if he is healthy Sean and Drew are going to absolutely obliterate defenses with him.

That’s a good thing too because they are going to need him to do just that. The loss of Graham is something they can make up from a pure numbers standpoint, what they can’t so easily replace is his presence. Jimmy may have had some limitations, but he is so tremendously talented that he demands that teams play him in certain ways or he will burn them. that kind of attention naturally allows other players to step up and make plays because the opponent is frankly unconcerned about them (meet Josh Hill). The ability to dictate coverage is one of the most valuable commodities that exist in the NFL and Graham is one of the few players who is generally able to do just that.

If Spiller is unable to step up and fill that void (better yet exceed it) it is going to mean major trouble for the Saints. Frankly I don’t see any way this team is going to be able to make any kind of run into the playoffs unless Spiller is able to stay on the field and have the kind of impact that his talent dictates.

Remember those 1700 yards? Well it is ENTIRELY possible for him to exceed that mark this season. Through the combination of playing some very bad defenses and the schematic brilliance of Sean Payton I expect Spiller to have defensive coordinators calling in sick and looking for alternate forms of employment by mid season. Is that a lot to expect from a player who has had questionable health throughout his years? Absolutely. Spiller is FAR from a sure thing, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if he isn’t able to have the kind of impact we expect from him that the Saints are simply not going to be contenders for a title this year.

However, if he is able to live up to expectations and deliver upon his incredible gifts, I could see pigs in the sky again folks. A little early for such talk? Yup. But that’s kind of the fun of this early in the year…we get to have hope.

That may be the single biggest thing Spiller’s signing brings back to the Saints offense. He brings a sense of hope. As fans we have gotten kind of used to having a player in the backfield who is used in a myriad of ways in order to confuse, annoy, and destroy opposing defenses.  Spiller fills that role in every way, and in all honesty does so to a degree that we have yet to see. It’s like seeing Sproles abilities in Pierre’s body.

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  • The one thing that made Sproles vulnerable was that if the opponent did manage to get their hands on him he was pretty much done. Spiller is not only shifty enough to legitimately juke people, but is also of sufficient size that he will be able to break tackles as well. Last year I missed having that true homerun threat in the offense and I can’t wait to see what this guy can do.

    What may be more important is that opponents are also aware of his abilities and WILL be gameplanning for him in advance. Simply by suiting up Spiller is going to have an impact on the opponents play style and alignments, and that is something that the Saints will be able to take advantage of.  The only player who as of this moment I trust to be able to get himself open and make a play on his own other than Spiller is Brandin Cooks. Adding another player capable of making something out of nothing not only increases the danger presented by our offense, but it also increases the security of it.

    It is much harder for teams to blitz heavily or take gambles when the cost of doing so and not getting there is a potential touchdown from anywhere on the field. It is my opinion that C.J. Spiller will have the single greatest impact on the team’s fortunes by any player not named Drew Brees in 2015. If this list was only ranking who will have the greatest impact he would be number one by a mile. Spiller is number 2 because he must have a major impact for the team to contend, but if he is merely what he was in 2013 it won’t be a devastating blow to the team in the least.

    Merely having the ability to make an explosive play on a semi-regular basis is enough to warrant attention. For that alone Spiller is worth every penny he is paid. Keep your eyes on him Saints fans, and remember that Spiller and the guy who is at number one together have the potential to make this the greatest Saints offense of all time. (The word potential is very key here…that’s a very high bar) That isn’t a predication by any means, but it’s more of a statement I am making in order to properly frame just how gifted Spiller is. For most of the other players on this list the question is about how much of their potential they are able to live up to, but in Spillers case I’m not actually sure anyone has a real idea of just how gifted he truly is. He has either been dinged up, or used in a manner that is so counter intuitive that I have to wonder if his coaches were trying to intentionally reduce his effectiveness.

    The combination of a frightening talent such as him, an offensive genius like Coach Payton, and a quarterback in Drew Brees will make it nearly impossible for teams to stack the box against him. Add to that the improvements made to the Saints offensive line over the offseason and what could be a very young and hungry receiving corp, and you have a recipe for a personal renaissance for him. Mark my words: the ONLY thing that can hold him back this year is an injury. Pray that he remains in good health because C.J. Spiller is a one man Meteor that is coming to make opposing defense extinct.

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