When the idea was first suggested that the Jets try to sign C.J. Spiller, I was lukewarm. The idea has really been growing on me, though. Spiller just finished his fifth season in Buffalo and is heading for free agency. He spent the first three years of his career under current Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey when Gailey was the head coach in Buffalo. In Gailey's final season, Spiller was in beast mode. He ran for 1,244 yards on an absurd 6.0 average. He also added 43 catches for 459 yards.
Spiller is a homerun hitter. He has great speed and suddenness, changing directions while staying at top speed. He lost a lot of his 2014 to a broken collarbone, but in 2012 and 2013 there were not many backs who offered more big plays. In 2012 he rushed for 495 yards on plays netting 15 yards or more. That was fifth most in the league. In 2013 he was sixth with 405. There were lots of big plays.
Although he was still productive in 2013, I think Gailey's offense in 2012 was the perfect blend of player and system. Gailey liked to spread defenses out, which took linebackers and defensive linemen out of the box. That created more daylight between the tackles, and Spiller goes a long way when he sees daylight.
Here are six man boxes he saw on two of his longest runs of the year.
Even though people think of him as a finesse guy because of his speed, he ran for over 7 yards per carry between the tackles that season.
Spiller also adds value in the passing game, which would be a nice compliment to Chris Ivory, who adds little.
There is one rather big red flag. Spiller is a really bad pass protector. Over the past three seasons, he has allowed pressure on over 17% of his pass blocking snaps. That's really bad. Almost one out of every five times he has pass blocked, the play has been impacted.
This is a problem and not an insignificant one for two reasons. First, Chris Ivory is also a bottom tier pass blocker. Second, pass blocking from backs might be important for the Jets. Odds are the quarterback will either be Geno Smith or a rookie. In either case, that quarterback is probably not going to be able to decipher defensive fronts well. That means they won't know to change protections to account for potential free runners. That will leave blitzers to the backs, potentially creating open season for defensive coordinators to blitz.
Despite this danger, I think the Jets should have interest in Spiller. I think he can add a lot of juice to this offense. The market for running backs is depressed this day. Spiller fits the mold of the free agent I like, the talented player whose value might be lower than it should be due to a subpar contract year. If the Jets could get him for something in the range of Chris Johnson's $4 million annual value (or lower), I think they should.
This looks like a very deep Draft crop at running back. If the Jets kept Chris Ivory and replaced Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell with Spiller and a talented rookie, the backfield could go from just ok to a real area of strength.