Spiller pick risky, but could pay off for Bills

The Buffalo Bills hope Clemson running back C.J. Spiller can invigorate an anemic offense. Howard Smith/US Presswire

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Three years ago, the Miami Dolphins drafted Ted Ginn ninth overall.

Skeptics viewed Ginn as a luxury, while the Dolphins had visions of unleashing the speedster as a versatile threat in the passing game and special teams.

Last week, the Dolphins dumped Ginn for a fifth-round draft choice.

The Buffalo Bills made an unexpected decision Thursday night reminiscent of the Ginn pick, eschewing significant needs and taking Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall.

The Bills don't view Spiller as a Ginn-style specialty player. They imagine him as a multifaceted weapon along the lines of Reggie Bush or Percy Harvin, the type of player who can invigorate an offense that has ranked 30th, 25th, 30th, 30th, 28th, 25th and 30th the past seven seasons.

"He's a playmaker, a guy that creates field position and scores points, and he's exciting," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said. "We need some excitement, somebody that can make a big play and create some things on their own."

The immediate question, though, is whether the Bills can maximize Spiller's talents. As the Dolphins learned with Ginn, a highly skilled player -- no matter how electrifying -- needs a supporting cast to get him the ball and give him some room to operate.

Spiller has star power, but will he have a legitimate chance to shine?

The Bills went into the draft needing a quarterback, a left tackle and a nose tackle for the conversion to a 3-4 defense. When they went on the clock, still available were Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga, Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis and Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams.

Most analysts projected Bulaga to be off the board by the time Buffalo picked. Williams was assessed as the best nose tackle prospect in this year's class.

The Bills' front office jolted the prognosticators by taking Spiller. He's the best running back in the draft, but the Bills already had two 1,000-yard backs on their roster. In fact, they have two more 1,000-yard running backs than they have clear-cut starting quarterbacks, left tackles or nose tackles.

"Need is important," Nix said, "but it had to be a guy that we thought was the player that can come in here and start immediately.

"Not to say that some of those guys couldn't. Maybe they could, but we also think we got a chance to get that position filled later on in the draft, and to be honest with you, there was only one Spiller."

Skill-position players were at a premium this year. Spiller was one of only three taken in the first 20 picks, the fewest since the NFL and AFL merged their drafts. The only other time that happened was 1977.

Nix was asked whether Spiller's 5-foot-11, 196-pound frame is conducive for running between the tackles. Nix compared him to quicksilver Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.

"He's the same size as Chris Johnson, and he's just a fuzz faster as far as the recorded time we had," said Nix, who added the Bills clocked Spiller at 4.32 in the 40-yard dash. "Chris Johnson gained 2,000 yards. He had to get some of them inside."

Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson noted the problem with drafting Spiller is that he's most dangerous on the outside, and the Bills' tackles were miserable last year. Left tackle Demetrius Bell was in over his head and is coming off a knee injury. Opening-night right tackle Brad Butler retired.

Perhaps everybody should be picturing Spiller's impact not for 2010 but two or three seasons from now. Realistically, the Bills are going to struggle to compete in the AFC East this year. But as the Bills continue to assemble their roster and identify pieces for their offense, Spiller should look increasingly more like a difference-maker in the win-loss column.

In 14 games for Clemson last year, Spiller rushed for 1,212 yards and 12 touchdowns, caught 36 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns, averaged 32.8 yards per kick return (with four touchdowns) and 26.3 yards on punt returns (with one touchdown).

That's a career for a lot of college players.

The Bills' backfield looks loaded. Fred Jackson started just 11 games and rushed for 1,062 yards last year. Third-year back Marshawn Lynch rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and went to a Pro Bowl.

Spiller will have to compete for touches.

"But those touches can be big touches," Bills vice president of college scouting Tom Modrak said. "Big touches.

"He's got a lot of ways to get you."

Spiller wasn't concerned with the depth chart. He declared he will play any role head coach Chan Gailey has in mind.

"Whatever my role is," Spiller said, "my main focus is just winning the Super Bowl, getting to the Super Bowl, bringing back the glory days that used to be up in Buffalo. I'm not worried about how I'll be used in the offense or how many touches I'll have. My main focus is 'What can I do to help this team reach the Super Bowl?'

"I'm very excited that they made the decision. It's one they're never going to regret."