Captain Checkdown has sidekick in Spiller

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Trent Edwards threw only two passes that traveled more than 40 yards in the air last season. Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Last year, frustrated Buffalo Bills fans bestowed upon quarterback Trent Edwards an unflattering nickname.

He became known as Captain Checkdown for his reluctance to throw downfield despite having Lee Evans and Terrell Owens at his disposal. Edwards looked skittish, would hold onto the ball too long and -- if he didn't get sacked -- instinctively dump off to a tight end or running back.

Here's a statistical example: When the Bills faced third down and 6 yards or longer last season, Edwards completed a robust 71.1 percent of his passes -- for an average of 6.08 yards. He was sacked seven times.

Despite eventually losing his job to Ryan Fitzpatrick, Edwards has a healthy chance to win Buffalo's open competition this summer and be named opening-day starter for a third straight season.

That will elicit quite a few groans in Western New York, but Edwards legitimately could look like a different quarterback this time. Regardless of whether new head coach and playcaller Chan Gailey will ask Edwards to stretch the field, they'll have a weapon to make short tosses look glittery.

When the Bills drafted Clemson running back C.J. Spiller ninth overall, they found a sizzling sidekick for Captain Checkdown.

Spiller has been likened to Reggie Bush. Bills general manager Buddy Nix also compared him to Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin. Leon Washington, the slithery former New York Jets back, also comes to mind.

Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson isn't a fan of the Spiller pick, calling him a "luxury accessory" because the Bills had so many other needs heading into the draft. Williamson is not great fan of Edwards either.

But Williamson can envision ways for Spiller to help Edwards immensely.

"I have been very critical of the Spiller pick, but that is certainly something he can provide," Williamson said. "Checkdowns become much more dangerous in his hands. He is extremely dangerous.

"With the protection problems that are sure to continue in Buffalo, having someone who is feared on screens and draws can be a great weapon to help slow down the rush and make a defense pay when they do bring pressure or lose discipline upfield."

Spiller certainly could get a lot of touches that way.

The Elias Sports Bureau tracks every play, and it credited Edwards with only two pass attempts that traveled more than 40 yards in the air and 21 that traveled farther than 20 yards.

But 140 of his 183 attempts were 10 yards or shorter, with 47 of them thrown behind the line of scrimmage.

"I'm not excusing Edwards in any way, nor am I in his corner," Williamson said, "but it is awfully tough to go deep downfield when the protection is so poor."

Bills running back Fred Jackson finished second to Owens in receptions and ahead of Evans with 46 catches for 371 yards and two touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch was fourth with 28 catches for 179 yards and no touchdowns.

With an offensive line still in tatters, Spiller still might be able to jitter his way to extra yardage on passes out of the backfield.