We recently chatted with ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson, a former scout for the Cleveland Browns, about a variety of Bills topics.
First, let's dissect C.J. Spiller's season and his role within Buffalo's offense:
Overall view: "I think he's capable of being one of the best multi-purpose weapons in the league. But I think he's closer to Percy Harvin than he is to Adrian Peterson. Just because he has 'RB' next to his name, I think that can misconstrue what he really is. Frankly, I think he's been really, really effective up until this past season and I don't think he was ever healthy this past season. He rarely looked like himself, and I don't think he's all of the sudden forgotten how to be fast, explosive, and I think he's entering the prime of his career and just never looked super healthy to me. In spurts he did, but [not] for a couple of games in a row."
Role within offense: "I think that he needs to be used right. By that I mean, he can't be a workhorse back, because he's so reliant on speed and explosiveness and he's not that big, obviously, that if he is going to get hammered play after play and run up the gut 15 times a game, you're going to use him up too fast. I think he needs to be closer to a [Darren] Sproles type, where you split him out wide and run wide receiver routes with him, get him in space, run more draws. I think it'll eventually go that way. They have a lot of young receivers now. Put [EJ] Manuel in the shotgun, detach Spiller, move him all over the place. I don't think you're going to see them lining up in the 'I' [formation] and running basic plays over and over and over. I expect them to be a pretty creative offense, as Manuel learns. [But] he's not ready for that now. He can't be Drew Brees. [Chan Gailey] probably had a better feel for how to use Spiller. But I think this new staff has some creative feel to them. They're drafting receivers. I think they want to spread the field. I just don't think the quarterback is ready yet. And I don't know if he ever will be, to be honest."
Manuel's effect on Spiller: "I think they can kind of go hand-in-hand. I mean, Brady had [Danny] Woodhead, Brees has Sproles, but it's real easy to say, 'We want this dynamic, do-it-all back who can be a mis-match in the passing game.' Your quarterback needs to know how to get him there. He has to do all the pre-snap stuff to put him in motion against a linebacker and be able to recognize those different mismatches, especially in the passing game. Or, 'Hey, how are they going to count this guy?' If he's in the game, are they counting him as a receiver? Are they going to go to nickel? 'Well then, let's bring their tight ends in and run it with them against this smaller front.' Or vice versa. And 'OK, what kind of coverages have they been playing against Spiller as a detached player?' 'Wow, we can't exploit that if we put him in motion and call 'X' play.' But [Manuel] is nowhere close to being able to do that. I mean, Brees, Manning, and Brady and those guys can use that type of weapon a lot better than Manuel can or maybe ever will."
Spiller's negative plays: "I don't think he moved like we're used to him moving. Because of the nature of the back he is, he's going to have more negative runs than [Fred] Jackson. If there's little blocked for him, Jackson is probably the better player, just because he'll put his head down and get two [yards] when they block for one [yard]. Spiller will get zero or one [yard] when they block for one. When they block for four, Spiller might get 70. I don't think he's Chris Johnson, I think he's better than that, but he certainly has a real hit-or-miss style to him and he's not going to break a ton of tackles behind the line of scrimmage."