Is he the ultimate utility player or an every-down running back in the NFL?
Clemson running back C.J. Spiller believes he is the latter and is out to disprove those who doubt his ability to carry the load at the next level. Spiller, who graduated with a degree in sociology in 31/2 years, said along with getting his degree, another reason he returned for his senior season was to show that he can be the lead back for a team.
Spiller shared carries for three seasons at Clemson with James Davis, now with the Cleveland Browns, before breaking out his senior year.
Spiller totaled 1,212 rushing yards, 503 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns, becoming the first player in Atlantic Coast Conference history with at least 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.
“I went back, and I proved that I can carry the ball 20 to 22 times a game and still last,” said Spiller, who could be a consideration for the Seattle Seahawks during Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft. “I think I get stronger as the game goes on and get a better feel. But that’s not my decision to make. That’s going to be up to the coaches, what they think and how they use me.”
Spiller’s credentials are impressive. An all-purpose performer who also returned kicks and punts for Clemson, his average of 191.4 all-purpose yards per game broke a 41-year-old NCAA record.
Spiller became the first player in college football history to total 3,000 yards rushing, 2,000 yards in kickoff returns, 1,000 yards receiving and 500 yards in punt returns. He finished with eight kick returns for touchdowns in his career, tying an NCAA record. And he totaled an astounding 21 career touchdowns of 50 yards or more.
NFL scouts like Spiller’s speed, evidenced by his 40-yard dash time of 4.37 seconds, the third-fastest time at the scouting combine in February. Despite being just 5-foot-11 and 196 pounds, Spiller thinks he is powerful enough to run between the tackles. He benched-pressed 225 pounds 18 times for scouts.
Spiller also played in a zone blocking scheme at Clemson, an important note as the Seahawks continue to implement a zone blocking scheme this season.
“He has to get touches in a number of ways,” said Bucky Brooks, a former scout with Seattle who now works as an analyst for the league’s website. “He may not have the size and physicality to pound it up inside, so you’ve got to make sure you get him in space and let him do his thing in the open field.
“That is what he is. If you think this is a guy that is going to carry it 25 to 30 times like in the old days, you’ll be sadly disappointed. But he’s an impact player and a guy who can make big plays. You’ve just got to figure out how you want to work him in the offense.”
The question for Seattle is this: Is drafting Spiller too much of a luxury in the first round of this year’s draft, particularly with the team having needs at so many other positions?
New head coach Pete Carroll has said that’s he’s OK with the running back tandem of Julius Jones and Justin Forsett but would like to add a third guy to the mix.
Spiller would give Seattle the home-run potential that Carroll had in college with players such as Reggie Bush. However, veteran offensive line coach Alex Gibbs has proved that he can create an effective running game without a first round selection at running back.
When Gibbs coached the offensive line in Denver, Terrell Davis (sixth round), Olandis Gary (fourth), Mike Anderson (sixth) and Clinton Portis (second) all ran for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
“There really are guys throughout the draft, through every round, that have those … abilities,” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said. “So it gives you more flexibility.
“The running back thing is really somebody who can stick your foot in the ground and has good vision and can get up the field and has a real nice feel for flow. There are some very talented backs in the league that don’t necessarily fit that. What those guys did (in Denver) is they did a nice job of identifying guys that were strong – you heard the one-cut term – strong, one-cut runners.”
Spiller would provide a much-needed, big-play threat for a Seattle offense that struggled to score points last season.
The Seahawks finished tied for 15th overall in runs of 20 yards or more with 11. The Tennessee Titans led the league with 28 such runs. The Titans have running back Chris Johnson, the NFL player to whom Spiller is compared the most.
Some scouts also liken Spiller to Bush, who played for Carroll at Southern California and now is a multi-purpose player for the New Orleans Saints. Some scouts think Carroll could be looking to get someone in Seattle with similar skills, and several mock drafts have Seattle selecting Spiller on Thursday.
Spiller said he doesn’t mind the comparisons to Bush.
“I can’t go to an organization and try to be Reggie Bush,” Spiller said. “It’s just not going to happen. The only thing I can do is just try to go be C.J. Spiller.
“It’s great to be in that company. Reggie Bush has done a phenomenal job while he’s been in the NFL. Even to be mentioned in that company is a humbling experience for me.”
Spiller would be the most explosive player Seattle drafted since selecting Joey Galloway eighth overall in 1995.
The Seahawks might be due to select a runner early. It’s been 10 years since they drafted a tailback in the first round. Back then, they got it right, taking Shaun Alexander 19th overall. Alexander went on to win league MVP honors in the team’s Super Bowl season (2005) and finished his career as the franchise rushing leader.
The only other tailback Seattle has selected in the first round was Curt Warner, the No. 3 overall pick in the 1983 draft and a member of the team’s Ring of Honor after an impressive eight-year career.
So, will Carroll take a chance on Spiller being Seattle’s next special back?
The jury’s still out.
“I’ve had enough experience with our running backs over the years that I know they come in different shapes and sizes,” Carroll said. “And it’s what they bring that is unique, and that makes them special. And we’ll fit it together when we see what we come up with.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437