Face the Facts: Fred Jackson Is Better Than C.J. Spiller

The former first-round pick in Spiller just can't keep up with the former indoor football star Jackson, both on the field and in fantasy football.

C.J. Spiller is a former first-round pick from Clemson, and was seen as one of the most dynamic players entering the NFL in his draft class. His timed speed was ridiculous, and his college production was just as strong. That's why he went in the top 10 of the draft, and was seen as a game-changer for the Buffalo offense.

Fred Jackson wasn't drafted to an NFL team out of Coe College in 2003. In fact, a quick search doesn't even reveal a pro day or combine workout to determine his 40-yard dash speed or other metrics. His professional football debut came with the Sioux City Bandits of the then "United Indoor Football" league, followed by a stop in Rhein, Germany with NFL Europe.

Yet the duo wound up in the same place, battling for the top spot on the depth chart with the Bills in 2014. So which running back is the better player?

Production Matters

It's easy to objectively say that C.J. Spiller is a better athlete than Fred Jackson, as the younger, faster, more explosive back clearly would win a 40-yard dash or a cone or shuttle drill. But when that athleticism is translated onto the field, it doesn't automatically result in production.

So far this season, here are the Net Expected Points (NEP) figures for both Jackson and Spiller.

NameRushing NEPNEP per RushSuccess RateReception NEP
Fred Jackson-1.28-0.0341.86%15.35
C.J. Spiller-10.20-0.1729.51%5.92

The differences with each metric speak for themselves; Jackson is more productive and efficient than Spiller as a runner and a receiver. Success Rate measures how often a player's carries are deemed a positive NEP play for the offense, meaning that Jackson can add "more consistent" to the running list of advantages he has over Spiller this season.

Jackson's numbers are far from spectacular so far this season, as his Rushing NEP ranks 32nd out of 61 backs with 20 or more carries. His Reception NEP does rank fairly high, as he's fourth among that same group of backs in production as a receiver.

It should come as no surprise that Jackson is around league average as a runner. The Bills don't have a spectacular offense, and he's not a terrific athlete. What should come as a surprise is just how bad Spiller has been. Out of those same 61 backs with 20 or more attempts, Spiller ranks 57th in Rushing NEP, and 56th in Success Rate.

This disparity in production and efficiency is beginning to play out in the opportunities these players are given, which will have fantasy football implications as the season moves forward.

Golden Opportunities

Many numberFire writers were high on Fred Jackson coming into the season, as he has performed well in our metrics over the past few seasons, and he sees most of the fantasy-friendly touches in the Buffalo offense.

This season, that fantasy advantage for Jackson remains in tact, making him the Buffalo back to own by a wide margin.

NameTouchesRed Zone TouchesYards per Touch
Fred Jackson69136.23
C.J. Spiller7454.32

As you can see in the chart above, the Bills are continuing to realize that Jackson isn't just a better receiving and goal-line back, but just that he's simply a better back, full stop. He's seeing just as many touches as Spiller, while still getting more looks in the red zone. And he's producing nearly two full yards per touch more than the former first-rounder.

The same situation unfolded last season, as Jackson's touches were on par with Spiller's, and he was more productive with those touches. Yet Jackson's fantasy value was much lower than Spiller's heading into the season, and after five weeks, that's already proving to be a huge mistake.

So will that continue? According to our data, it will. Our data can be used to find historical statistical comparisons for current players, and the top matches for Jackson in 2014 are 2000 Tiki Barber, 2004 and 2006 Brian Westbrook, and 2013 Gio Bernard and Joique Bell. Barber and Westbrook topped 1,500 yards from scrimmage during their respective seasons that compare to Jackson's, while Bernard and Bell finished with 1,200 scrimmage yards in complementary roles on their offenses.

Jackson is on pace to reach 1,500 scrimmage yards, and has been a productive fantasy option without finding the end zone more than once. Considering that he's scored 34 touchdowns over his previous seven seasons in the NFL, it's safe to assume that a handful of scores will be in the Buffalo back's future.

So whether you're considering the Bills' running back situation from a real or fantasy football perspective, it's pretty easy to see that Jackson is the better player. Which would have received a nice, healthy laugh from any NFL talent evaluators back in 2006, when Spiller was a star freshman at Clemson and Jackson was toiling away in NFL Europe.