What Does the Addition of C.J. Spiller Mean for the New Orleans Saints' Offense?
The New Orleans Saints are having a fire sale.
Jimmy Graham and a fourth-round pick were traded to Seattle for Max Unger and a first-rounder. Kenny Stills, the most-efficient per-target receiver in the league during the past two seasons, is off to Miami in exchange for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick. Ben Grubbs was traded to the Chiefs for a fifth-round pick, and long-time running back Pierre Thomas got released.
But, of course, they're in the buyer market, too, to replace some of those cogs.
They re-signed Mark Ingram, restructured Marques Colston's contract, brought in Brandon Browner, and agreed to terms with former Bills running back C.J. Spiller. Per Adam Schefter, it's a four-year, $18 million deal.
Re-signing Ingram was a good deal for the Saints, but what about Spiller?
Spiller's Advanced Metrics
You won't find too many references to Spiller's yards or touchdowns here because we deal primarily with Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is our signature metric. It quantifies how far above or below a player performs against league average. Think of it this way: a two-yard carry on 3rd-and-1 that nets a first down inside the red zone isn't the same as a two-yard carry on 3-and-20 that leads to a punt. One adds expected points to a team's outcome, and that's what NEP identifies and rewards.
So, how does Spiller fare in his career based on our metrics? Well...great and pretty bad.
This year, Spiller saw just 77 carries. Among the 30 backs who toted the ball between 50 and 100 times, Spiller's Rushing NEP (-15.70) ranked just 27th. His Rushing NEP per carry (-0.20) also ranked 27th. For comparison, Mark Ingram posted a Rushing NEP of 9.88, which ranked 10th in the league among backs with at least 75 carries.
A big knock on Ingram is his receiving ability -- he finished 54th out of 54 in Reception NEP (-2.77) among the backs with between 10 and 30 receptions. Ingram, actually, has never posted a Reception NEP better than 2.73 before. This year, Spiller wasn't significantly better. His Reception NEP of 5.26 ranked just 39th, and his Reception NEP per target (0.24) ranked just 35th.
I know we can't base all of our conclusions on a 77-carry, 19-reception sample size, so we have to look deeper into Spiller's history.
The Spiller of Old
One big knock on Spiller is his shortcomings in the touchdown department. He has just 18 total touchdowns (12 rushing and 6 receiving) in his five-year career. Because NEP isn't a touchdown-or-bust statistic, Spiller gets rewarded for the times he got the Bills into good scoring positions -- even if he wasn't the one who got to punch it in.
Really, though, Spiller's efficiency has plummeted no matter how you look at things. Here are his Rushing NEP per carry numbers compared to Fred Jackson's.
Spiller's Rushing NEP per carry looks like the big-air ramp at the X-Games, am I right?
Just like that joke, Spiller's career has been more miss than hit, as he has had had two impressive seasons and three concerning ones. Here are his metrics and Success Rate (which measures the rate at which a player adds positive gains to his team on his carries). The ranks are among the backs that year who saw at least 70 carries (to meet Spiller's baseline carries of 74 in 2010).
|Year||Rush NEP||Rank||Rush NEP/P||Rank||Success Rate||Rank||Total NEP||Rank|
Looking solely at his Total NEP column (the two on the far right), it's evident that Spiller's overall impact (based on his Rushing NEP and Reception NEP) has actually been negative in three of his five years in the league. His Rushing NEP has been too far below zero for his receptions to make up for his negative impact on the ground.
As is expected from the home-run-hitting Spiller, his Success Rate has been concerning lately, as well. Unless the Saints can get out of Spiller the production he provided in 2011 and 2012, they're going to end up overpaying for an inefficient rusher whose upside is surprisingly capped despite his ostensible receiving ability.
A Messy Situation
The Saints' backfield has long plagued fantasy football owners, as the production has been very unpredictable on a game-to-game basis. Re-upping Ingram and losing both Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet suggested that the backfield might finally be more of a one- or two-man show (between Ingram and Khiry Robinson), but with the Spiller signing, we're back to a crowded backfield.
That's not necessarily bad news for the Saints themselves, but the most intriguing piece of this all is that Spiller's reported deal is actually worth more (four years, $18 million) than Ingram's (four years, $16 million). However, Spiller's metrics are trending downward, and Ingram's are trending up. Ingram's Rushing NEP per carry totals jumped from -0.07 in 2013 to 0.04 in 2014.
Ingram's Success Rate (45.58 percent) ranked ninth among the 32 backs with at least 150 carries this year, and his per-carry Rushing NEP ranked eighth. If Ingram can continue to move the sticks forward and Spiller can provide the big-play potential from 2011 and 2012, then the Saints might have an explosive offense yet again despite the departures of Graham, Stills, and Thomas.
However, giving Spiller more money than Ingram is a head-scratching move, as Spiller has been one of the least efficient players in the league in the last two seasons while he's been on the field.