Every year there are a few rookies whose immediate impacts in the NFL are utterly predictable.
This year, one of those players is Buffalo's C.J. Spiller.
I've taken a lot of heat for my pre-draft comparisons of Spiller to Titans star Chris Johnson. While I certainly won't compare Buffalo's offensive line to the one that Johnson ran behind last year for his 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns, the similarities between the 5-11, 191 pound Johnson and the 5'11, 196 pound Spiller are just too damn striking for me to back down on them now.
Like Johnson, Spiller's game lies in his vision, lateral agility and pure, unadulterated speed. At less than 200 pounds, neither back possesses the power to consistently taken and discard NFL tacklers, but both players have such agility (and underrated leg drive) that they're often able to change the tackle dynamic at the last possible second. Rather than take on tacklers head on, they're able to give one final juke or acceleration to turn direct hits into arm tackles. And like Johnson, Spiller is plenty strong enough to run through arm tackles.
The undersized Johnson used this style to make it through last season unscathed despite a staggering 408 touches. I believe Spiller can do the same for Buffalo. He certainly showed off his underrated strength and determination in tonight's game against the defending AFC champion Colts.
Spiller's best play was his 31-yard touchdown scamper on just his second touch of the game. On the play, Spiller made three very solid NFL starters -- defensive end Robert Mathis, cornerback Jacob Lacey and free safety Antoine Bethea -- look silly in trying to tackle him. Spiller ran through an arm tackle by Mathis and appeared to be going straight up the middle for another few yards. His vision and balance took over, as he cut back outside, slipping by a lunging Lacey to streak down the sideline. Bethea is one of the better tackling free safeties in the league, but in attempting to cut off Spiller, he committed to the sideline, allowing Spiller to cut back inside this time for the touchdown.
For a team as weak in so many other positions as the Bills are, they are very talented and deep at running back. Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch have each proven themselves to be legitimate starting backs.
With each sidelined, however, don't be surprised when Spiller's big plays force the Bills to keep him on the field.
Prior to the 2008 draft, I had one veteran NFL scout characterize Johnson's running ability as "video game-like."
Check out Spiller's touchdown run against the Colts here . Now you tell me -- doesn't that look like a video game?