NFL Draft 2010 Preview - Top Running Backs Part 1: C.J. Spiller v. Jahvid Best

March 22, 2010

With the NFL Draft coming up, we analyze the top running backs in this year’s draft. The analysis focuses on how good they will be at actually playing the position, as opposed to overly focusing on other talents they might have on special teams. The rankings are also compiled based upon how these running backs deserve to be ranked, not based upon where they will actually be drafted.

The reason for this is that it makes little sense to indulge in a serious discussion or analysis of players based upon the obscure and often bewildering draft standards of most media and NFL team “experts.” Do they rank players from game film from college? How productive a player was in his college career? How he performed at the NFL Combine or during a pro-day? A closer look reveals that none of these seem to really matter.

It is far more likely that once a preconceived notion gets in the heads of the media or scouts then it is extremely difficult to change these perceptions. This is true even when such preconceived notions have no basis in reality. Short of one of the “favorites” performing extremely poorly in a workout, they are still assumed to be superior.

Conversely running backs with “question marks” actually can do very little to change that perception, even if they are willing and able to answer those questions for NFL teams.

Thus, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and Marshall Faulk were fairly certain that Jahvid Best would not be particularly great in the 40-yard dash. As Mayock stated, “he is much better running laterally than straight ahead.” Huh? Was any game film watched? Didn’t they know Best was the 100 and 200 meter California high school champion? To their great surprise, Best ran the fastest of any running back with a 4.35.

But apparently it actually mattered very little. While it was noted that of the running backs Best had the fastest 40 and 3-Cone Drill times, his stock actually has not risen in the eyes of most experts.


The conventional wisdom has been that C.J. Spiller is the top back in the draft and that statement is repeated like a mantra by anyone who is given a microphone to talk about the subject. The other "given" now appears to be that Ryan Mathews of Fresno State is clearly the second best running back in the draft.

Alternatively, Jahvid Best and Toby Gerhart are generally viewed as less capable running backs worthy of consideration only in the 2nd round or later. Why exactly is that? A closer look suggests that draft experts may not have done their homework.

In Best’s case, there is a vague, but unsubstantiated suggestion that he may still have health issues. Of course, teams could have all the information they want regarding these concerns, but most appear content to allow such concerns to linger without informing themselves.

Regarding Gerhart, teams raise the issue of his speed and his ability to make “big plays” – where the real concern is that he is a white guy playing a position that is rarely played by white players in the NFL.

Most people acknowledge that Spiller and Best appear to be true "home run" threats but not "every-down" running backs in the NFL. On the other hand, Mathews and Gerhart are viewed as tough and physical runners who can carry the load a bit more. Just assuming that one point, in this article we will compare C.J. Spiller and Jahvid Best as running backs.


Let's review the total rushing statistics for C.J. Spiller and Jahvid Best over their last two years of college. As Best had a well-publicized concussion that led to his missing Cal's final 4 games of the season, you would assume Spiller would have a fairly significant edge. Think again.

C.J. Spiller:
332 carries, 1841 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, and 19 touchdowns. He rushed for over 100 yards in 4 games. All of this was done in 26 games played.

Jahvid Best:
335 carries, 2447 yards, 7.3 yards per carry, and 27 touchdowns. He rushed for over 100 yards in 13 games. All of this was done in 21 games played.

Considering that the primary role of a running back is to rush the football, it is probably surprising to some that the rushing statistics over the past two seasons are not all that close - and they are all in Best's favor. Despite the reduced playing time due to injury (5 less games), Best carried the ball more, had a significantly higher YPC, and scored more.

When healthy, Best was a dominant rusher while Spiller was merely a good one. The fact that Spiller only rushed for 100 yards 4 times in the last two seasons is particularly disturbing and inconsistent with the hype that he has received. If he wasn't a great rusher in college, why would he be in the pros?

Spiller is indeed more accomplished as a receiver out of the backfield than Best, as each player's total receiving stats over the past two years reveal:

Spiller: 70 receptions, 939 yards, 7 TDs
Best: 49 receptions, 459 yards, 5 TDs

Spiller is a quality route runner who can make big plays as a receiver. Yet Best has also improved significantly in that area over his career - and the stats again reflect 5 less games played.

Of course, that is not the entire story. Spiller is justifiably known for his spectacular performance on special teams and there is no effort here to diminish that. Over the past two seasons, Spiller averaged 30.3 yds per return on kickoffs and scored 5 TDs. As a punt returner he averaged 10.5 yds per return on punts and scored once.

Best did not play special teams in his junior year at Cal. His Freshman year, he was on the punt coverage team and was a 1st Team All-Pac 10 performer in that capacity, showing speed, toughness, and tenacity. As a sophomore, he returned kickoffs and led the Pac-10 in that category averaging 26.3 yards per return.

It is also believed that neither is particularly great at pass blocking.

Common Opponent- Maryland

The last wrinkle in the comparison would be to factor in the quality of competition. While some may debate whether Cal's Pac-10 schedule or Clemson's ACC schedule is tougher, most believe that both conferences are solid, but a tier below the SEC.

Nonetheless, both Clemson and Cal played against Maryland, an ACC team, in 2008 and 2009. Let's compare the numbers of Spiller and Best in those two games.

Spiller's and Best's totals in 2 games against Maryland are the following:

Rush: Spiller - 32/170 - 5.3 yds/carry; Best - 20/162, 2TD - 8.1 yds/carry.
Rec: Spiller - 3/24 yds; Best - 7/88 yds.
KR: Spiller - 4/144, 1 TD - 36yds/return; Best - 5/153 - 30.1 yds/return.
PR: Spiller - 2/3 yds; Best - none

Clemson lost both games to Maryland. Cal went 1-1, with Best sitting out all but the first 5 minutes of the second half of Cal's 52-10 victory in 2009. Of course the scope of the comparison is narrow, but once again the numbers do not support Spiller.

Combine and Pro-Day

If supposedly diligent NFL experts know all of this and still believe Spiller is unquestionably better, then perhaps Spiller has displayed more physical tools at the combine and pro day? Not true.

A conglomeration of stats from the NFL Combine and Spiller's pro day reveals the following about the two players:

C.J. Spiller: Height: 5-11. Weight: 196.
Combine 40 Time: 4.37.
Benchx225: 18. Vertical (pro day): 36. Broad: 10-6 (pro day).
3-Cone Shuttle: ?; 20-yard shuttle: ?

Jahvid Best: Height: 5-10. Weight: 199.
Combine 40 Time: 4.35 (top RB).
Benchx225: 18. Broad: 9-3. 3-Cone Drill: 6.75 (top RB); 20-yard shuttle: 4.17 Vertical: ?

As mentioned before, Best was slightly faster at the NFL combine. Both were equal in bench presses. Spiller had a significantly larger broad jump - do scouts really care about that? Best was the top running back at the combine in the 3-Cone drill and near the top in the 20-yard shuttle. Spiller did not compete in either. The only area Best did not test for was the vertical leap and for those who have seen his horrific fall from 8 feet off the ground, there should be little doubt that he can jump high.

So what does all of this mean? Should we assume that the NFL draft "experts" know something but just aren't saying? Hardly likely. If they "know" anything they would be telling us.


If an NFL team is really hung up on a great special teams player -- who can also run the football and catch the ball out of the backfield -- then C.J. Spiller is the clear choice.

However, if you want a proven running back who is a legitimate scoring threat from anywhere on the field while rushing the football -- and who might help return kickoffs -- Jahvid Best is your man.

And if you have a 1st round pick, is there really any choice at all?

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

1 comment:

  1. You have got to be kidding me...there is a reason that EVERY nfl analyst has Spiller #1. Get with the program, CJ actually hit the holes when necessary while Best dances to the outside 100% of the time. The film is everywhere you obviously need to watch it


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