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Fantasy Football Week 3: C.J. Spiller And The iPhone-Running-Back Theory

David Tobia |
September 20, 2012 | 12:40 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Stick with me -- this iPhone analogy is going somewhere. (AJ Guel/Creative Commons)
Stick with me -- this iPhone analogy is going somewhere. (AJ Guel/Creative Commons)
People love to buy new Apple products. Some even like buying the product more than actually using it. Everyone loves novelty -- the new car smell, a new video game, or getting to know the foreign exchange student before he returns to clubbing in Munich.

But Apple fans are unique in their unrelenting commitment to spending hundreds of dollars on products they probably don't need. Apple sold over two million iPhone 5 devices within the first day of sales last week. But the device is essentially the same as its predecessor. The screen is a little larger, it has a little bit more memory, and it runs a little faster, but really it’s nothing more than a touchscreen that can make calls, access websites, and fling birds from slingshots.

So then why do so many people buy new iPhones, iPads, and iEverythings each year? Perhaps because the relative newness doesn’t just make a product seem more valuable, it actually does make it more valuable.

Here’s why.

Pretend you bought an iPhone 4S last fall. It was new and great for a month. You raved about the blistering speed and impressive battery life. You even had blissful conversations with your new pal Siri. But then the phone gets a little older and the battery life declines. Soon the phone can’t make it through your schedule without a midday charge.

Then you go out on a Thursday night with some friends. You lean with it, you rock with it, you Gangnam and you Bernie. But somewhere between imploring people to consider calling you and instructing others on how to Dougie, your phone went crashing into the floor. Your once beautiful device is now cracked, slow, a little sticky and can’t hold a charge for long enough to Instagram your midnight snack to a bunch of people who have no interest in your poorly crafted grilled cheese with a sepia filter.

Time for a new phone!

"Well my iPhone 4S didn’t really hold up so well, but look at all the great new features the iPhone 5 has," you tell yourself. "A faster processor and increased battery life! And according to Fox it even has a holographic keyboard! Sign me up!"

A new iPhone 4S and a new iPhone 5 will perform roughly comparably, but compared to your old, cracked, hardly functioning phone, the new iPhone 5 seems a work of divine inspiration.

NFL running backs are like iPhones

Now the name Maurice Jones-Drew is forever tied to contract holdouts. (Parker Anderson/Creative Commons)
Now the name Maurice Jones-Drew is forever tied to contract holdouts. (Parker Anderson/Creative Commons)
Just as iPhones are brilliant pieces of technology, running backs are some of the best athletes on the planet -- perfect combinations of speed and muscle. Yet just as iPhones age with the grace of Marlon Brando, today's NFL running backs rarely sustain long, effective careers. And financially, this shift shows.

Last season, Maurice Jones-Drew led the league in rushing, only to rack up $1.6 million in fines in the offseason as he tried to negotiate a new contract (Jones-Drew and the Jaguars have negotiated the fines, and he will not actually pay $1.6 million, but the fact remains that he is back playing without a new contract).

Two seasons ago, undrafted Arian Foster led the league in rushing while playing for a base salary of $395,000. The year before, Chris Johnson rushed for over 2,000 yards while playing with his rookie salary.

Yet while Jones-Drew and Foster appear to still operate at their dominating levels, the man once known as CJ2K (or Chris Johnson, if you're into formalities) now plays more like this Adrian Peterson than this one.

(Side note: I tried to link to the first Peterson’s official roster page for the Virginia Destroyers, but it turns out the team doesn’t have a real site. When you click their page on the UFL website it takes you to a Facebook page. Couldn’t they just throw $10 at 1&1 MyWebsite and call it a day? This is who I am comparing Johnson to -- a player who plays for a team that barely exists.)

Trivia Time!

What do Brandon Weeden, Brandon LaFell, Tim Tebow, Travis Benjamin and Cedric Peerman all have in common?

  • They all have more rushing yards this season than Chris Johnson
  • They all play positions other than running back
  • They all have at least one B in their name
  • All of the above

We went to Cedric Peerman's Wikipedia page so you don't have to! (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
We went to Cedric Peerman's Wikipedia page so you don't have to! (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Okay fine, technically only A and C are correct but B is really close too. Peerman is listed as a running back, but no one knows who the hell he is. And shouldn’t all players who fall into the "who the hell are you" category be subjected to the Wikipedia test? As sole arbiter of this article I decree yes.

So considering Peerman's Wikipedia picture on the right is a 2009 shot of him winding up to throw a football in Ravens camp (he has played for three teams since the Ravens cut him in 2009, and now plays for the Bengals), I think it is safe to say he’s almost irrelevant enough to make B true. Therefore D is the correct answer. Congrats, guys!

So yeah. Two crappy quarterbacks, two receivers, and a dude whose Wikipedia page has been updated approximately 2.5 times since 2009 all have more rushing yards than Chris Johnson.

But it gets worse. So without further ado, trivia question number two:

What do Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers have in common?

  • Both have speed ratings of 65 or below in Madden 13
  • Both have a rating of at least 1 in “Catch in Traffic” in Madden 13
  • Both have runs equal to or longer than Chris Johnson’s longest run this season
  • All of the above

The answer is all of the above, which is flat-out hilarious. Apparently the Chargers would be much better off sending Nate Kaeding (11) into coverage than Philip Rivers (1). Keep up the good work, Madden.

But yes, the real point of the question is to highlight that 36-year-old Peyton Manning and 5.04-40-time-running Philip Rivers have run as explosively as supposed home-run-hitting Chris Johnson. Rivers ran for nine yards against Johnson's Titans and Manning scurried for seven against the Steelers in Week 1. Johnson’s longest run of the season? Seven yards.

What it all means

It is not all Johnson's fault. The Titans have had the worst run-blocking line in the NFL for the past two years. But at some point Johnson has to realize he no longer has the line that allowed him to dance around the backfield before finding seems for long touchdowns.

In 2009, Chris Johnson scored seven touchdowns of 50 or more yards while playing inspired football behind a brutish line. Then he got paid to the tune of $53.5 million, lost some of his offensive line to retirement and others to free agency. Johnson didn’t adjust, he lost motivation and he lost speed.

So as we extend our prolonged iPhone metaphor, not only has Chris Johnson's battery life and speed drained to almost nothing, but every time the Titans snap the ball, defenders incessantly pound on an already shattered screen.

Our AppleCare has expired on Chris Johnson. It’s time to stop holding out.

Introducing CJ2K-S

C.J. Spiller has heard comparisons to Chris Johnson since he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the 2010 NFL Combine. But Spiller idled behind veteran Fred Jackson for most of his rookie and sophomore campaigns. Then the Buffalo Bills traveled to Miami to play their conference foes in Week 11 of 2011. Jackson fell to the field in the third quarter and left the game with a "bruised calf." Turns out he broke his leg on the play, and the rest is history.

Step aside, Chris. There's a new C.J. in town. (Matthew D. Britt/Creative Commons)
Step aside, Chris. There's a new C.J. in town. (Matthew D. Britt/Creative Commons)
Jackson’s injury allowed Spiller to operate as a feature back, and it would be a bit of an understatement to say he seized the opportunity; Spiller has averaged 149 total yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry since Jackson's injury eight games ago.

As a comparison, Chris Johnson's most impressive stretch of his career came when he averaged 174 total yards per game and 5.49 yards per carry over eleven games in 2009. So yes, Johnson averaged more yards per game, but much of that came as the Titans abandoned their aspirations for a successful season and focused on Johnson's chase for 2,000 rushing yards.

So if Chris Johnson is CJ2K, doesn't that make the NFL’s newest electric threat CJ2K-S? And not just because his preferred name is C.J. and his last name starts with an S. But because when Apple announced the iPhone 3GS in 2009, they stipulated that the S stood for speed, and Spiller has plenty of that.

There is a bit more controversy with the 4S. Apple never specified if the S stands for speed or Siri. But just as Apple claims that with Siri, "your wish is its command," so too is Spiller's fantasy production. We command lots of yards and touchdowns, and he supplies us with unbounded exuberance. Okay, maybe we should just stick with S for Spiller/speed. Fine.

Actual advice section of this column

CJ2K-S is here to stay. Don't worry that Fred Jackson wants to come back within three weeks or so. It's great that people like Jackson are in the NFL, but considering he is now 31 and his career highlights include "United Indoor Football co-MVP," Spiller owners should not be too worried.

Jackson's success in the Bills offense actually should be an encouraging sign that Spiller can be that much better. If a solid, but not special undrafted free agent from Coe College can succeed for the Bills, then Spiller can flourish with CJ2K-S success.

Trade Targets

Buying into the RG III hype? Good. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Buying into the RG III hype? Good. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
I recommend getting what you can out of Chris Johnson. The fact that many sites are touting Johnson as a buy-low candidate inflates his value. Normally a player with Johnson's stat line would sit on the waiver wire, but Johnson has a big name and big potential.

Unfortunately, unrealized potential is the single greatest impetus behind a losing fantasy season. As I explained in last week's column, it could actually be more valuable to have retired running back Tiki Barber on your team than someone like Michael Turner or Chris Johnson. Zero points on your bench hurts you a lot less than consistent one and two-point duds in your starting lineup.

I am a fan of buying high and selling low in fantasy. For example, say someone in your league has Aaron Rogers and Robert Griffin III. They may try to "sell high" on RG III and "buy low" on Chris Johnson. But if I'm the Johnson owner I say absolutely give me Griffin and take Johnson off my hands. Just because Johnson has "potential" doesn’t mean he will turn his season around, and Griffin III has already proven he is a special player. Sure, he may have off games going forward, but it won’t be every week like Johnson.

There is probably someone in your league willing to take the risk on Chris Johnson. Unload him while others still have faith. Target someone like Doug Martin.

And conversely, deal for Spiller if possible. Hopefully you find an owner afraid of Fred Jackson's return, or that Spiller cannot handle a full workload. Don't fall into the trap of not wanting to trade your first- or second-round pick. The draft is over. Where you took a player doesn’t matter anymore. Offer the CJ2K-S owner someone like Matt Forte. See if they bite.

Other "Buy High" Candidates

Robert Griffin III: He’s the best rookie QB since last year!

Danny Amendola: Everyone thinks the Rams are terrible, but they should be 2-0 right now. No, Amendola probably won’t catch 15 balls again, but he will continue to be the focal point of the Rams offense, especially now that Steven Jackson has another groin injury. Buy high as owners try to ship him away after a career game.

Reggie Wayne: He's old. He plays for a bad team. He plays with a rookie QB. Austin Collie is coming back soon. I don't care. He has proven he can still play at 33.

CJ2K-S: Just a reminder. Grab Spiller.

Other "Sell Low" Candidates

Michael Turner: Get anything. The guy is terrible. And pick up Jason Snelling, not Jacquizz Rodgers. You’ll thank me later. And by "later" I mean next week.

Greg Jennings: Especially in keeper leagues. There is a decent chance the Packers trade him this year. And if he does make it through the year, there is almost no chance he is back with the team next year. It doesn't help that Aaron Rogers has returned from whatever planet he played on last year. Make sure you get something good in return, but start shopping Jennings a bit. Even though he hasn’t had a great year, Jennings should still fetch good value.


Reach staff writer David Tobia here. Follow him here.



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