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C.J. Spiller says fellow Clemson star Sammy Watkins 'can be one of the greats'


C.J. Spiller wanted to learn two things when he sat down to watch the NFL draft Thursday night.

"There was a lot of anticipation," Spiller told me today from his home in Lake Butler, Fla.

The Buffalo Bills running back wanted to see who his team would add in the first round and where fellow Clemson product Sammy Watkins would land.

Spiller didn't have to wait long for both stories to explode simultaneously.

The Bills traded with the Cleveland Browns to move up five spots and select Watkins fourth overall.

"It was exciting," Spiller said. "Not only are you happy for Sammy, but you're also happy for the organization for making the bold move that they did.

"I wanted to see who we were going to draft to get us over the hump. I didn't think Sammy was going to get to us, but Doug Whaley and Russ Brandon did the necessary things to help out our receiving corps."

Spiller didn't play with Watkins at Clemson, but he has remained close with coach Dabo Swinney's program. Spiller is a beloved graduate who had his jersey retired the year after he left Death Valley.

"I know what he brings to the table," Spiller said. "He's put in a lot of hard work to get to this point in his life.

"What stands out is his will to be great. Just talking to the coaches, they mention his work ethic, how hard he studies film. Those are the types of things that separate good players from great players.

"If he continues to do what he's been doing, he can be one of the greats."

Watkins logged 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last year at Clemson. In a 40-35 victory over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, he had 16 receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns.

"He had a monstrous game," Spiller said. "But you can look at so many highlights that make you say, 'This guy here is a special talent.'

"Just the way he catches the ball, the way he runs through guys, the way he understands coverages ... He's a playmaker. We have to do  good job of giving the guy space and take advantage of matchups so he can go out and make plays.

"It'll be different at the NFL level, but he'll be up to the task, and me and Fred Jackson will take some of that load off. He just has to be Sammy Watkins."

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Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.