Player Spotlight: C.J. Anderson

A detailed examination of C.J. Anderson's fantasy prospects for the 2015 season.

An AUSPICIOUS Breakout in 2014

Footballguys' own Cecil Lammey has touted C.J. Anderson since the moment Denver signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent (Cal Bears) in 2013. Lammey believed Anderson showed as much natural ability, vision and power at the point of attack as anyone on the Broncos roster -- including heralded rookie Montee Ball, 2nd year Ronnie Hillman and veteran Knowshon Moreno. Even though Anderson didn't see the filed much in 2013, he did all the right things in practice and was quietly earning his coaches' respect. Last year, fantasy owners were laser focused on Montee Ball (Moreno had signed with the Dolphins, clearing the way for a new starter), yet by the end of the season it was Anderson's star on the rise.

Anderson got his first start in Week 9 against the Raiders  and ran 13 times for 90 yards (6.9 per carry) while catching 4 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. Anderson never relinquished his hold on the #1 spot and finished the 2nd half as one of the NFL's most productive running backs.

Table 1: Top Fantasy RBs (Weeks 9-16, 2014)

RankNameRushRuYdsYPRRuTDsRecsRecYDsRecTDsFPTs
1 C.J. Anderson 165 785 4.7576 8 33 323 2 170.8
2 Marshawn Lynch 169 824 4.8757 10 20 220 1 170.4
3 LeVeon Bell 149 670 4.4966 7 41 459 2 166.9
4 Eddie Lacy 141 711 5.0426 5 21 218 4 146.9
5 Jeremy Hill 172 929 5.4012 6 14 84 0 137.3
6 Jamaal Charles 128 676 5.2813 5 25 192 3 134.8
7 DeMarco Murray 187 791 4.2299 6 31 177 0 132.8
8 Justin Forsett 131 696 5.313 5 18 128 0 112.4
9 LeSean McCoy 176 814 4.625 4 10 67 0 112.1
10 Mark Ingram 167 635 3.8024 5 22 107 0 104.2

Anderson displayed a variety of elite skills in the process

  • Elusiveness -- Anderson missed 44 tackles last year, and was 3rd among NFL running backs with a 24.6% rate of missed tackles/rushing attempts
  • Power at the Point of Attack -- Anderson generated 2.5 yards after contact (8th in the NFL)
  • Breakaway Speed -- Anderson tied for 9th with 12 breakaway runs (15+ yards)...and was the only running back with fewer than 200 total carries to rank in the Top 10
  • Pass Blocking -- No Broncos running back will stay on the field (regardless of what they can do with the ball in their hands) if they can't block. Anderson was an elite pass protector last season, allowing only 4 quarterback pressures (zero sacks) last year
  • Goal Line Effectiveness -- Anderson converted 4-of-6 attempts at the goal line for scores

In Kubiak We Trust

Gary Kubiak is an old school coach; and his tendencies favor C.J. Anderson in two very important ways:

  1. Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme has produced fantasy relevant running back value at every stop of his coaching tenure
  2. Barring injury, Kubiak prefers to ride one workhorse versus the all-too-common running back-by-committee approach we see other teams' utilize today

The Magic of the Shanahan/Kubiak Zone-Blocking Scheme

 
  • Terrell Davis made the system famous -- and delivered MVP results (and 2 Super Bowls) in his prime
  • Clinton Portis dominated in the system
  • Olandis Gary, Tatum Bell and Reuben Droughns all were fantasy starters in the system when given starting roles
  • Mike Anderson, a 6th round draft pick and former military enlistee, had three Top 10 fantasy seasons in the scheme
  • Steve Slaton was a Top 10 fantasy back as a rookie in Kubiak's system (before getting hurt and never recovering in future years)
  • Arian Foster was an undrafted free agent coming out of Tennessee -- but has been a perennial Pro Bowler in the system
  • Justin Forsett had a career year in Baltimore at 29 years old in spite of being a fringe contributor in six prior seasons

Workhouses Abound -- Don't Worry About Ball, Hillman or Anyone else On The Roster

YearTeamFirstLastRushRecsTouches
1995 DEN Terrell Davis 16.9 3.5 20.4
1996 DEN Terrell Davis 21.6 2.3 23.9
1997 DEN Terrell Davis 24.6 2.8 27.4
1998 DEN Terrell Davis 24.5 1.6 26.1
1999 DEN Olandis Gary 23.0 1.8 24.8
2000 DEN Mike Anderson 18.6 1.4 20.0
2001 DEN Terrell Davis 20.9 1.5 22.4
2002 DEN Clinton Portis 17.1 2.1 19.2
2003 DEN Clinton Portis 22.3 2.9 25.2
2004 DEN Reuben Droughns 17.2 2.0 19.2
2005 DEN Mike Anderson 15.9 1.2 17.1
2006 HOU Ron Dayne 13.7 1.3 15.0
2007 HOU Ron Dayne 14.9 1.3 16.2
2008 HOU Steve Slaton 16.8 3.1 19.9
2009 HOU Steve Slaton 11.9 4.0 15.9
2010 HOU Arian Foster 20.4 4.1 24.5
2011 HOU Arian Foster 21.4 4.1 25.5
2012 HOU Arian Foster 21.9 2.5 24.4
2013 HOU Arian Foster 15.1 2.8 17.9
2014 BAL Justin Forsett 14.7 2.8 17.5

Average     18.7 2.5 21.1
Kubiak's lead running back has averaged nearly 19 carries per game, and 21 touches; and that includes seasons like 2009 and 2013, when the lead back was hurt and Kubiak was forced into a committee approach. A close examination of Kubiak's coaching history shows that he STRONGLY prefers one workhorse runner as long as health permits. 

But Isn't This Peyton Manning's Offense?

Anyone that views Peyton Manning's presence in the huddle as a risk to C.J. Anderson's fantasy value hasn't taken a hard look at Manning's career.  Manning has played alongside elite fantasy runners more often than not. His presence ENHANCES the tailback's opportunities in two ways. One, defenses can't afford to stack the box. Two, Manning happily throws to his tailbacks.

  • Marshall Faulk (#3 fantasy running back in 1998, his only with Manning)
  • Edgerrin James (Five Top-10 fantasy seasons with Manning)
  • Joseph Addai (Three Top-10 fantasy seasons with Manning)
  • Knowshon Moreno (#5 fantasy running back in 2013, his only elite season)

Positives

  • Anderson was the best fantasy running back in the NFL last year after becoming the starter in Week 9
  • Anderson possesses a well-rounded skill set and displayed ability as a pass blocker, receiver, goal-line runner, and displayed both game-breaking speed and an ability to get hard yards inside after contact
  • Gary Kubiak has a proven history of productive running back play, and more importantly -- relying on one workhorse runner (if health allows)

Negatives

  • Kubiak is insisting Peyton Manning learn his system; which may be an odd fit at this stage of Manning's storied career (why not let Manning do what he does?)
  • The Broncos will have different starters at four of five offensive line positions, including a rookie left tackle (Ryan Clady suffered a season-ending injury in the offseason)
  • Kubiak's lead runner often is an afterthought as a receiver (Anderson was on pace for nearly 70 receptions last season in Gase's system)

Final Thoughts

If you're drafting in the latter part of the first round, C.J. Anderson is an ideal target.  He was the #1 ranked fantasy running back in 2014 from Week 9 onward (after he was named the starter).  He is in peak physical condition and Kubiak and his coaches are on record as saying the starting job is Anderson's to lose. History tells us that the #1 back in a Gary Kubiak offense is both a workhose AND productive (thanks to the zone-blocking scheme). As if that weren't enough good news, Peyton Manning's presence has routinely allowed for elite fantasy production at the running back position -- starting with Marshall Faulk through Edgerrin James through Joseph Addai and beyond. There are very few non-committee running backs anymore, and Anderson is set to dominate if healthy in a defined, 20+ touch per game role. He's a legitimate Top 6 fantasy running back this year in both standard and PPR formats. Draft accordingly. 

Projections

YEAR GRSHYDTDTARGRECYDTDFumL
2013 DEN 4 7 38 0 1 0 0 0  
2014 DEN 15 179 849 8 44 34 324 2  
2015 PROJ-Dodds 16 235 1046 9   41 349 2 1
2015 PROJ-Henry 16 250 1110 11   44 355 2 1
2015 PROJ-Wood 16 290 1275 9   40 335 2 2
2015 PROJ-Tremblay 16 207 916 6   37 315 2 3
2015 PROJ-Harstad 16 270 1175 10   50 420 2 3

Thoughts from Around the Web

Tim Heaney of USA Today examines the Pros and Cons of C.J. Anderson's fantasy outlook:

All things equal, the upside exists for Anderson to become one of the best fantasy backs. He has a huge opportunity to gobble up touches in one of the best ground systems in the NFL.

But Kubiak’s established history of volatility with featured backs should create pause. Ball’s potential to steal TDs and Hillman’s to swipe receptions jeopardizes Anderson keeping his pace of touches from last year.

NFL.com's Michael Fabiano sees Anderson as the top back and beneficiary of Kubiak and OC Rick Dennison:

The Broncos put up a rush percentage of 41.5 last season under former coordinator Gase, which was up from 39.9 percent the previous campaign. The offense will now roll through Rick Dennison, who served as the offensive coordinator in Houston from 2010-2013. ... Arian Foster rushed for an average of 94.7 yards per game and scored 47 total touchdowns in his first three seasons under Dennison. He missed half of 2013 due to injuries. So while he used committees for much of the time in his first stint as Denver's coordinator (2006-2008), Dennison wasn't afraid to ride a workhorse when he had one in his stable. ... C.J. Anderson led the Broncos with 213 touches last season, and that came while starting just seven games. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman will also be in the backfield mix, but Anderson is the favorite to see more of that featured role much like Foster in Houston.


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