By Derek McCreath
Okay, we all know CJ Anderson is a pretty polarizing player in fantasy football. In his sophomore season (2014) he burst on to the scene, supplanting “the great” Montee Ball, by essentially starting only 7 games in the second half of the season and rushing for 738 yards on 153 carries with eight touchdowns. He then entered the 2015 season as a fantasy twitter darling and an RB1 candidate.
In August of 2015 he was being drafted as the RB7, at 27th overall according to the ADP data put together over at DynastyLeagueFootball.com. If memory serves correct, he was even going in the first round of re-draft leagues. Since then it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride. The first half of the 2015 season was one to be forgotten as he played but was largely ineffective. Three games into the season Anderson had a total of 74 yards on 32 carries and by October’s ADP he had dropped all the way down to 70th overall. CJA has been riddled with injuries which have affected his ability to get on the field, often causing him to be labelled injury prone. When he’s on the field though, I would argue he has often been electric, and at times, a game changer. The second half of that season he finished with a stronger, but somewhat inconsistent stretch, occasionally showing flashes of what he could do.
Anderson went into the off season in 2016 as a restricted free agent. The Broncos ended up matching a big money offer made by the Dolphins, paying him 18 million over 4 years, seemingly cementing him as “the guy” in Denver. This time, his ADP didn’t get quite so high as his relative ineffectiveness and inconsistency of the previous season brought with them a slough of doubters. Conveniently for them, along came Devontae Booker, a fourth round draft pick in 2016.
Booker’s arrival led many of those doubters to anoint CJ Anderson as being the second coming of the aforementioned Ball, claiming he would ultimately be replaced by Booker. Through the off season the drum beat for Booker grew louder and louder. Adding fuel to the fire, CJA started slow out of the gates yet again and Booker was getting mixed into the game plan on a more regular basis with ever increasing touches and snap share. Enter week 7 when Booker both out snapped and out touched CJA. Despite getting less work, CJA became seemingly more efficient, rushing for 107 yards and a score. Prior to that week, Anderson was averaging a measly 3.5 yards per carry through the first 6 games, with a season high of only 92 yards way back in week 1. In week 7, he nearly doubled his average, notching a whopping 6.7 yards per carry.
Of course, Week 7 is the same week Anderson was injured, and while he played through the injury that week, he didn’t return again in the 2016 season. The door was open for Booker to walk through and take that starting job with literally nothing standing in his way...except of course himself. Maybe Booker turned out to be more of a Montee Ball in this situation as he flopped as well.
Now we are amidst the third straight off season in which CJ Anderson is in line to be the Denver Broncos lead back. The Broncos were rumored to have been targeting another running back through the draft, including the highly touted Christian McCaffery. The draft came and went, and while they did draft De’Angelo Henderson, a small school back from Coastal Carolina in the 6th round, there isn’t yet much buzz about Henderson. That said, it is only May so there is plenty of time for that to happen.
So, what's the point of all this? While CJA escaped the draft relatively unscathed, just days after the draft the Broncos brought in and signed Jamaal Charles. Charles is one of the most talented and efficient running backs to play in the NFL in recent memory. Now, while there is clearly an argument to say this spells the end of Anderson once and for all, I’m here to tell you I think this not only won’t hurt him but I think it will benefit him. I feel the time-share that was developing between Booker and Anderson in 2016 prior to the CJA injury was the start of a Freeman-Coleman like split in Atlanta. In that system both backs work together, keeping defenses off balance, spelling each other and form a super productive RB tandem. Only now we have Jamaal Charles, a far superior back to Booker, working in concert with CJA.
I don’t think being injury prone is really a thing, however Anderson does seem to be oft injured, even if it is just small nagging injuries that he plays through. Charles, himself, is coming off multiple knee surgeries and has two torn ACL’s in his past, so there are plenty of areas of concern. Any one of which could make my me be way off here, but hey, what’s the point in making my first legit fantasy claim in article if it's one everyone will agree with?
Who is to say how this will actually shake out? Only time will tell, but if both players are healthy and on the field I think they could become one of the best two pronged RB combo’s in the league. I would even argue we could see RB1 numbers from CJ Anderson combined with RB2 numbers from Charles. Sure, the two taking touches away from each other will lower the ceiling for either player, but we already know how efficient JC can be. It is easily within the realm of possibilities that Anderson can be that same type of back, and actually be more productive, when getting fewer touches. Either way I am excited to see how this plays out.
A little objective evidence that I am a CJA believer comes in the form a trade I made in Scott Fish’s “Capitalist Pigs 1” dynasty league. The day it was announced Charles was meeting with the Broncos and likely to sign, I gave Thomas Rawls, a 2018 first, and $29 blind bidding money for Anderson. Values in this particular league fluctuate a lot and are difficult to peg down but I think most would agree this was an overpay, especially in the face of JC coming in. Gotta put my money where my mouth is though!
I highly recommend going out and getting a few shares...just probably don’t pay as much as I did!