What the Film Says About C.J. Anderson's Odds of Bouncing Back
C.J. Anderson’s 2016 season was cut short by a torn meniscus in Week 7 last season, but it’s encouraging to hear him say things like “I'm definitely in the best shape I've been in in a long time.” The Denver backfield is currently in flux, however, with the likes of Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker, and to a lesser degree, rookie De’Angelo Henderson all in the mix.
With Mike McCoy now calling plays and Gary Kubiak gone, Chris Raybon recently did a great job highlighting my number-one takeaway in regards to how the change from McCoy to Kubiak impacts the Denver backfield:
"McCoy will up CJA's receiving usage, use Charles as a compliment ... The Denver Post reported McCoy wants to get C.J. Anderson more involved as a receiver. McCoy's offenses have averaged 109 targets per season to running backs over his eight-year career, 22 more than Denver last season under Kubiak."
Health permitting, Charles doesn’t seem destined for more than 8 to 10 touches per game, and Booker’s Week 1 status is still in doubt after breaking his wrist; maybe this is a situation that looks much worse for Anderson than it actually is.
Can CJA fend of Charles and Booker to work his way back to a feature-back role? Does CJA even deserve it? Perhaps this muddy situation is better suited as a full fade, but then again, the cost is low ... so let's find out.
Anderson’s and Booker’s Rushing Expectation charting, which balances metrics with film evaluation—one of the toughest things to do in fantasy football)—will provide some clues as to how to attack the Broncos backfield in 2017 fantasy drafts.
Rushing Expectation: C.J. Anderson
I was excited to dig back into Anderson after charting him in 2015 while he was battling through injuries. He is the type of back that hits holes extremely hard while at the same time being smart enough to anticipate his blocks on the interior.
Anderson has good athletic ability, but although he plays with quickness, he lacks lateral agility at full speed and into the second level. He often makes up for this with his elite football IQ—quite possibly his best attribute.
Long speed is highly overrated at the running back position, in my opinion. Anderson has good burst despite average top speed. His unique mental processing and rare vision are what matter most, and are more predictive of success.
The Broncos' overall Expected Success Rate in 2016 on rushing attempts was 43.4 percent, slightly below the 46.3-percent NFL average. The offensive line provided below-average Adjusted Reception Yards as well, setting the bar low for Anderson’s expectation in the receiving game.
With limited help from his blocking, Anderson charted below average as a runner and above average as a pass-catcher:
Anderson finished with a 14th percentile Expectation Score on the ground and a 61st percentile Expectation Score through the air in 2016; he was a 5th percentile player in both categories in 2015.
Before contact yards are a metric I discuss at length in my introduction to Rushing Expectation. Elusiveness behind the line of scrimmage is an extremely underrated but prevalent ability among the league's best feature backs. Anderson’s overall efficiency may have improved, but his yards before contact decreased from the 61st percentile in 2015 to the 35th percentile in 2016.
After first contact, Anderson went from a 78th percentile player to a 26th percentile player in 2016. He has above-average power, with a very low center of gravity and rarely gets knocked backwards. His balance through contact is very good, and he has especially flexible hips that allow him to let his blocks develop, press holes, and get downhill in a hurry.
It’s concerning to see Anderson regress in key metrics such as yards before/after contact, because he saw slightly fewer loaded-box situations in 2016:
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