Anderson's Journey To The Starting Lineup

C.J. Anderson has seemingly gone from a guy you may have vaguely heard about, to the Broncos starting running back, in a matter of weeks. Join MHH Analyst, Khalid Alshami, to take a look at Anderson's journey to the starting role.

On April 25th, 2013, the Kansas City Chiefs used the first overall pick to select Eric Fisher, a left tackle out of Central Michigan. It wasn't until the 37th overall pick that the first running back was taken off the board by the Cincinnati Bengals, as they selected Giovani Bernard out of North Carolina.

The second to last pick of the draft, number 253 overall, was also a running back; Michael Cox of Massachusetts, selected by the New York Giants. From Bernard to Cox, there were a total of 22 running backs selected during the draft.

C.J. Anderson was not one of those running backs. During his 2 seasons at Cal, he split time at running back, never seeing a starter's workload. Despite his failure to stand out during the combine, or in the Cal backfield, the Denver Broncos signed Anderson as an undrafted free agent. It was no surprise that Anderson went undrafted. His combine performance was one of the worst among running backs during the combine.

Anderson joined Montee Ball, the Broncos second round pick, as the rookie running backs on the roster. While everyone was raving about Ball, Anderson stood in the background; working, waiting for his time to show each team in the NFL, including the Broncos, that they all made a mistake in not drafting him. Anderson entered the Broncos preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers buried on the depth chart.

Watching his performance vs the 'Niners, I noted that Anderson played a lot like a younger Ray Rice. Both are short, thick players who use their height to their advantage, playing low to the ground and consistently getting below opponents' pad levels. Neither has elite quickness or speed, but they have enough wiggle to make people miss and break off big plays.

After his performance vs the 'Niners, Anderson finally caught the eye of the coaches. The following week, Anderson began earning more reps during practice, along with the coaches' trust, until he went down during a Thursday practice. A magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) revealed a sprained MCL ligament; an injury that takes anywhere between 4-8 weeks to heal, depending on the severity of the injury.

Although Anderson missed the remainder of the preseason, in a somewhat surprising move, the coaching staff elected to keep Anderson on the final 53-man roster and released veteran running back, Jacob Hester, who wore #22. Anderson went undrafted, while 22 running backs were selected in the draft. As a reminder to himself, Anderson decided to wear the recently vacated number, to never let him forget about all of the teams who passed on him and thought he wasn't good enough to play in the NFL.

Once Anderson was finally healthy, he would again be buried on the depth chart, behind breakout starter, Knowshon Moreno, and high draft picks, Ronnie Hillman and Ball. Anderson went on to have a paltry role with the team, finishing the 2013 season with only 7 carries.

Anderson entered the 2014 off-season searching for a bigger piece of the running back pie, as Moreno was set to become a free agent, and Hillman was firmly entrenched in the team's doghouse. The Broncos did indeed let Moreno leave to the Miami Dolphins and signed a trio of undrafted running backs in Juwan Thompson, Kapri Bibbs and Brennan Clay.

The off-season buzz at running back revolved around Ball taking the starting duties, hopes that Hillman would bounce back and the hometown favorite (Bibbs) likely making the team. Seemingly anyone with an opinion had again forgotten about Anderson.

As training camp progressed, the news of Ball requiring an appendectomy hit, with the first crack at filling the starting running back role being given to Hillman. This time around, during the preseason, another undrafted rookie caught the eye of everyone, as Thompson began cutting into Anderson's reps.

When the season came around, Hillman was demoted to an inactive, while Anderson claimed the backup running back role. After a few games, Hillman moved back into the RB2 role, eventually taking the starting duties when Ball went down with a groin injury.

In Hillman's starts, the team turned to Thompson to be the backup ahead of Anderson, another bump in his road to seeing the field. Hillman performed well in his starts, before suffering a foot injury against the Oakland Raiders. Anderson's opportunity had finally arrived.

Anderson entered the game against the Raiders and sparked the team with his 51-yard touchdown reception. Now, the rest is history. Anderson has eclipsed 100 total yards in three-straight games. He has accumulated 286 yards rushing on 49 carries, for a 5.84 yards per carry average. Anderson has also added 187 yards on 16 receptions, to go along with a receiving and rushing touchdown.

Where did this kind of production come from? Why was the team not utilizing Anderson before? In the first two games of the season, backing up Ball, Anderson ran for 58 yards on 9 carries; a 6.44 yards per carry average. For his efforts, Anderson earned a one-way ticket to the bench, as he received only 8 carries over the next 5 games.

Many, myself included, have called into question John Fox's leadership abilities over the past few weeks, following some questionable coaching decisions. At times, the Broncos have not looked prepared to play. Those calls have calmed as of late and it is no coincidence that the quiet coincided with the decision to start C.J. Anderson.

Against the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, Anderson proved his worth to the team. On a night where Manning completed only 50% of his passes for less than 200 yards, Anderson shined. He ran for 168 yards on 32 carries to go along with 2 catches for 17 yards and a touchdown. Anderson has brought the run game back to Denver in a way that hasn't been seen since the Mike Shanahan days.

22. 22 players to motivate him. 22 players chosen ahead of him. 22 reasons to prove everyone wrong. p>

Khalid Alshami is the Fantasy Analyst for MileHighHuddle.com. You can find him on Twitter @LaxinBronco.

Brandon Perna is the Director of Video Content for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonPerna and YouTube.

Follow MileHighHuddle on Twitter @MileHighHuddle and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and discounted Denver Broncos tickets.

Next Story:

Denver Broncos Defeat Kansas City Chiefs 29-16


Mile High Huddle Top Stories