Running back C.J. Anderson went undrafted out of California in 2013. Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway saw something in the former Golden Bear that none of the other 31 NFL teams picked up on —the same traits he found in an undrafted defensive back out of Kansas in 2011—Chris Harris, Jr.
Anderson and Harris’ career trajectories are identical. Both undrafted diamonds in the rough, mined by Elway, and shaped into Pro Bowlers. Both guys with a world-sized chip on their shoulder on a mission to make the other 31 teams look silly.
Anderson certainly accomplished that in 2014. After Montee Ball started off the year as the starting running back, he eventually went down with a groin injury he could not recover from, finishing the season on injured reserve.
Even though Anderson was technically No. 2 on the depth chart, it was Ronnie Hillman who got the next opportunity to start and succeed, following Ball’s injury. To Hillman’s credit, he played very well and produced, until he injured his foot vs. the Oakland Raiders in Week 10.
Hillman proved that he can make a difference in the NFL, but at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, he’s not cut out to take the consistent wear and tear of a starter. Hillman ended up missing several games and the team turned to Anderson, starting in Week 10.
From Week 10 through Week 17, Anderson became the workhorse behind quarterback Peyton Manning. Broncos fans saw rushing production they hadn’t seen since Tim Tebow and Willis McGahee helped the Broncos lead the league in rushing in 2011.
Anderson finished the season, after starting just seven games, with 849 rushing yards on 179 carries (4.7 YPC) and 10 total touchdowns. This production earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl and the love and admiration of the fans.
With Manning nursing a quad injury and with an ineffectual offensive line, Anderson helped bridge the gap and kept the Broncos winning, despite these deficiencies. New Head Coach Gary Kubiak, a guy with a coaching history replete with prolific running back production, going all the way back to Denver in the late ‘90s, recognizes Anderson’s value to the team and believes the former Golden Bear has earned the right to go into OTAs as the starter.
“He’s a young player who got a big opportunity late last year at the end of the season,” Kubiak said earlier this week, “and took advantage of it. You’ve seen when guys are going to make big jumps in this league that as great players, they usually make them in years one, two or three, right in there. He made a big jump as a plyer and I think he’s earned the right to walk into the offseason program or OTAs and line up as our starter, but it’s something that he’s got to continue to earn and continue to earn on a daily basis. I think he’s shown he’s got the ability to be a heck of a starter in this league. We’re really looking forward to working with him.”
Anderson’s abilities as a one-cut runner, who gets downhill quickly, will serve him well in Kubiak’s zone running scheme. Under Kubiak, the Broncos will likely have a run-first mentality in an effort to impose their will on the opposition and protect their 39-year-old quarterback.
Anderson will lead that charge. In the Broncos disappointing loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs this past January, Anderson was the only offensive player to show any heart. He left nothing out on the field. It’s that type of mentality the Denver Broncos must cultivate if they’re to take advantage of Manning’s probable last season.
Watch as Anderson eludes multiple Colts tacklers on fourth down to covert the play and keep the chains moving. It’s too bad it was in a losing effort.
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