Measurables: 5-foot-8, 224 pounds.
2014 stats: 179 carries, 849 rushing yards, eight touchdowns, 34 receptions, 324 yards, two touchdowns.
C.J. Anderson declared for the 2013 NFL Draft. The former California Golden Bear expected to hear his name called, after averaging 6.3 yards per carry his senior year. However, NFL teams passed, due to the relatively small sample size. He only had 220 touches combined as a junior and senior.
The Denver Broncos may have passed on him in the draft, but they made him a priority in the undrafted ranks, signing him to compete in camp. Anderson impressed and actually made the final 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie, despite injuring his knee in the preseason, sidelining him for weeks.
He only appeared in five games as a rookie, buried on the depth chart. He carried the ball seven times for 38 yards. Being behind two high-round John Elway draft picks—Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman—Anderson kept his head down heading into his second season and ended up leapfrogging Hillman on the depth chart to be the No. 2 running back.
Oddly, however, when the starter (Ball) went down with a groin injury, despite being No. 2 on the depth chart, John Fox and Adam Gase instead turned to Hillman and leaned on rookie UDFA Juwan Thompson as the primary backup (short yardage, goal-line).
It was a mystifying turn of events, but Anderson bided his time and Hillman, under the barrage of being an every-down back, eventually succumbed to a foot injury in Week 9 and Anderson finally got his chance to run with the starters. He finished Week 9 with 163 total yards and a receiving touchdown, which would mark the first of six games he would eclipse the 100-total-yard mark.
Anderson dominated the NFL in the second half of the 2014 season, finishing with 1,173 total yards and 10 touchdowns, which was a remarkable feat, considering he saw virtually zero snaps before Week 9. It earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl—the first Broncos running back to be elected, since Willis McGahee in 2011.
With another disappointing playoff collapse, the John Fox administration was dismissed and Gary Kubiak was hired to be the new head coach in Denver. With him, Kubiak brings offensive coordinator and O-line/running game guru Rick “Rico” Dennison. Their zone running system is part of the Broncos rich tradition and Anderson should fit wonderfully into it.
Kubiak has stated that Anderson has earned the right to go into training camp as the starter, but he’ll have to continue to feed off that world-sized chip on his shoulder to out-work Montee Ball, who is committed to winning his starting job back.
Last season, Anderson entered OTAs at 243 pounds and was considered "chubby", but he has since dropped 22 pounds in an effort to continue his trend as a prolific runner. He wants to be in the best shape of his life, so he can make the big boys up front look good.
In fairness, Ball is also well-suited to the ZBS and had great success with the same running concepts in college at Wisconsin. Although the two young running backs have been splitting first-team reps, Anderson has the momentum and the trust of his teammates. However, he’ll have to work extremely hard to keep Ball off his back and to impress his new coaches.
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At the end of the day, it will likely take an unforeseen injury for Anderson to lose the starting job. He’s proven durable thus far in his career and we can’t project based around possible injuries. All things considered, we could see him throw up rushing stats akin to the hay-day of Clinton Portis and Mike Anderson. The Broncos will lean on Anderson and the running game to control the clock and protect Peyton Manning.
Training camp starts on July 31st. Fans and media alike will get the opportunity to see how Anderson thrives in the Broncos new offensive system, as the practices will be open to the public. The running back competition figures to be fierce, but expect Anderson to come out on top.