CJ Anderson: Potential Sleeper or Waiver-Wire Fodder? – P. Fisse

by Patrick Fisse

C.J. Anderson had a mini resurgence in the last two games of 2018 regular season with the Los Angeles Rams after being seldom used in Carolina as Christian McCaffrey’s backup earlier in the year. Anderson ran into some luck with Todd Gurley going down and parlayed 47 touches (43 rush 4 receptions) into 316 yards (299 rush 17 receiving) and 3 rushing TDs during weeks 16 and 17 (unfortunately week 17 was after the majority of fantasy leagues had concluded). These are certainly eye-popping numbers that, to a degree, came out of nowhere. Anderson also put up impressive numbers in the divisional round against the Cowboys where he racked up 123 yards on 23 carries (5.3 ypc) and 2 rushing TDs. However, Anderson faded in the NFC Championship and Superbowl where he toted the rock 23 times for 66 scoreless yards and an abysmal 2.8 yards per carry. So the question becomes: what CJA will I be getting this year? The guy who topped the fantasy leaderboard for running backs in weeks 16 and 17? Or the guy who was totally ineffective with the Panthers and in the NFC Championship and Super Bowl?

First, lets dive into his current situation. Anderson signed a one year deal this offseason to compete for carries behind up and comer Kerryon Johnson in Detroit where he will battle receiving specialist Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner for work—the role left with Legarrette Blount’s departure.

Kerryon Johnson was impressive as a rookie, turning 118 carries into 641 yards (5.4 ypc!) with 3 TDs and tacked on 32 catches for 213 yards and an additional TD. Johnson was able to accrue these numbers in only 10 games as he was sidelined through the final 6 regular season games with a knee injury. His counterpart, Legarrette Blount, handled 154 carries for 418 yards (2.7 ypc) and 5 TDs. To put it kindly, Blount was absolutely dreadful in his sole season in Detroit and it is clear why Anderson was brought in as a replacement. It should also be noted that Blount scored only 2 of his 5 TDs after Johnson went on the shelf.

On the other hand, just because Blount was a flop in Detroit, doesn’t mean the same will be the case with Anderson. Anderson has proven that when given an opportunity he can produce quality numbers (see his time in Denver). BUT Anderson has not proven to be reliable from a health perspective and spends a lot of time on the training table. Anderson has only played a full 16 game season once (2017) where he had 245 rushes for 1007 yards 3 TDs. As stated above, these are quality numbers and should not be overlooked, but 2017 appears to be an outlier as Anderson has struggled with injuries in his other professional seasons. In 2016 he suffered a meniscus tear in week 7 which landed him on IR. In 2015 he suffered an ankle sprain (missed one game) and a toe sprain (played through the injury) which limited his effectiveness. In 2014 he suffered a concussion during the preseason. In 2013 he suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain and did not make his NFL debut until week 8.

In addition, Anderson has not been known for his touchdown scoring. In his breakout season of 2014 Anderson scored a whopping 8 rushing TDs in 15 games—only 7 starts. Despite his 2014 pay dirt success, in his other 5 seasons he has scored a total of 14 rushing touchdowns combined and never eclipsing 5 rushing TDs in a season. This is NOT the type of running back that would fill the Legarrette Blount touchdown-vulture role. Again, that is not saying that he can’t be effective in his role on the Lions, but the odds are not in his favor.

Perhaps the best thing going for CJ Anderson and his 2019 fantasy outlook is his crazy low ADP. Anderson currently has an ADP of 175, which is very low, especially for a running back with his name recognition and past success. However, I believe his presently low ADP is due to the fact that the fantasy community realizes that the Lions didn’t trade up for Kerryon Johnson in the second round of the NFL Draft to have him share significant snaps with someone like CJ Anderson. Kerryon Johnson has work horse potential and, as a result, won’t leave much other than obvious passing down/breather snaps for his competition as long as he is healthy. For example, Blount averaged around 8 touches per game while Johnson was healthy. This was when Johnson was a rookie. With a year of experience and a full offseason under Johnson’s belt I would expect that number of potential per game touches to (at best for Anderson’s sake) stay at roughly 8 per game.

All in all, I do not see a sizeable role forming for CJA in the Lions’ backfield. Not only does he have to worry about Johnson developing into the workhorse back he has the potential to be, he also has to worry about Riddick and Zenner stealing touches from him as well. Even after playing a very limited amount of snaps in 2018 Anderson still wore down in the playoffs, which he attributed to playing overweight (played 2018 at 235 pounds and has stated he aims to play 2017 at 225 pounds). While 10 pounds may not seem like that big of a deal, it can have a monumental impact on a professional athlete that uses speed, agility and quickness in his game. The question is: do we get the playoff CJA that averaged under 3 ypc or do we get the last 2 games of the season CJA where he went bonkers in the Ram’s system? I believe that the true CJA is somewhere in the middle, but he will not have enough of a role to have any stand-alone value. This season he will be more of a thorn in the side of Johnson owners than he will be of an actual reliable fantasy asset.

On the other hand, CJA is a very valuable handcuff that can be obtained at a startlingly cheap price at his current ADP. If you invest a top 3 or 4 round selection in Johnson be sure to follow up with selecting CJA later in the draft. While he more than likely will not have any stand-alone fantasy value, he would be an immediate RB2 if anything were to happen to Johnson because of the Lions’ commitment to running the football. Johnson does not have near the checkered medical history outside of his knee injury as he was active for every game while at Auburn (although he did play hobbled toward the end of his Junior season). For these reasons I wouldn’t bet on CJA being anything more of a Johnson handcuff for 2019, but a handcuff that absolutely needs to be drafted.

I believe that playoff CJA is the true CJA: he could, IF given the opportunity, pop off for a game or two, but more likely than not. He will be a plodder that averages under 4 yards per carry and will be touchdown dependent.


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