C.J. Anderson Is a Player to Avoid in Fantasy Football

Anderson is coming off of two down seasons, and 2017 doesn't look to be a bounce back year.

In 2014, running back C.J. Anderson burst onto the scene for the Denver Broncos midway through the year, usurping an ineffective Ronnie Hillman as the team's primary tailback.

Over the second half of that season, Anderson averaged more than 100 yards a game and scored 10 touchdowns en route to a Pro Bowl appearance for the former undrafted free agent.

From a fantasy football perspective, Anderson was a top-10 running back in terms of points per game that season, and over the past two seasons, fantasy owners have been looking for Anderson to continue that production or even improve to an elite fantasy option.

But a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness has left Anderson as more of a disappointment. In 2015, he finished outside the top-40 in points per game, and in 2016, he was performing as a top-20 running back option before his season ended in Week 7 due to a torn meniscus.

While some may bank on a rebound for Anderson in 2017 -- he has a fifth-round average draft position, according to FantasyFootballCalculator -- this season looks more like the year that you shouldn't chase the ghost of C.J. Anderson.

Disappointment in 2015 and 2016

Disappointment came for Anderson owners in 2015 and 2016 in different ways.

As mentioned already, Anderson had a down year in 2015, finishing outside the top-40 in points per game for running backs. The 2016 season was certainly frustrating, as Anderson was injured in Week 7 and spent the rest of the year on the sideline.

But for fantasy, Anderson was a top-20 running back in those weeks, ranking as RB14 in standard leagues and RB18 in PPR. In the seven games that he played, he averaged 3.97 yards per carry and 62 rushing yards and totaled 5 scores.

Although that might sound promising, by using the metrics here at numberFire, we can see that Anderson really wasn't much better than he was in 2015. In fact, our metrics indicate that 2014 was an outlier.

Our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric tracks the efficiency of both teams and players, and our Rushing Success Rate metric is the percentage of carries that result in positive NEP gain. For more on both of these terms, check out our glossary.

Additionally, in the table below, Anderson's rank among running backs with similar workloads is in parentheses.

C.J. Anderson Metrics201420152016
Rushing NEP per Carry0.11 (2nd)-0.05 (26th)-0.03 (26th)
Success Rate46.93% (3rd)37.50% (29th)39.09% (24th)

Clearly, Anderson had one of the best seasons of any back in 2014, but his efficiency has dropped significantly in recent years.

In 2016, Anderson ranked 26th out of 42 running backs with at least 100 carries in our Rushing NEP per attempt metric. He was just as efficient as Melvin Gordon (-0.03) and Matt Forte (-0.03). His Success Rate was also middle of the pack, ranking 24th in the same sample.

Even in the Broncos' 2015 Super Bowl season, Anderson was mediocre, ranking 26th out of 44 backs with at least 100 carries in Rushing NEP per attempt and 29th in Success Rate.

Anderson has outperformed his teammates in these years, however. His 46.93% Success Rate outpaced the other Broncos backs, who collectively posted a strong rate of 43.46% on the season. In 2015, the non-Anderson backs produced a rate of 35.11%, and in 2016, that was 37.91%. Anderson has outplayed his teammates, but compared to the rest of the league, Anderson on this offense has lagged behind.

Competition in the Backfield

Sharing the Denver backfield in recent years with the likes of Devontae Booker and Hillman, Anderson hasn't proven himself to be a quality fantasy option.

Now, he'll be a part of an even more crowded backfield after the Broncos signed Jamaal Charles in the offseason and drafted De'Angelo Henderson in the sixth round.

New head coach Vance Joseph has already spoken about the possibility of a running back by committee approach in the upcoming season saying, "you need two or three guys who are going to carry the load. It’s no longer a one-guy position."

While Charles, coming off multiple knee surgeries, is basically a huge question mark, Booker played a significant role last season when Anderson was still healthy. Although Booker was quite disappointing after Anderson went down, he did handle 30 percent of the running back touches in Weeks 1 through 7, compared to Anderson's 63 percent share.

Last season, Anderson averaged 18 touches a game before his injury. Now with Charles in the fold and Booker still around, how many touches can Anderson reasonably expect?

2017 Outlook

Last season, the Broncos ranked as the league's 29th-most efficient running game in our Adjusted Rushing NEP per play metric. For 2017, we're projecting the Broncos' running game once again to be one of the worst in the league, ranking 29th in our preseason projections.

Further complicating Anderson's projected role in 2017 is the Broncos bringing back Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator. McCoy left the Broncos in 2012 to become the head coach in San Diego.

It's expected that McCoy's offense will be more pass-happy than the previous regime, and that is evident in McCoy's track record. While in Denver from 2010 to 2012, only in 2011 -- when Tim Tebow was at quarterback -- did the Broncos not rank in the top 10 in pass attempts.

That trend continued in San Diego over the past three seasons. In each season, Philip Rivers finished the year as top-10 quarterback in terms of pass attempts, and he even led the league in attempts in 2015.

Fantasy Value

Despite Anderson's disappointing production the past two seasons and the crowded backfield in Denver, Anderson is still being selected as nearly as a top-25 running back.

Again, on FantasyFootballCalculator, he is a mid-fifth rounder, the 54th player off the board and the 24th running back selected. He's currently being drafted behind LeGarrette Blount, Ty Montgomery, and Mike Gillislee, while going ahead of Eddie Lacy, Dalvin Cook, Ameer Abdullah.

In MFL10s, Anderson is going in the early sixth round as the 63rd player drafted and the 23rd overall running back. He's being drafted right behind Tevin Coleman, Abdullah, and Spencer Ware, yet ahead of Mark Ingram, Bilal Powell, and Gillislee.

Last year, Anderson once again teased fantasy owners with some top-20 production, but his situation this season isn't appealing. He's coming off knee surgery, faces new competition for touches, and plays for a Broncos running game is shaping up to be one of the league's worst.

At his current price, draft Anderson at your own peril.