Is C.J. Anderson a Premier Buy-Low Candidate in Fantasy Football?

After a breakout campaign in 2014, Denver's lead back has struggled in the first two games of the season.

If you're a C.J. Anderson owner, you’re probably freaking out.

I’m a C.J. Anderson owner, and I am freaking out. Tell me you are, too. It’s so much easier to do this with the support of others.

I bet we’re not freaking out for the same reasons, though. You’re probably banging your head against a wall because Anderson has basically been banging his head against a wall on each carry, totaling a meager 56 yards on 24 attempts.

Yeah, that’s been annoying for me, too. What’s even more annoying is, as an owner, I can’t cash in on this glorious buy-low opportunity. I hate missing out on a good deal, whether it's on donuts at the gas station or a running back in fantasy football.

I’ve always been intrigued by the stock market, and it’s shaped the way I handle my rosters. I view players as assets with ever-changing value. Similar to the stock market, if you can successfully figure out when to buy-low and sell-high on assets, you’ll come out ahead.

“Buy at funerals; sell at birthdays,” is a phrase I once heard from a friend who is a financial advisor. I love it because it captures what I try to do in trades.

Well, I just read Anderson’s obituary, and his viewing is scheduled for this weekend.

Here’s why I’m buying.

The Hillman Problem

Let’s go back in time, to the fourth quarter of Thursday’s Kansas City Chiefs versus Denver Broncos game. After a poor performance in Week 1, Anderson is putting up another clunker, and the worst part is he’s barely been on the field, or so it seems. Anderson has been in a near even timeshare with Ronnie Hillman.

Yes, Ronnie Hillman.

At this point I’m Googling “Justin Bieber’s Worst Moments” just to make me feel better about my life. I bookmarked the page.

Things get better, though.

Trailing 24-17 with two minutes to play, Denver mounts a furious two-minute drill. Outside of a short catch, Anderson is a bystander for it, but he’s on the field for the entirety of it -- like, actually between the lines.

With the game on the line, Denver benched Hillman and put Anderson in for the entire series. That speaks volumes and makes it seem as if lot of Thursday’s committee approach was due to the toe injury Anderson suffered in the Week 1 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. With the short turnaround, maybe the Broncos were just playing it safe. 

The stats support the theory. In Week 1, Anderson out-snapped Hillman 57-17. In Week 2, with Anderson banged up, Anderson’s snap lead decreased to 42-31.

Anderson finished 2014 fifth in touches per missed tackle forced, according to Pro Football Focus, placing him well above Hillman in terms of elusiveness. 

Aside from being the better runner, Anderson is also the better pass blocker, an extremely important trait for any back in a Manning offense (or whatever it is Denver is running).

Additionally, Anderson has just 1 fumble -- which Denver recovered and technically came on a reception -- in 248 touches while Hillman has coughed it up five times in 326 touches. But how do the two compare in our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics?

NEP, in case you're new, is our signature metric. It assigns a value to each play using down-and-distance situations to tell us how much that play increased the team’s chances of scoring on the drive. Those plays add up during a full season and can tell us a lot about how a player actually performed.

In 2014, despite only starting in seven games, Anderson came in sixth in the league in Rushing NEP at 17.93. The only backs to top him were Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jeremy Hill, Jamaal Charles and Le'Veon Bell -- some pretty nice company to keep. Among 43 running backs with at least 100 carries last season, Anderson ranked second in Rushing NEP Per Play (0.10), again surrounded by a who’s who of NFL backs.

Hillman’s -0.01 Rushing NEP per play clip, which ranked 16th, is solid, but it was easily out-classed by Anderson. The same goes for Hillman’s total Rushing NEP of -1.14.

So, just to recap, Anderson last year was a superior runner who has yet to fumble on any of his 210 rushing attempts. Denver is likely aware of this talent discrepancy, which is why Anderson started off the season as the clear-cut lead back. 

Offensive Line

Denver’s offensive line is a trainwreck. How bad are they? They made Peyton Manning look like a bad quarterback. Yes, he’s old and his arm strength is deteriorating, but, man, it’s hard to make him look bad at football.

Ben Muth at broke down Denver’s offensive line play in Week 1. Put simply, guard Evan Mathis and center Matt Paradis, both new players, got destroyed.

Things didn't look much better against Kansas City. Denver rushed 22 times for just 61 yards (2.8 yards per carry), so it's not like Hillman tore it up on his nine attempts. 

Anderson had Denver's two longest runs of the game -- a 14-yarder on the game's first play and an 11-yard scamper in the third quarter. Those two runs accounted for 25 of Anderson's 27 yards on the night. That means a running back who averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 179 attempts a year ago averaged 0.2 yards on his other 10 rushing attempts Thursday night.

Not good, but knowing Anderson was the fifth-most elusive back in football in 2014, it goes to show you how poorly the line blocked for most of his carries. Per Mike Clay, Anderson averaged 2.2 yards before contact per attempt last year. He sits at 0.8 through 24 carries this year.

If the play of the offensive line doesn't improve, things won't get a whole lot better for Anderson -- or the offense in general -- but there's reason for optimism. Denver has only one returning lineman from it's 2014 group, so there's reason to believe the line will get better as they get more experience together. 

And let's face it: Denver won't be going up against too many defensive fronts as talented as what Baltimore and Kansas City employ.

The Offense

Manning has essentially had complete control over his offenses for most of his career -- at least it seems that way. It’s an insult to his offensive coordinators to call Manning the offensive coordinator, but Manning so frequently changes plays at the line of scrimmage that he might as well be the coordinator. He ran the show in Indianapolis, and he did much of the same for his first three seasons in Denver.

Coach Gary Kubiak came in this year and tried to install the offense he knows best. Not only is it a more run-based approach, but it also frequently puts the quarterback under center.

To be kind, the Denver offense was a mess against Baltimore, and things started the same way versus Kansas City, Then, after getting behind 14-0 and Manning taking heat on just about every throw, Denver seemed to scrap the Kubiak plan and revert to the shotgun, spread look Manning adores.

It worked.

Manning didn’t look like vintage Manning, but he certainly looked better than he did to begin the season, especially during the late two-minute drill when Denver took 1:51 to go 80 yards in 10 plays.

I’m not a fortune teller, but it sure seems like it’s going to be hard to go back to the scheme of Kubiak. Not only did putting Manning in the shotgun spark the offense, it alleviated some of the pressure on the line because Manning got rid of the ball quicker. The Chiefs had just one sack over the final three quarters after notching two in the first 15 minutes. 

It's not rocket science, but a better Denver offense will help Anderson in just about every way -- more plays lead to more red-zone chances, both of which lead to more opportunities for fantasy points -- not to mention it's the scheme in which he flourished a year ago.

Anderson Is Good

This is the simplest reason, and it may be the most important: Anderson is a good running back. As the aforementioned NEP stats tell us, he's among the best in the NFL -- at least he was last year.

The 24-year-old rushed for 849 yards and 8 scores on 179 carries in 2014, adding 44 grabs for 324 yards and 2 touchdowns as a receiver. He did all that despite getting more than 13 carries in just five games. 

If these two putrid games happened in Week 7 and Week 8, it wouldn’t cause near the freak out. If you’re looking for a way to improve your roster, send out an offer for Anderson. A running back who we have projected for 704 rushing yards, 243 receiving yards and 9 total touchdowns may be on sale this weekend.