The Denver Broncos Need to Feature C.J. Anderson in Super Bowl 50
When things go well in the NFL, it can be easy to get excited and overconfident.
That can be especially true in fantasy football.
Before the season, our projections pegged C.J. Anderson as the riskiest player in fantasy football for 2015. He finished the 2014 season as a fantasy RB1 despite having only 179 carries. He had previously only carried the ball seven times in his NFL career.
The starting job became his in the second half of the 2014 season because of injuries to the other running backs, who were healthy again by the start of the 2015 season. Not to mention, the Broncos had a new coaching staff coming in who possibly could have chosen Ronnie Hillman to be their favored starter.
Anderson began the season as a major disappointment to anyone who drafted him in the early rounds of fantasy drafts and ended up splitting carries with Hillman.
The Broncos continued to ride that timeshare throughout the regular season and playoffs, despite Anderson looking more like his 2014 self recently. With a Super Bowl matchup looming against the Panthers, who allowed the fourth fewest rushing yards per game in 2015, it's time to look at who gives the Broncos the best chance to succeed on the ground.
Both of Denver’s top running backs struggled during the regular season, and neither was able to separate himself early in the season.
Taking a look at their regular season stats as a whole and comparing them to all other running backs with at least 150 or more carries in 2015 shows just how even both of them were in their struggles this season. You'll see references to NEP, or Net Expected Points, which is our signature metric for indicating how a player or team performed relative to expectation level.
|Player||Carries||Rush Yd||Rush TD||Rush NEP/P||Rank||Rush Success Rate||Rank|
Anderson had the edge over Hillman in the receiving department, but both backs ranked toward the bottom of the league in Reception NEP per target. Of the 47 running backs with at least 30 targets during the regular season, Anderson (0.17) finished 41st, and Hillman (-0.04) ranked dead last, while being the only back to hold a negative value in this category.
As I mentioned earlier, neither back was able to play well consistently early in the season, especially Anderson, who failed to average four or more yards per carry in any game before Denver’s Week 7 bye.
Hillman proved to be the better back early in the season with two 100-yard games before the bye, but even he remained under four yards per carry in the other four games.
Bye to the Struggles
Since the Broncos’ Week 7 bye, including the playoffs, Anderson has averaged 5.9 yards per carry and recorded 4.5 yards per carry or better in 10 of 11 games. He missed Week 14 but still only had 20 fewer rushing yards than Hillman in that game.
Hillman, on the other hand, continued to struggle after the bye, averaging just 3.54 yards per carry and only eclipsing the 4.5-yard average twice in 12 games.
Anderson also had a better Rushing NEP per rush in nine of the 11 post-bye week games in which both participated.
Oddly enough, Hillman was still given more carries in 6 of those games.
After seeing the performance of the two backs since their bye week, and having two weeks to prepare for their first playoff game, clearly the Broncos' coaches decided to lean on C.J. Anderson as their workhorse back, right?
Nope. That would make too much sense.
In terms of production, Anderson has separated himself from Hillman even more throughout Denver's first two playoff games, but in terms of carries, the two are clearly still in a timeshare.
|Player||Carries||Rush Yd||Rush TDs||Rush NEP/P||Rush Success Rate|
Anderson (4.65) has averaged more than double Hillman's (2.00) yardage on a per-carry basis during the playoffs.
Carolina has allowed only two opposing running backs to top 100 yards on the ground this season, which will provide a challenge for both Denver running backs.
The Broncos have kept Hillman in the mix all year despite his struggles, but the statistics show that Anderson gives them the best chance to succeed in the Super Bowl.