CJ Anderson Cements Himself as Broncos Starting RB with Breakout Day

Cecil Lammey@@cecillammeyContributor INovember 24, 2014

Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson (22) celebrate his touchdown run against the Miami Dolphins during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

The Denver Broncos got back to running the football in Week 12—and the payoff was huge. After a game in Week 11 where C.J. Anderson only ran the ball nine times, Denver decided to give him a much larger workload against the Miami Dolphins.

Anderson finished the game with 27 carries for 167 yards against Miami.

Both the 27 carries and the 167 rushing yards were season highs for any Broncos back in 2014. In fact, the 27 carries for Anderson were the most for any Broncos running back since Knowshon Moreno had 37 carries against the New England Patriots in Week 12 of 2013.

Broncos head coach John Fox likes what he saw from Anderson on Sunday.

“He’s done a tremendous job all year. It’s a position that we’ve had some injuries in. We’ve rotated guys through there and whoever has gotten their opportunity has responded and C.J. has been no different. He does a good job—he’s pretty shifty, he can make guys miss in the open field, whether it’s in the passing game off short catches or in the run game.” Fox concluded, “That’s kind of a skill set that I think he’s good at.”

Anderson feels great about what the team accomplished in their 39-36 win over the Dolphins: 

Great team win body is sore but gta get better jus wana be great

— C.J. Anderson (@CjAndersonRB9) November 24, 2014 

The young runner gave a lot of credit to his offensive line after his big day in Week 12.

“You just have to give it up to the big boys (offensive linemen) up front—they just took so much from the outside and the media all week, (saying) that they’re struggling and this and that, ‘Are they going to get it together?’ ‘Are we going to get the run game established?’ They went out there first play of the game and said, ‘Hey, this is our game today.’” Anderson concluded, “They made a statement and I just took the right holes and ran, but you have to give it to all them up front.”

With this performance—and his production over the last three games—Anderson may have cemented himself as the starter for the Broncos going forward.

Potential Starters

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

The Broncos have had three different starters at running back this year. Two of them have been lost to injury, and that opened the door for Anderson.

Montee Ball began the season as the starter for the Broncos. He was a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and during his rookie season he played as a backup behind Knowshon Moreno. The idea was that Ball would be ready for a larger role after gaining valuable experience as a rookie.

Ball’s season has been held back by two different injuries. First, Ball had an appendectomy that knocked him out of most of training camp and the preseason. Second, Ball injured his groin in a Week 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Ball was back in action last week against the St. Louis Rams, but he re-aggravated his groin injury and left the game early.

When Ball was lost due to the groin injury, Ronnie Hillman took over as the starter. He enjoyed success early as a starter for the Broncos. In two of his first three starts, Hillman rushed for over 100 yards (he had over 100 all-purpose yards in all three games).

Hillman struggled in Week 9 against the New England Patriots, but he did score two touchdowns in that game—bringing his season total to four. Hillman also struggled against the Oakland Raiders, and he left the game early with what ended up being a midfoot sprain.

Ball could return to the Broncos in a week or two. Hillman’s timetable for return is cloudier than Ball’s, and he could miss as much as another month with his injury.

Anderson has looked fantastic as the team’s starter, but will he hold onto the job? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Rushing Stats

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Anderson has only started two games for the Broncos, but he’s almost the team’s leading rusher.

Denver Broncos Rushing Stats 2014
PlayerCarriesYardsYPCYAC1D/Rush
Ronnie Hillman913784.1511517.6%
C.J. Anderson663685.5811331.8%
Montee Ball551723.1311016.4%
ESPN Stats & Inc.

The second-year back went undrafted out of the University of California in 2013, but he may have the best all-around skill set of any back on the roster.

Anderson has arguably the most power between the tackles. His strong lower body helps him push through arm tackles and pick up tough yards in key situations. He might have the fastest 10-yard split of any back the Broncos have. Hillman would beat Anderson in a 40-yard dash, but Anderson might get to top speed quicker than Hillman—and this helps him have better burst out of his cuts.

Receiving Stats

Ben Margot/Associated Press

One can easily make the argument that Anderson is the Broncos' best receiver out of the backfield.

Denver Broncos Receiving Stats 2014
PlayerTargetsReceptionsYardsYPCYAC
C.J. Anderson262022111.05198
Ronnie Hillman32201376.85111
Montee Ball139626.8952
ESPN Stats & Inc.

Anderson does a good job of making catches cleanly away from his body. Once in the open field, Anderson can make crisp cuts to find extra room to run after the catch. Anderson checks in around 220 pounds, and when he builds a head of steam he’s tough to bring down.

Summary

Anderson could have cemented himself as the team’s starter over the last three weeks.

Over the last 3 weeks, #Broncos CJ Anderson leads the #NFL with 473 all-purpose yards (rushing & receiving), JCharles (418), MEvans (381)

— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) November 24, 2014 

The Broncos may not have to address this problem for at least another week if Ball is not ready to return in Week 13. Anderson is the starter for now—but with his level of production he should be the starter for good.

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos unless otherwise noted.

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