Every player that makes it in the NFL gets to see narratives develop around them. Whether positive or negative, these storylines shape how that player is seen by NFL fans. And most of the time, these narratives are pretty enduring. A highly touted draft prospect may bust out in truth long before he’s fully recognized as a bust by fans. A guy who struggled early might overcome his issues, but still be defined by them long afterward. Or a great player may earn a nickname that’ll carry on into the annals of NFL legend.
The 2017 Broncos seem to be in the business of busting narratives.
Last Sunday, they busted the heck out of the narrative that the Cowboys’ offensive line combined with Ezekiel Elliott’s rushing talent was an unstoppable combination. And in Week 1 they popped the bubble on the irritating offseason storyline that the Broncos were a team in decline and heading for the basement of the AFC West.
It’s not all about forcibly readjusting opponents’ expectations, though. There are some Broncos who’re well on their way to rewriting their personal narratives, and perhaps public opinion as well.
The most obvious of these players is Trevor Siemian, who’s looking to erase perceptions of him as a game manager and stopgap QB. Or take Bennie Fowler, who’d like to establish himself as Denver’s third wide receiver rather than just another backup. On defense, Shaquil Barrett is making the most of his starting opportunity in a bid to be seen as a top end OLB instead of a quality backup.
But one Bronco who’s long been a starter is also looking to change the fanbase’s perceptions of him: C.J. Anderson.
A Long Road
The 5th year running back is no stranger to adversity, beginning his career as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He broke out in the latter half of 2014 and shocked the NFL in a way similar to what 2017 rookie Kareem Hunt is doing in Kansas City.
But then injuries derailed Anderson’s rise to stardom, and bad offensive lines hampered his effectiveness. Offensive issues kept him from getting more than 15 rushing attempts in any game in 2015, and Broncos Country generally soured on him. Even after he scored the final TD of Super Bowl 50, Anderson went into the next offseason with an uncertain future and the perception that he was too injury prone to be a legitimate bellcow running back.
2016 saw Anderson start well against the Panthers, but then fade quickly as a terrible offensive line took its toll. His touches ebbed until a torn meniscus in a Week 7 contest against the Texans ended his season. To date, he has never played a full 16 game season.
The offseason saw Anderson take up long distance biking and new nutrition habits in an effort to reshape his body and increase his endurance. So far, it’s paying off. He has averaged over 4 yards per carry in both games this season, making it the first time he’s had back to back 4.0+ ypc games since the end of the 2015 season. His 199 total yards rank second in the NFL through two weeks, and he’s broken off multiple 20+ yard plays that remind this fan of the 2014 rumbles that first brought him to prominence.
At his current rate, Anderson could possibly surpass his total 2016 rushing yards before the Broncos hit their Week 5 Bye. If he doesn’t do it by then, odds are he’ll do it soon after. After being an “injury” guy and being a late-starter with the reputation of stinking early in the year, two good games could see Anderson surpass his personal best yardage mark for the first 8 games of a season in just 4 games.
Challenges await, but the Broncos’ plucky tailback is on a pace for a 1,600 yard rushing season behind the improved O-line. If he can keep that pace, he’ll redefine himself in the eyes of Broncos fans and of the league. And if that happens, or if he even gets close, then the Broncos are highly likely to be playing in the postseason... and that’s one period where, much like his great predecessor Terrel Davis, CJ Anderson excels. In five postseason appearances, he’s only failed to maintain a 4.0+ ypc once... and then still managed 3.91.
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