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C.J. Anderson: Feast or famine in 2017

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C.J. Anderson is breaking off some big gains, but is also struggling to pick up on the shorter runs.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Anderson is currently 5th in the league in rushing yds. That’s good. I like it when Denver has a running back who is at or near the top of the league in rushing yards. It reminds me of my childhood when Mike Shanahan could take a cell-phone salesman from the mall and turn him into a 1000-yard rusher. The issue with C.J. is that he has been very erratic this season while Jamaal Charles has been consistent. See the histogram below of run distances and number of runs so far this year by the Broncos (I left out the lone runs by Andy Janovich, Isaiah McKenzie and DeAngelo Henderson - all of whom have exactly one carry so far this year).

Notice that 101 of C.J.’s 235 rushing yards (43%) this year have come on 4 total carries (of 18, 23, 28 and 32 yards). Also note that 28 of CJ’s 53 carries (53%) have gained 2 or fewer yards. Looking more deeply into the data, 12 of his 53 carries (23%) have gained 0 yards or less. Compare that with Jamaal Charles who doesn’t have the long runs that CJ has, but who has been much more consistent. The easiest way to compare the two backs is to look at the most common run distance on their carries. Jamaal has eight carries of four yards while the most frequent run length for CJ is zero and one yard (9 occurrences of both).

How does this compare with the rest of C.J.’s career? Let’s look.

There are two long runs which are off scale on the above chart - a 48 and a 39 yard run). Given this data we really shouldn’t be surprised. C.J. for his career has always been someone who gets a bunch of zero, one and two yard runs. Some (or most) of this could be blamed on his offensive line’s inability to run block in previous years. This year’s offensive line supposedly is much better at run blocking, yet C.J. Anderson continues to produce a bunch of short runs. Maybe that is who C.J. Anderson is as an NFL running back - a feast or famine back.

I know that it is a little unfair to compare C.J. to Jamaal Charles, who has the highest ypc average in the history of the NFL for a RB with over 750 carries. Let’s look at Jamaal Charles career run distance histogram.

Note that Jamaal Charles most common run distance is two yards, with roughly 170 runs of that distance during his career, but you should also note how few one and zero yard runs he has relative to his two, three and even four yard runs. A couple of years ago I did some comparative analysis to see what the histogram looks like for elite running backs. The plot for Jamaal Charles is what you would expect from an elite running back. They generally still have the long runs, but they avoid the “stuffed runs” by and large. Stuffed runs are runs that gain two or fewer yards - IOW, stuffed runs are wins for the defense (unless they are short yardage or goal line runs in which case they could be wins for the offense - I delineated in my previous articles to separate short yardage successful runs from stuffed runs.)


Will C.J. Anderson ever become a more consistent running back?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    (168 votes)
  • 45%
    (206 votes)
  • 18%
    Maybe - discuss in comments section
    (83 votes)
457 votes total Vote Now