I'm pretty high on C.J. Anderson this season, and so far, the news hasn't lowered those expectations much. The good news is that many in your fantasy leagues will be down on Anderson after he was picked in the first round last season only to kick his fantasy owners square in the nether regions. His poor 2015 was due, in the beginning, to a toe injury that hampered him early in the season and allowed Ronnie Hillman to split work with him and even start ahead of him. The injury showed in Anderson's play, as he couldn't make anyone miss and had little burst through the line. Then, you can add in just how poorly Peyton Manning was playing, allowing teams the ability to stack the line and concentrate on stopping the run.
As the season went on, Anderson did show signs of health and ability. Against Green Bay in Week 7, he rushed 14 times for 101 yards and a touchdown, while Hillman rushed five times for five yards. After that game, Anderson only rushed under 4.5 yards per carry once, and that was in a game shortened for him by an ankle injury. Coming into Week 7, Anderson hadn't topped four yards per carry in a single game. So he was coming on strong, but Kubiak continued to split work between Anderson and Hillman despite the surge in production. Over the last 10 regular season games and three playoff games, Anderson severely outplayed Hillman as you can see below.
During this time, Hillman was the starter, as you can see by the discrepancy in touches, but when the playoffs and Super Bowl were on the line, Anderson out-touched Hillman 63-to-33 and started the Super Bowl, touching the ball 27 times for 100 yards and a touchdown against a tough Carolina defense.
I'm also happy that Anderson, despite losing all that work to Hillman, still was the preferred receiving back, with one more reception and target on the year despite having 50 fewer rushing attempts.
So even though it took them too long, the Broncos did finally give the ball to their best back and it paid off. This season, there's little doubt that Anderson is the starter. His biggest competition will be rookie Devontae Booker instead of Hillman, but unless Anderson is injured again, which of course is always possible, he should be able to hold off Booker. And with a more dedicated ground game, Booker and Hillman should be able to get on the field without cutting too much into Anderson's workload.
The history of Gary Kubiak running backs is a great one, as he's turned some average backs into fantasy stars, even if it's just for one season. This year, he seems hell bent on getting the most out of his running game, as the Broncos drafted a fullback and an offensive lineman, signed two tackles in free agency, drafted Booker in the fourth round and signed Anderson's $18 million offer-sheet away from the Dolphins. Kubiak and John Elway know that they do not have a quarterback who they can rely on yet. Last season, they weren't resigned to that fact yet, and it almost bit them in the ass, but this year, they are all-in on the run game.
After Anderson was signed and most likely told he would be the bell-cow in this offense, it appears he took it to heart, showing up to OTAs in great shape, which hadn't been the norm for him so far in his career. Kubiak praised him after the offseason programs, saying, "Just watching him, I think his condition level is the best that I've seen it since I've been here. You all watch him practice. He's had a really good offseason."
The main drawback for Anderson's fantasy value is that he's yet to put together a full season as the starter. His conditioning to start this year is a good sign, but injuries are always going to be something you worry about for a running back, but at his current ADP of the 15th to 17th running back off the board in the late third to early fourth round, I think there is plenty of value, even if you are worried about injury.
Denver is still stacked on defense, so this team won't be forced to throw the ball to make up large deficits, and to insulate its average quarterback, whomever that turns out to be, the Broncos will run the ball to keep him from getting hit and open up some easy passes. Anderson is poised to be the cornerstone of this endeavor, and I believe he'll be well worth your early fantasy pick this year.