C.J. Anderson was a major disappointment as a first-round pick last season, but other than his price, his situation is exactly the same.
Last season, I took the skeptical side when Heith Kruger and I went back and forth about whether or not C.J. Anderson should be picked in the top half of the first round.
Mike Braude made the case the he should be the first overall pick.
The points they made in those articles are still true; yet, Anderson’s price has fallen multiple rounds.
GARY KUBIAK, RUNNING BACK WHISPERER
A central point to both Heith and Mike’s theses was the production of running backs in offenses led by Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak.
Mike posted this chart of what each primary running back has done on Kubiak’s teams:
He spins what he sees in the chart above as:
There is no doubt that Kubiak has coached three special backs in Terrell Davis, Clinton Portis and Arian Foster.
In 2000, Kubiak helped a 27-year-old Mike Anderson finish as RB4 in PPR leagues. In 2005, a 32-year-old Anderson finished as RB10 and became just the third 32-year-old running back to rush for at least 1,000 yards and ten touchdowns.
Including all of these seasons, Kubiak’s running backs have averaged 18.0 fantasy points per start. That’s good for RB6 in PPR running back points per game. That includes every season, even with below average talents like Ron Dayne.
Kubiak is one of the few coaches left that is willing to allow a single RB to receive the vast majority of the responsibility. In years where he has found an RB that can both stay healthy and prove to be the most effective option, he is willing to give upwards of 77 percent of the total touches to him.
Kubiak believes in the bell cow RB and has already expressed his intentions to favor a heavy rushing attack this season. Over the last five seasons, RBs in Kubiak’s offense have accounted for 44.8 percent of his team’s total TDs.
So what happened?
Anderson only accounted for 177 of the team’s 432 running back touches last season, or roughly 41.0 percent, while Ronnie Hillman accounted for 53.5 percent (the rest was Juwan Thompson). Congruently, the backs as a group only accounted for 37.5 percent of the team’s offensive touchdowns.
As Ben Gretch got into in his postmortem of Anderson’s 2015, an ankle and toe injury limited Anderson for the first six games of the season prior to Denver’s Week 7 bye. Following that, Anderson’s efficiency jumped back to where it had been in 2014, after looking like a completely different player in the part of the season that is susceptible to the pitfalls of primacy bias.
As University of Rochester Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and contributor to ESPN and RotoViz, Dr. Renee Miller explains:
“The Primacy Effect, the finding that things that happen first in a sequence of events are preferentially remembered and hold a more prominent place in our memory than subsequent events, with the exception of the most recent event (Recency Bias).”
Part of the reason Anderson’s ADP is in the toilet this season is that people are remembering those first six weeks well, when he was badly hurting their teams by being active, yet woefully producing.
While his efficiency and production went up dramatically in the back two-thirds of the season, his usage alarmingly did not, as he was still getting out-touched by Hillman roughly 16 to 11 on a per-game basis:
The encouraging thing here is the uptick in rushing touchdowns. Looking at the team splits after the bye, we see the percent of rushing plays go from 37.3 percent to 42.3 percent, and the rushing touchdowns go from 22 percent of the team’s offensive scoring to 47.8 percent.
WHY ANDERSON IS GOING TO TAKE OVER
Douche did his own postmortem on Anderson’s 2015 and found that the second half of the season brought the rushing touchdown production nearly even with the rest of Kubiak’s recent teams’ running backs:
While Denver only has the 12th highest Vegas win total, down to 9.0 games from the 12 they won last season, and they’re only seventh in odds to win the Super Bowl, it would be surprising if they scored significantly fewer points.
Other than the 2013 season, when the Texans went 2-14 and started Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, and T.J. Yates over a nightmarish stretch that got Kubiak fired, every offense prior to 2015 on the above chart had at least 38 offensive touchdowns, averaging 41.6 per season.
In that stretch after the bye, the team paced for 37 offensive touchdowns, and that’s with Peyton Manning starting four games to Brock Osweiler‘s six, in which they were both putrid.
Even if the team is worse, Anderson was not reliant on positive game flow to get work. He had more targets when the team was trailing or tied than he did when they were winning (19 to 17), and he also had more carries in neutral or negative scripts than positive ones (79 to 73).
The team’s letting him explore free agency was a bizarre decision, but they were up against the cap and needed options. Giving him the lowest of three tenders (something that pertains to restricted free agents), they essentially offered him an amount of money guaranteed to be outbid by another team, giving themselves the ability to match whatever offer he accepted.
The fact they didn’t give him the next higher tender, which would have also given them the right to match any offer, may have been a shrewder move than people gave it credit for. Had he been given the second tender, the Broncos would have been offering him $2.6 million instead of $1.7 million, and also giving themselves an automatic draft pick if he signed with another team.
This not only made it harder for any team making Anderson an offer to get him to accept, but with Denver entitled to a compensatory second-round pick, it complicates another team signing him by implying an unwitting boon to Denver’s draft. This would have made him less desirable, and could have resulted in him holding out with Denver on that one-year contract because no other team made an offer he accepted.
By making his contract so small, and not attaching any draft pick compensation to it, they let the rest of the league set a fair price for Anderson without having to negotiate with him or his agent. When he accepted Miami’s offer of 4-years/$18M with $7.6M guaranteed, the Broncos surprisingly matched it, revealing what may have been their plan all along.
Making their intentions even clearer, the team signed Ronnie Hillman to a very cuttable $1.8M/one-year deal in April. Currently being outplayed by third-year, undrafted Colorado State product Kapri Bibbs, who was waived from the roster in 2014 and failed to make the 53-man roster in 2015, multiple outlets are not expecting Hillman to make this team:
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) August 22, 2016
— Rich Kurtzman (@RichKurtzman) August 22, 2016
Devontae Booker is already 23-years old, and has the highest Workhorse score in this year’s class, which are both indicative of his being ready to contribute immediately. The Broncos still waited until six other running backs were off the board before drafting him, committing insignificant draft capital at the end of the fourth round.
Part of what made Anderson so fantasy spectacular in 2014 was his owning of the goal line, when he was third highest in touchdowns per touch, behind only Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles. He had 30 percent of his TDs come on one-yard runs, versus Charles’ 21 percent, and Lynch’s seven percent.
Should Anderson get hurt, Booker has a lot working in his favor that could make him this year’s DeAngelo Williams. It would be borderline shocking, however, if Kubiak decided to go with the rookie taken at the turn of the fourth/fifth round in scoring opportunities versus the larger, historically exceptional goal line back, that they just paid to be their workhorse.
He is currently being drafted as RB13, 39th overall. RB13 (Darren McFadden) scored 199.7 points last season, while over the last five seasons, ADP RB13, 39th overall has averaged 180 points. Anderson paced for 185 points post-bye last season, on fewer than 11 touches per game; over the second half of 2014, he paced for 391 points.