C.J. Anderson Signed with the Panthers… Now What?

By Joe Pollock 

C.J. Anderson Signs w/ the Carolina Panthers

C.J. Anderson has signed with Carolina; let’s get this part out of the way right off the bat. If you orchestrated a dynasty trade for Christian McCaffrey thinking he was going to be the bell cow or workhorse in Carolina, you got hosed. I said it when Jonathan Stewart’s contract expired at the start of the league new year; I said it when the news came out that Christian McCaffrey had put on between 15 and 20 pounds this offseason, and I even said it when the 2018 draft came and went without the Panthers adding a running back. Ron Rivera has led the Panthers as head coach for seven years. In all seven of those years, there has been a two-back system used in Carolina. This year will be no different.

With that little “I told you so” out of the way, let’s move on to the part that matters. How is C.J. Anderson going to affect the other fantasy assets in Carolina, the offense as a whole, and in the bigger picture, the fantasy landscape?

C.J. Anderson as a Carolina Panther

To understand what to expect from C.J. Anderson in silver and blue, we must first rewind. Jonathan Stewart’s 2017, though not a perfect analogy, should provide us a blueprint for what we can look forward to from Anderson in 2018.

Stats Courtesy of Pro Football Reference

The first thing that stands out is the yards per attempt. Stewart’s 2017 number of 3.43 in that category was the worst of his ten year NFL career, but not by much. Compare that with C.J. Anderson’s career Y/A of 4.4 and career low of 4.0, and things really might be looking up for the ground-and-pound possibilities in Carolina.

Stewart finished as the 42nd running back in PPR (35th in standard). On the surface, this would appear to spell doom for one C.J. Anderson in this Carolina Panthers offense. If you dig a little deeper, though, you’ll find that the problem was with Stewart, and not so much with the opportunity the Panthers offense provided. Stewart finished with 29 red zone carries (Pro Football Reference). That’s good enough for 16th in all of football. On top of that, Stewart saw 12 carries coming from inside the five. That’s seventh most in all of the NFL. Stewart converted only three of his 29 red zone attempts and 12 carries inside the five. That’s a conversion rate of 10 percent and 25 percent respectively. Only two backs in the top 20 in red zone attempts converted a lower percentage of carries inside the five for touchdowns. LeSean McCoy and… you guessed it, C.J. Anderson. Do with this information as you please, but it should be noted that Anderson has historically been a moderately more effective pass catcher than Stewart. Stewart saw 8 or more men in the box on a league-high 51.01% of his carries in 2017. I’d be shocked if that number repeated with Anderson in that backfield. 

C.J. Anderson is competing for a piece in an ever-shrinking puzzle in that Carolina backfield. Christian McCaffrey will get the vast majority of the targets, and a good share of the carries as well. Anderson’s touches will depend greatly on how effective he is out of the gate. Should he decide to come out looking like the back that ran for 4.33 yards per attempt and two scores against stacked boxes throughout the 2015-16 NFL playoffs en route to a Lombardi Trophy, he could approach the touch numbers Jonathan Stewart saw in 2017. If he struggles, the lion’s share will likely go to a bulked up Christian McCaffrey. My early projections have Anderson with 160 attempts and 20 receptions. Good enough for consideration as a matchup-based flex option in 12-team leagues.

Did Someone Say Christian McCaffrey?

Alright. We were all thinking about it. What does this do to Christian McCaffrey’s value for the 2018 season? Well, a lot of that has to do with your league’s scoring settings. If you get points per reception (PPR), you and your relationship with Christian McCaffrey are going to be just fine. McCaffrey still has a healthy production floor around 60 receptions, and his ceiling, if the circumstances present themselves just right, could approach triple digits. Even with Anderson in that offense, there’s no way a healthy Christian McCaffrey has fewer than 100 carries, 60 catches, 900 yards from scrimmage and six total touchdowns. That would put McCaffrey’s healthy floor between running back 16 and 20 in PPR and fringe RB2/3 territory in standard.

♪♫ We Interrupt this Regularly Scheduled Program for a Special News Update From The Fantasy Takeaway♫♪ “Christian McCaffrey is a PPR back.” Oh? What’s that you say? Yeah. You’re right. That’s news to nobody. We all knew CMC was a better option in PPR than standard. The signing of C.J. Anderson will simply make McCaffrey more attainable to fantasy players that otherwise wouldn’t have been crazy enough to spend a top 12 pick on him in the with the landscape looking like it did last week. Personally, I’m chalking this signing up as a win for those who play fantasy football with sound strategy.

So What Does This do to Cam and the Panthers Offense as a Whole?

In a nutshell, not much. Cam will be Cam; a lousy passer with the best size/athletic ability combination in the history of the game at the QB position. The receiving corps is still mediocre. No 5’8”, 224 lb. back can magically put two years under the belt of a talented but raw rookie wide receiver like D.J. Moore; nor can he make a moderately above average NFL talent like Devin Funchess into something special. The offensive line, having lost one of the league’s premier guards in free agency, should fall just a bit in the rankings. Greg Olsen, if healthy, will be Greg Olsen.

C.J. Anderson will play the same role in that offense as the backs that came before him and the backs yet to come. Barring significant injury to the offensive skill position players his value will be week-to-week. A better DFS flier than season-long standby.

Joe Pollock is co-host of The Fantasy Takeaway Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @HumanStatSheet or contact him by email.

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