When the Panthers failed to add a rusher during the 2018 Draft, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before they signed a free agent running back to pair with second-year pro Christian McCaffrey; free agent CJ Anderson was regarded as the best fit and it was clear that Anderson was in the Panthers’ plans even before the draft began. When the draft board didn’t provide a running back at a spot they desired, Marty Hurney and the Panthers pulled the trigger on the former undrafted free agent from Cal, inking him to a one-year deal on Monday. While it isn’t hard to understand that a 1,000 yard rusher might help a team’s running game, what is less immediately clear is exactly how Anderson will fit in with the Panthers’ other running backs. So what is it that CJ Anderson brings to an already talented Panthers’ backfield?
Power, Power and More Power
While McCaffrey and Cameron Artis-Payne are expected to take on expanded roles in the Panthers’ running game in 2018, what neither of them have near the top of their skill set is the ability to be that power rusher on short yardage and goal-line plays; that was what Jonathan Stewart was best at, especially last season. While McCaffrey has reportedly added some weight this offseason in order to take on more carries, neither he nor Artis-Payne exceed 215 pounds, with the pair standing at 5’11 and 5’10 respectively. Anderson, in stark contrast, stands at an impressive 5’8 and 224 pounds and runs with exactly the kind of physicality one might expect from a back of his stature. What this means on a down-by-down basis is that when being solo tackled, he is often able to drag out additional yards after contact, turning negative two and three yard carries into four and five yard gains:
Additionally, he is able to generate the occasional big play by breaking the first tackle (or two or three or four) before breaking into open space:
This is not what every carry is going to look like in 2018, but this ability to add the occasional big play certainly adds value to a player who is likely going to make his money by grinding out consistent yardage inside. In addition to the broken tackles shown on the play above, what Anderson also showed an aptitude for was being able to work downhill through traffic; on the following plays, he shows the ability to work through blockers and light tackles even when an obvious running lane isn’t present:
This might not be the kind of bulldozing running style Panthers fans have seen in previous years with the likes of Mike Tolbert in the backfield, but this ability to pick up yards after contact is useful both in short yardage situations and on a down-by-down basis when working inside.