Running Back C.J. Anderson’s time in Denver is officially over. On April 16, after five seasons with the Denver Broncos, General Manager John Elway sent the former Pro Bowler on his way after failing to find a place to trade him. Anderson’s career was a roller coaster in Denver, a career that saw the highest of highs and lowest of lows. It seems that for every good season that Anderson had, there had to be an equal and opposite reaction to bring the universe back into balance. Here is a quick recap of Anderson’s time as a Denver Bronco.
Remembering C.J. Anderson
Anderson’s arrival into the NFL in 2013 was a rocky affair. Having gone undrafted, he managed to find a home in Denver, signing a relatively cheap, $1.5 million deal. Little did Denver know (or did they?) that for the price, Anderson was a needle in a haystack. However, the needle would not shine in year one.
Anderson suffered a sprained MCL during the 2013 pre-season; he would not play in the NFL until week eight against the Washington Redskins. His high point for the season came when the Broncos were at their lowest. He ended up touching the ball three times in Super Bowl 48 during a humiliating loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Anderson ended his 2013 season quietly with seven rushes for 38 yards and zero touchdowns. Little did he know that his quiet whimper of a campaign would be followed by a roar of a season which would put him on the map.
2014 was Anderson’s breakout year as a premier running back in the NFL. He had a quiet first half of the season in which he failed to reach the end zone. But from week eight and beyond, he managed to score at least one touchdown in each of his remaining games.
His performance in the second half of the season was enough to earn him his first and only Pro Bowl appearance.
He finished the year with 179 rushes for 849 yards, eight touchdowns, and 324 receiving yards. However, if this season put Anderson on the map, 2015 would see him become a force to be reckoned with.
The Highest Of Highs
Although Anderson didn’t have the stats that he had in 2014, he showed up when it mattered most. Arguably one of the best Broncos moments of the 21st century came on an evening in Denver near the end of Week 12. The unbeaten New England Patriots had come to town and looked to roll over the weakened Denver Broncos who were missing their money maker, Peyton Manning.
As the game progressed, it seemed clear that the Patriots were going to crush the competition while sitting on a 14-point lead. As the game went on, a light snow started to fall.
Anderson fought against that idea and found his legs late, scoring a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and making it a one-possession game. Anderson’s production continued and allowed the Broncos to tie the game at 24 and force overtime.
The final play of the game would be etched into the minds of Broncos fans forever. On a third and one, the Broncos pitched the ball left to Anderson at the 48-yard line and he sprinted all of the way to the end zone, completing one of the most memorable comebacks of the year, if not the decade. This play is one of the main reasons why Broncos fans will remember the name “C.J. Anderson.” In the end, he finished the game with two touchdowns and 113 yards on the ground.
However, there was still much more football to play. The Broncos would become the coveted first overall seed going into the playoffs and would defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers as well as the New England Patriots for the second time and reach the Super Bowl. Their opponent would be the Carolina Panthers. A team that, just two games earlier, had defeated the Seattle Seahawks, the team that had humiliated the Broncos in the Super Bowl just two years earlier.
Leading up to the Super Bowl, Quarterback Cam Newton had a career year, leading the Panthers to a 15-1 regular season record and dismantling many teams along the way.
On the other side, Denver had a very good defense but with the rapidly aging Peyton Manning, there were too many questions on offense. Going into the game, the Broncos were the clear underdogs and most thought it was to be Cam’s year. Many Broncos fans awaited the game with bated breath, their defeat in Super Bowl 48 still all too fresh in their minds.
The game that followed went in Denver’s favor on almost every play. Anyone who watched the game would say that the defense won the game for the Broncos. That being said, Anderson ran for 90 yards and a touchdown, including an important rush for 34 yards on a second and 10 that would almost put the Broncos in the red zone. The undrafted rookie out of Cal was now a Super Bowl champion.
During the offseason, Anderson landed a brand new four-year contract worth $18 million, including a $5 million signing bonus and $7.6 million guaranteed. The contract guaranteed that he would play for at least two years as a Bronco, as the money was guaranteed whether he played or not.
However, trouble loomed for the running back because the contract would allow the Broncos to cut him after two years for no additional cost. He had to meet expectations in order to keep his job long-term.
The Lowest Of Lows
The young running back failed to meet expectations the following year due to a torn meniscus that would require surgery and sideline him for much of the 2016 season. He finished the year with 110 rushes for 437 yards and four touchdowns, his worst season since 2013. In order to prove his worth, he would need a re-creation of his performance in 2014 or 2015 or better.
He reached a career-high in total rushes and rushing yards in 2017. However, the team as a whole was massively underwhelming, finishing 5-11. All fingers were pointed at the malign offense. As the season was winding down and it had been clear for a long time that the Broncos were not even going to come close to making the playoffs, rumors and speculation started to swirl around several of the biggest names on offense. Would they be traded or cut? Would they stay? Elway made it clear that he was looking at all available options as the offseason progressed.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, rumors surfaced that Anderson was being shopped to other teams around the league. No one bit on the Pro Bowler and so Anderson fell out of the spotlight.
Suddenly, on April 16, 2018, the team announced that they would be cutting the running back. Many Broncos fans were in shock, and angry as they had felt that Anderson had shown enough in 2017 to earn a spot on the roster in 2018. However, it is clear that Elway felt differently and many fans are still coming to terms with the news.
A Return To Glory?
All of a sudden, it seems that Anderson has come full circle. He failed to impress during the first opportunity to be drafted but he eventually landed with the Denver Broncos, a team that would make two Super Bowls in three years and win one.
Now after failing to impress while being shopped to other teams by Elway, Anderson finds himself trying to impress as a free agent once again. Could he land somewhere on the cusp of making multiple Super Bowls? Could lightning strike twice? For those watching the newly returned needle of the haystack, one can only wait and see.