Dynasty Mythbusters: CJ Anderson and Jonas Gray

Jacob Feldman


Another week is now in the rear view mirror and the injuries to fantasy starters continue to pile up. When you add in aging veterans who are in rapid decline, there is opportunity for a lot of young players to step on up to the plate and show what they are made of. Some of them look like the stars of tomorrow, but we know from the past that most of them are just a flash in the pan. Of course the tricky part is figuring out who are those special exceptions. That is where I come in. For those of you unfamiliar with the mythbuster series, the goal of the article is to analyze certain trends, potential breakouts or just downright bad play in an attempt to predict what we can expect in the future.

Am I always right? Definitely not. But I did suggest that you sell, sell, sell on Trent Richardson very early in the season last year (before it was a trendy thing to say!) when you could get top five running back prices for him, and ignore the week one “breakouts” of Jerome Simpson and Leonard Hankerson just to name a few.

The fantasy community as a whole tends to have a very strong tendency to overreact to small sample sizes. This is especially true when it comes to early season production. After all, it is only natural after months and months of buildup, thinking your team is great, to get disappointed when your stud disappoints. Don’t go trading them for pennies on the dollar. They will be back. It works in the opposite direction as well. We all like the feeling of grabbing that virtual unknown and watching them turn into the next Jimmy Graham. The problem is the vast majority of the time they don’t pan out and trading your first round pick or an every week starter away for him would be a major mistake.

Through this series, I’ll do my best to focus on guys who are likely to be talked up as potential waiver additions or who are end of the bench guys on most rosters who you might be able to snag with a reasonable trade offer.

This week I’m going to take a look at a pair of running backs who burst onto the scene to varying degrees in week 11 thanks in part to some injuries to the players in front of them. With injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, CJ Anderson has been given the starting role in the high powered Denver offense. While he didn’t do much on the ground, his day as a pass catcher was definitely intriguing. The biggest story of the weekend from the running back position had to be Jonas Gray. His four touchdowns and roughly 200 yards definitely got people’s attention. Can we expect either of them to continue their breakouts?

CJ Anderson, RB DEN
Week 9 and 10 totals: 22 carries for 119 yards, 12 receptions for 159 yards and 1 score

The second year player out of the University of California was named as a player to watch by many last season when he was a rookie. Entering his second year in the league he was in the mix early during OTAs and training camp before falling to at least third on the depth chart behind Ball and Hillman. When Ball went down with a groin injury Anderson’s playing time didn’t increase as some had hoped. Instead Hillman took the lead with Juwan Thompson backing him up. It wasn’t until Hillman went down in week nine that Anderson actually had a role in the offense. His 13 carries for 90 yards to go with four receptions for 73 yards were a tantalizing glimpse at what he can do, but then Ball was ready to come back in week ten. That didn’t last long as Ball aggravated his injury and Anderson piled up 66 of the 71 offensive snaps. Is there hope going forward or is he just a short term fill in?

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The Good: One of the first things you notice about the former undrafted free agent is when you look at him he looks the part. His 5’8”, 225 pound frame looks to be every bit of a bell cow running back. When you combine it with good though not great balance you get a player who can run with enough power to break tackles and the balance to keep going after first contact. He has also shown a quick first step and burst to the hole in addition to decent hands to catch the ball out of the backfield.

His production over the last few weeks is also noteworthy. Running the ball he abused a bad defense in Oakland but seemed much more human against the Rams. Then again, the Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the league. Where his production has really stood out has been in the passing game. With Peyton Manning at the helm, anyone who can excel in the passing game is going to have some solid value. Given that Hillman and Ball are both out for a few more weeks Anderson is going to have his chance.

The Bad: The biggest concern which comes to mind with Anderson is his past history. He was a backup at Cal, an undrafted free agent in the NFL, and at best third on the depth chart for the majority of the season. What did so many different teams and coaches see that they didn’t like?

Part of it might be that while Anderson has a good first step he is lacking in the overall speed and agility department. He is merely average at best when it comes to his ability to make cuts and change direction. He isn’t going to out run many defenders and isn’t going to make them miss very often in the open field. Instead he tends to just lower his shoulder and try to run through the tackler.

The Ugly Truth: There is a lot to like about Anderson in terms of his abilities and his situation, and he has definitely flashed over recent weeks. However, there was a reason he went undrafted in the first place and that he started the season down on the depth chart. As a runner, Anderson tends to get what is blocked for him and not a whole lot else. Meaning against bad defenses he should be productive but against good ones he is likely to be very average. Thompson is also still very likely to get most of the goal line work, potentially limiting Anderons’s upside on the ground. His real value will come in the passing game. With Manning at the helm and the attention the receivers draw there will be enough room underneath for Anderson to do some damage with a few 10-20 yard receptions.

While I expect Anderson to be a solid RB2 over the next few weeks due to injury, the real question is what happens when Hillman and/or Ball return in a few weeks. Anderson has played well enough to earn some snaps, but he lacks the explosive element. This means he is likely to revert back to a backup role. Of course both Ball and Hillman have had their issues with injuries over this season and previous ones, so Anderson could end up being a bargain down the home stretch and into the fantasy playoffs if you can get him at a reasonable price.

Final Verdict: I expect Anderson to return to a committee role once either Hillman or Ball get healthy, but until then he should be a solid RB2 and could potentially help win some playoff games for fantasy owners.

Jonas Gray, RB NE
Week 10 totals: 37 carries for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Easily one of the most impressive running back performances of the weekend came from Jonas Gray. It was one I definitely didn’t see coming from him. Not only is he on his third team in three years, but he couldn’t even crack the 53 man rosters during his first two season, spending the entire season on the practice squads of the Dolphins and Ravens. So how does he go from that to a game like he had Sunday night?

The Good: Much like Anderson, Gray has prototypical size for the position at 5’10” and 225 pounds. He runs with very good power and excels running between the tackles, which is a role the Patriots are definitely lacking with the injury to Stevan Ridley. Gray almost always falls forward and tends to get what is blocked for him. He is also a no nonsense runner who will follow the game plan and go where he is supposed to go instead of side to side trying to make the big play.

The best news might be that Gray is the clear cut leader on the team when it comes to running the ball with the only other running back receiving any snaps being Shane Vereen, who clearly fills a very different role. Some had pegged Brandon Bolden or James White to be that guy, but it clearly isn’t the place. With the Patriots offense looking like it did in past years, there could be an awful lot of goal line carries and clock killing runs in Gray’s future.

The Bad: Gray is definitely a straight ahead runner, but it is largely out of necessity. There is very little if anything resembling wiggle in Gray’s game. He also doesn’t have the best speed. He isn’t going to make anyone miss, isn’t going to beat defenders to the edge, and isn’t going to excel in space. No one is going to mistake him for LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles.

The other obvious concern for Gray is he plays for Bill Belichick. Belichick has proven time and time again his usage of players will change wildly from one week to the next based on game plan. The only player who is safe from Bill’s sometimes fickle ways is Tom Brady. This means Gray and everyone else on the roster is going to disappear from games from time to time, always making you think twice before you start them. There could very easily be a game where Gray gets seven carries instead of the 37 he had last weekend based solely on the game plan.

The Ugly Truth: The Patriots’ backfield is definitely in a state of flux. With Ridley injured and a free agent and Vereen also a free agent, they are looking for their back of the future. This Gray’s performance he definitely put himself in the discussion. His 57 snaps outpaced Vereen’s 20 by a very significant margin, though he had zero targets in the passing game making his role very one dimensional – this strongly hints at the fact that Belichick views Gray solely as a straight ahead runner and a committee back.

Moving forward, I expect Gray to be a very strong situational play. He is going to get the ball near the goal line. He is also going to be used a lot anytime the game plan calls for the Patriots to run the ball down the opposing defenses throats, like they did against the Colts. However, anytime they are in passing mode playing from behind or going against a team with a stout defensive line (like this Sunday versus Detroit), I fully expect Vereen to get the majority of the carries. Gray is definitely worth targeting, especially with the uncertainty moving forward in the New England backfield, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him as an every week starter. Depending on the game plan he could range anywhere from solid RB1 to barely flex worthy. As long as you keep your expectations in check, he could be a valuable asset.

Final Verdict: He’s a great straight ahead runner, but he has limited skills as a perimeter player and wasn’t used in the passing game. He’s going to be a game plan dependent committee player who could be wildly inconsistent.


jacob feldman