In 2018, Kerryon Johnson grabbed all the headlines after the Lions traded up in the second round to pick him. He took over the role of RB1 with ease and began to look the part more and more as he got more carries. The Lions’ running game took a significant step back, however, when Johnson suffered a season-ending injury with a few games to go. They Lions simply didn’t have anyone with the combination of speed and power that Johnson had, and it showed. If Johnson were to be sidelined again in 2019, whose turn is it to step up?
Next Man Up: C.J. Anderson
C.J. Anderson was a good signing for the Lions, but he’s not the savior backup that many are pegging him to be. His name carries a lot of weight after he broke out in 2014 while with the Denver Broncos, and he was a centerpiece of the Peyton Manning era of the Broncos.
Anderson was an average athlete coming out of college, but his average speed combined with his bulky frame made him hard to stop in the Broncos’ power running scheme.
C.J. Anderson went undrafted in the 2013 draft class.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 12, 2019
C.J. Anderson posted a Good #RAS with Okay size, Good speed, Okay explosiveness, Good agility at the RB position.
He will be sharing the backfield with Kerryon Johnson for the #Lions. pic.twitter.com/ld09Q7idVn
He’s not the athlete he once was, though. Anderson grew noticeably hefty over the past two seasons, and the Rams used him as a thumper in their offense, almost a running back-fullback hybrid.
That’s still an upgrade for the Lions, as they’ve long lacked a decent backup running back who can run between the tackles. For too long, Theo Riddick has filled that role, but he has huge consistency issues when it comes to doing so, and he’s probably not cut out for the volume at which the Lions plan to do so in 2019.
The big question then becomes, which C.J. Anderson will the Lions get in 2019? Fortunately, Anderson has answered that himself.
I can promise this I will be in way and I mean way better shape than this https://t.co/oNkqVCkkQT— Cj Anderson (@cjandersonb22) April 1, 2019
Outside of Anderson, Riddick looks set to fill the receiving back role once again, and newly drafted Ty Johnson brings long speed that the Lions backfield is lacking, although he doesn’t have the same thumping ability as someone like Anderson. The group is rounded out by Zach Zenner, who I don’t have to fill you in on at this point, as well as Mark Thompson, who’s likely just an extra body for preseason.
I hesitated when grading the running back depth as a result of how much lays in the balance with C.J. Anderson’s conditioning. If he shows up in shape like he suggests, this could easily turn into an A-, as he’s only 28 years old and would be arguably the best backup running back in the league for only $1.4 million.
If he doesn’t, however, then the Lions find themselves in a similar spot to last year, and Anderson will just be Zach Zenner but with a little bit better acceleration. At that point, the Lions are sitting around a C.
What is for certain is that if anything were to happen to Kerryon Johnson again, the Lions will very likely turn to Anderson to fill that role. With their transition towards a power running offense, especially after bringing in a guy like Darrell Bevell at offensive coordinator, it’s essential that the Lions have another complete back on the roster besides Johnson. How well C.J. Anderson is able to fill that role is still to be determined.