As he was weighing his offers after the Denver Broncos cut him following a 1,000-yard season, running back C.J. Anderson saw in the Carolina Panthers a team that fit his style.
From their offensive system, to the guy he’ll be lining up alongside in the backfield, to the motto that’s plastered throughout Bank of America Stadium and across Charlotte.
“As far as ground and pound, the Keep Pounding slogan that Carolina likes to (use), the ground and pound game I think fits (me) well,” Anderson said Monday, shortly after signing a one-year deal with Carolina. “Breaking tackles and finding ways to use that to make long runs and bigger plays, also catching the ball out of the backfield, too.
“But having a guy like McCaffrey, who’s super shifty and also can do some of the same things, it can be a great complementary (relationship) with each other.”
The Panthers found what they hope will be their thunder to complement McCaffrey’s lightning.
General manager Marty Hurney certainly thinks so, saying he felt fortunate to be able to add a back with Anderson’s ability so late in the offseason.
“He’s such a talented runner,” Hurney said. “He’s got great vision, plays with great pad level and runs with excellent leverage and gets the extra yards after contact.”
Anderson, 27, was released by Denver three weeks ago despite coming off a 1,007-yard rushing season, the ninth-highest total in the league. It was a cost-cutting move by the Broncos, who saved $4.5 million against the salary cap by letting Anderson go.
The Panthers were looking for a physical back to replace Jonathan Stewart, who was released in February and later signed with the Giants. Hurney had his eye on the 5-8, 224-pound Anderson as soon as the Broncos cut him.
“We feel very good. He’s an excellent running back and we’ve been talking with (Anderson’s agent) Peter Schaffer since he was released,” Hurney said. “He certainly comes in an helps make our running back position a lot deeper and a lot stronger with the other guys we have.”
A power-back alternative
The Panthers weren’t ready to enter the season with seldom-used Cameron Artis-Payne as their only between-the-tackles back.
Anderson said he had other teams interested in him, but would not identify them. But he liked the Panthers’ commitment to the running game as well as their “championship-caliber team.”
“I thought this was the best football move for me personally,” he said. “The style that Carolina likes to play definitely fits my style and my game.”
Anderson rushed for 3,051 yards and 20 touchdowns in five seasons in Denver after joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2013.
The former Cal back ran for 90 yards and a score on 23 carries in the Broncos’ 24-10 win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50. Anderson also was part of Denver’s Super Bowl-losing team as a rookie in 2013.
Productive when healthy
Injuries limited Anderson in two of his five seasons in Denver. But he was productive when healthy, making the Pro Bowl in 2014, when he collected 1,173 total yards, and posting his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2017 when he played in all 16 games for the first time.
Anderson said getting cut in Denver won’t make him any hungrier, pointing out that he came into the NFL hungry when all 32 teams passed on him in the draft.
“When I was undrafted … I felt like I didn’t have the lack of respect then and I don’t have it now," he said. "I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder. That doesn’t change the grind and how I approach the game.
“If anybody knows, who’s seen me play, I try to do everything like it’s my last. When I run the ball, like it’s my last carry. When it comes to pass protection, when it comes to making plays, I always look at myself as a playmaker.”
Already in Charlotte
Anderson was in Charlotte on Monday to take a physical and sign his contract. He ran into quarterback Cam Newton in the cafeteria at lunch, but the two didn’t talk much football after coaching against each other in a 7-on-7 tournament in March.
He’s expected to hop into the Panthers’ offseason drills Tuesday and is excited to learn more about McCaffrey’s game.
Anderson will play this season on what amounts to a prove-it deal, after which he’ll again try to determine where he best fits.
And could that be in Charlotte on a long-term deal?
“That I can’t call, man. That’s probably not a question for me,” Anderson said.
“I know I’m gonna take care of business and do the things I can potentially do to make the team a better football team and try to win championships. But I think that’s a question for somebody else that’s above my pay grade."