The J.J. Arrington comparisons began creeping up on C.J. Anderson months before he ever firmed up a commitment to Cal football. JuCo transfer. Overwhelming numbers at the next level. Lots of love for the Bears.
And the tape? Well, the are lots of little things that give you an idea Anderson can be a high-performer on the collegiate level once he puts it all together.
Here are the characteristics that caught my eye.
Balance/elusiveness: Anderson doesn't take on many runners head-on his tape (he probably will in college), so it's hard to judge how well he'll take getting rammed straight up by the Vontaze Burfict's of the world. But he shows that he can get hit and still keep on going.
What I really like are the Forsett/Vereen flashes Anderson exhibits with the way he moves his hips. A lot of defenders try and take him down from angles and he finds way to get out of the jam. His running style gets him to shift his weight from right to left in his steps, making it harder for defenders to wrap him up from the side. So even when he gets caught inside a pile, tackles don't come easy for this team.
Anderson does a good job also anticipating tackles. When he sees an opponent lunging towards him, bearing down on him, trying to steal his Nikes, etc., Anderson is good at changing direction away from the tackle without having to back up. Sometimes he shifts to the side, uses a little slide move to get upfield, and applies the stiff-arm as he gets to the second level. It's those little savvy things that a running back coach can appreciate--you can't teach fast, but if you have these little fundamentals in place, the more likely you'll be able to hit the field earlier.
It doesn't hurt that he's able to keep himself upright enough to still score after red zone hits. He's stumbling and bumbling his way to touchdowns!
Ball security: Ultimately, this is where he's going to need to improve the most. Anderson is good at holding the football initially. He does a good job exchanging it from the inside arm (where pursuing defenders are generally racing from) to the outside (where he's not as likely to be stripped from behind) when he gets free of the first two levels of contact.
However, it starts to get a little sloppy the moment he gets into the open field. That ball starts hanging out there, sometimes even carrying it one-handed like Deion Sanders used to do on his pick-sixes. As long as he holds it like that, he's prone to stripped fumbles or loose balls if he continues to try to dive for pylons or get a little confident about how much of a lead he has on everyone else.
As we've seen countless times, the fastest way you get the chain in Ron Gould's doghouse is by not taking care of the football. Anderson cannot hold that ball out there on any of his runs. The ball must stay firm under his arm and hugged toward the stomach area to ensure that he doesn't lose it at any point.
Power: Cal ball-carriers have struggled to get consistent yards after contact since Marshawn, and we might have those issues again with Anderson. He thrives on outside zone blocks, where he has space and leverage to work with. He isn't running up the middle much, and even when he is, the tackles on him aren't showing great form.
I think Anderson could have some bruising capacity, but I doubt he's going to suddenly turn Cal back into the power run team they were with Arrington/Lynch.
Speed: Anderson isn't at that elite speed level of the great Cal runners. If he's not standing out with his movement against junior college defenses, then he'll probably be fighting for his yards in most situations. Defenses won't be anticipating many 40-50 yard runs with Anderson, so he'll have to toil for his yards.
You might be asking yourself: What will the Bears do with a mediocre offensive line and a running back that needs time for his blocks to unfold to succeed? If this is the situation we have this fall, I figure the results will be mixed early on, and we'll all be happy one week and sad the next week.
Vision: If there's any weapon that could make Anderson a consistent D-I performer, it's his eyes. Anderson can see where second line defenders are coming from, then make the proper adjustment, usually some kind of cutback.
Just as important, he waits for the blocks to set up in front of him before attacking, an asset almost every Gould running back has down pat. He does not outrun his blocking (whether it's by design or because he's at right speed not to zoom past the blocks is up for debate), and that allows him to get clean lanes with which to operate and attack.
Of course, this could be partially because his offensive line is good. He might not have those luxuries with the Bears.
Projection: If Anderson can get better with his ball security in practice, it's no question to me that he's in the mix to get a significant number of snaps in fall camp, and at the very least will be in the top two mix with Isi Sofele. Gould has probably been in his ear about securing the football and it's the thing he's been working the most on this offseason.
Otherwise, Anderson shows a lot of maturity in many other elements of his game, and if he continues his upward trend, he could very well be on a special track with the Bears as long as the personnel around him also improve. That would be a JJ-like career with the Bears.
A Zach Maynard-C.J. Anderson starting backfield has a 30% chance of happening in Candlestick Park opening night. Wonder what the lines for that was in Vegas six months ago.