Jesse Bethel High graduate C.J. Anderson may or may not be a fan of musician James Taylor, but he definitely has Carolina on his mind now.
Nearly three weeks after Anderson was released by the Denver Broncos, the former Jaguar signed a one-year contract with the Carolina Panthers, who finished 11-5 last season and in first place in the NFC South. Although North Carolina’s state motto is “first in flight,” Anderson is glad he’s with a team that does a lot of damage on the ground.
“I choose Carolina because the team fits my game well with a run-first offense,” Anderson said. “I have a lot of respect for (head coach) Ron Rivera and (offensive coordinator) Norv Turner. There may have been other teams looking at me, but in the end this was strictly a football move for me.”
Anderson was released from Denver with two years left on his contract and $4.5 million owed this year. In 2017 Anderson rushed for over 1,000 yards (1,007) for the first time in his career. In 2014 he made his first Pro Bowl appearance and in February of 2016 he helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl by rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers in Santa Clara.
During five seasons with the Broncos, Anderson rushed for 3,051 yards and 20 touchdowns while also hauling in 103 catches for 859 yards and four more touchdowns. In 693 rushing attempts he only fumbled three times. Despite these numbers, Denver decided to part ways with the 2013 undrafted free agent out of Cal.
“I don’t want to reflect on Denver and why they let me go,” Anderson said. “They have their own agenda. I had five years of success with them and I was able to have some big moments like play in two Super Bowls and make a Pro Bowl.
Anderson joins the team he helped beat three years ago in the Super Bowl, but Anderson said discussions of that game weren’t discussed often during contract talks.
“They definitely respect what I did and the type of player I’ve been, but it wasn’t really about that game,” the 27-year-old running back said. “It was more about how can my leadership help push us over the top.”
Despite not belonging to a team during the last weekend in April, Anderson said he was still watching the NFL draft very closely to see which teams took a running back. The Panthers drafted a wide receiver (D.J. Moore) with their first pick and followed up with two defensive backs with the next two picks. They did not pick a running back, while Denver used two of its picks on running backs by selecting Royce Freeman out of Oregon in the third round and David Williams from Arkansas in the seventh round.
Anderson will replace longtime Panthers’ running back Jonathan Stewart, who was released from Carolina in February. Stewart, the 13th pick by the Panthers in the 2008 draft, is the franchise’s all-time rushing leader.
With Stewart gone, Anderson factors to team up with former Stanford running back and 2017 draft pick Christian McCaffrey, who rushed for 435 yards and two touchdowns last season. Like Anderson he was also a threat to catch passes out of the backfield (651 yards, 5 touchdowns receiving).
“It should be fun to play with him. I have a lot of respect for Christian and I think we complement each other well with our games,” Anderson said.
The Vallejo native said he also spoke with Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton on Tuesday.
“We talked and I have a lot of respect for him,” Anderson said. “I feel like I can help compliment his game as well, but I’m going to be me. I’m going to grind and take it one day at a time.”
The NFC South now has a local feel to it, with Anderson set to face Benicia High graduate Austin Carr (from Northwestern University) of the New Orleans Saints.
“Yeah I know Austin mostly from my younger brother, K’lan,” C.J. said. “They both grew up together and played for the Vallejo Raiders. I was really excited when he did well at Northwestern. He knows how to grind and hopefully I can see him out on the field this year.”
Anderson often thinks about his hometown Vallejo, as his Dreams Never Die Foundation aims to provide inner city and low-income youth with the resources needed to persevere and ultimately reach their maximum potential in academics and/or athletics. The foundation is in the process of putting together a sports complex in Vallejo.
“Everything is going well with the foundation and we just have to find a spot for the complex,” Anderson said. “We’re looking at six to eight acres going somewhere. The team I have working on it is doing a great job.”
Although Anderson said he’s proud of the work done in Vallejo, he says he’s still got plenty of work to do in the NFL before he thinks about retiring.
“I’m only 27 years old,” Anderson said. “I have a lot of football left in me. I need to prove I can do a lot of great things again and I’m looking forward to a big season.”