Rodney Anderson Is Facing an Uphill Battle in Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bengals took two running backs in Saturday's sixth round of the NFL Draft. First, they nabbed Trayveon Williams with the 182nd overall selection, followed by taking Rodney Anderson 211th overall.
With Joe Mixon entrenched as the starter and Giovani Bernard one of the better backups in the league, Cincy still opted to burn two picks on the position, which tells us they're looking to move on from Bernard at the end of this year when his current contract runs out.
In Anderson, what are the Bengals getting?
Plagued With Injuries
If you want to evaluate Anderson as a prospect, you have to look to the back half of the 2017 season. That's not just because of how electric he was during that time -- it's because that's pretty much the only college track record he has.
He might have the most concerning injury profile of any running back in recent memory. He fractured his leg on a special teams play after his first and only carry as a freshman at Oklahoma. He missed the entirety of what would have been his sophomore season with a neck injury he suffered in practice before the year started. The team was worried enough about his health heading into the 2017 season that they limited his reps throughout the preseason -- a concern that carried into the season as he didn't receive double-digit carries until their mid-October game against the Texas Longhorns and had just 15 touches total in the team's preceding games.
After finishing the 2017 campaign on a strong note -- he had at least 100 yards from scrimmage in all but one game over the team's final eight contests of the season -- he decided to stick around for another year. Another lost year, that is. After just 11 carries over two games, Anderson tore his ACL, ending his 2018 season. He did average 10.8 yards on those 11 carries, but it was the third different season-ending injury of his college career.
Broken bones are one thing. Neck injuries are another, very scary thing. And tearing an ACL is an entirely different thing, as well. We're seeing with Todd Gurley how a college ACL injury can haunt a player in his pro career. Anderson's injury history is just one red flag after another.
But hidden in the middle of the injury sandwich that was Anderson's collegiate career is a half-season of next-level production. He was just about as dominant as a running back could be in the final eight games of the Sooners' 2017 season. He compiled 1,079 rushing yards in that time while punching in 11 rushing touchdowns. That's over 100 rushing yards and a touchdown per game, and it doesn't even include his impressive receiving resume.
Over that same stretch of games, Anderson caught 14 passes for 254 yards and 5 scores. That's the kind of efficiency -- 18.1 yards per reception -- you would usually expect from a deep threat wide receiver, not a running back.
Late-2017 Anderson was arguably better than any running back in this year's draft class from a statistical perspective -- though the same could be said for Bryce Love. That's the upside the Bengals were chasing when they selected Anderson in the sixth round.
A Few Red Flags More
Unfortunately, even if we ignore his impossible-to-ignore injury history, there are still a few red flags on Anderson's profile.
For starters, his only notable half-season came when playing with an elite offensive line and alongside the eventual number-one draft pick, Baker Mayfield. Even his limited, yet impressive 2018 stats came when playing with Kyler Murray, another first overall pick. Whereas other rookie running backs like David Montgomery and Miles Sanders have overcome subpar quarterback play to put up impressive numbers, all of Anderson's production came in the most ideal circumstances imaginable for a running back.
In Anderson's marquee 2017 season, he averaged just one tenth of a yard more per carry than freshman teammate Trey Sermon, the team's second-leading rusher. Anderson was definitively better than his teammate as a pass-catcher, but Anderson's inability to truly set himself apart from the other primary back in his offense does set off some alarm bells.
Welcome to the Bengals
To be blunt, Anderson's landing spot with the Bengals isn't a great one.
Mixon -- who produced more consistently and more efficiently than Anderson did as a rusher in his own time with the Sooners and had an elite pass-catching profile -- is already firmly entrenched as the three-down starter in Cincinnati. Bernard has adequately filled in as a change-of-pace back for the team for years. And as we mentioned up top, the Bengals even took another running back -- Williams, a guy we like around these parts -- almost 30 picks before they selected Anderson.
It will be hard for Anderson to find many opportunities with those other talents already on the roster.
Further complicating the issue is the knee injury that truncated his final season. Anderson tore his ACL early in the 2018 campaign, which will likely cause him to miss most of -- if not all of -- the offseason program and possibly even some of the season itself.
But oddly enough, the fact that the team drafted him despite that knee injury indicates that he is likely to at least survive a couple rounds of roster cuts as the season approaches. It would be odd and sub-optimal for a team to draft a player they know is already injured, then cut him before seeing how he performs on an NFL roster. So it's reasonable to assume that the team intends to be patient with Anderson, though teams are usually only so patient with sixth-round picks.
If Anderson's current injury and his overall injury history weren't enough to dissuade optimistic fantasy gamers, his draft landing spot should be. Stuck behind a true workhorse, a reliable back up, and the SEC's most prolific running back in 2018, it's extremely unlikely that Anderson can make any kind of impact for fantasy football. He can be safely avoided in redraft leagues and should be a late-round pick in only the deepest of dynasty rookie drafts.