The Detroit Lions were on the lookout this offseason for a running back to add depth behind starter Kerryon Johnson.
Detroit signed Rams restricted free agent running back Malcolm Brown to an offer sheet last month, but Los Angeles matched Detroit’s offer to keep Brown. Lions general manager Bob Quinn quickly moved on and has signed veteran unrestricted free agent C.J. Anderson, who also played for the Rams last year, and was pivotal to their run to the Super Bowl.
Signed by the Rams late in the season when Todd Gurley was dealing with a knee injury, Anderson had 299 yards rushing in the final two weeks of the regular season. Anderson ran for another 123 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams' divisional playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys. He finished the season with 488 rushing yards and four touchdowns in five games with Los Angeles.
Anderson, 28, is an eight-year veteran with a career average of 4.5 yards per rush. He rushed for over 1,000 yards (1,007) in 2017 in Denver, when current Lions offensive line coach Jeff Davidson held the same job with the Broncos. There should be some familiarity there between Anderson and Davidson in terms of Anderson’s running style and how it might fit the schemes Davidson and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are creating in Detroit.
Detroit is high on running back Kerryon Johnson’s ability after a very good rookie campaign, but Lions head coach Matt Patricia has talked often about wanting multiple options in the backfield. He prefers not to overwork one back.
“It doesn’t really change with that position. Regardless of Kerryon, it’s a position-specific thing where those guys take a lot of hits,” Patricia said recently at the League Meetings. “They’re in those situations a lot where their bodies are taking a pounding. You want to be conscious of how many plays they’re getting, especially early on in the year.
“Obviously, we just want to win. That’s the most important thing, but you do have to look at big picture. Great, we could run a couple plays now, but if we wear this guy out, it’s not going to help us in the long run.”
That’s where the Anderson and Zach Zenner signings are key for the Lions. Now with Johnson, Anderson, Zenner and Theo Riddick, Detroit features a versatile backfield with experience and varying skill sets. All four players averaged better than 4.3 yards per rush last season, and Johnson and Riddick are excellent receivers as well.