Discover more from VolumePigs
CFF Targets - (RB) CJ Donaldson about to light the BIG-12 on FIRE?
Former *checks notes* TE CJ Donaldson may not be as potent of an asset as last season, but does he still hold value in CFF?
Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
- John Denver, Musician
Country roads. Take me home. To the place… I belong.
Well, WVU’s RB CJ Donaldson is finally home where he belongs — in his correct position slot on Fantrax, that is. Last season — in a bizarre phenomenon — Donaldson was granted TE eligibility on CFF platforms, despite definitely playing RB. This inefficiency had massive ramifications for CFF, as Donaldson would actually go on to capture the Mountaineers’ starting RB position—even going over 100 yards rushing in three out of his first four games as a true freshman.
It seemed at the time that he was going to be a league winner for anyone who was lucky enough to pounce on him off of the wire.
The fantasy gods intervened, thankfully (but unfortunately for CJ). Donaldson would go down with what was at the time a very scary injury. In a strange sequence of events, what many believed to be a serious head/neck injury turned out to be not that serious(?), and Donaldson returned back to action a few weeks later. His best game of the season was vs. lowly FCS program Towson, where he took his 9 carries for 101 yards and 3 scores. His highest usage game came against Virginia Tech, when he carried the pig 23 times and caught 3 passes (season high on receiving, by the way…) for 112 yards total. Unfortunately — and hopefully this doesn’t become a theme with CJ — he would go down again vs. TCU. This time it really was a season ender, as it was diagnosed as a lower leg injury.
While his CFF profile is nowhere near as monumental now as a RB, could there still be value in Donaldson in 2023? Let’s head down that old country road once more, shall we.
Coaching & System
Head coach Neal Brown and current OC Chad Scott ran an offence at WVU in 2020 and 2021 that produced a notably obese volume pig in the backfield in one Leddie Brown. Brown (the RB, not the coach, lol) was a workhorse for the Mountaineers in the backfield in both seasons, going over 1000 yards rushing in each. He finished 2021 with a total of nearly 1300 yards and 14 TDs, and over 1200 yards and 11 TDs in 2020. Combining his rush attempts (223) and receptions (36) from the 2021 season, Brown averaged 21.5 touches per game over 12 games that season (20.1 FPG in 1-ppr). If we do the same thing for 2020, the average comes out to a wonderful 23 touches per game over 10 games (20.3 FPG).
Chad Scott is listed as spending the 2019 season at Louisville but he is also listed at WVU in 2019. In 2019, Louisville RB Javion Hawkins carried the rock 264 times for 1525 yards and 9 TDs plus 4 receptions for 58 yards. If Scott was indeed part of that unit, then that is another trophy in the case, so to speak. He did not have a 1000-yard rusher during his time as RBs coach at Texas Tech (2010-2012) and Kentucky (2013-2015).
The Mountaineers are also losing a lot from their WR room (top three players from last year are gone), so they might be leaning on the run game a lot this season. We know who won’t be catching a lot of passes for WVU — our boy CJ, who at 6’2, 240 is more of a battering ram. That’s fine by me, as long he can withstand the workload. If the coaches are going to feed him on the ground, I am willing to invest some picks in him.
This is a good time to mention that presumed feature back Tony Mathis Jr. (TM) transferred out to Houston this spring, suggesting that he might have seen some writing on the wall. Donaldson was splitting carries with TM last season. He vacates 135 carries, 562 yards and 5 TDs from the backfield. I would assume Donaldson is inline to absorb a lot of those carries.
RB CJ Donaldson — 6’2, 240
Is my guy even rocking the same number as Leddie Brown now? It would appear so, as I found this image from his instagram. If that’s not a good omen I don’t know what is.
Donaldson is a massive running back by way of Miami, FL. The former three star played at a powerhouse program in south Florida known as Gulliver Prep (2023 four stars UGA CB Daniel Harris and LSU WR Jalen Brown are both from this school from last class). He was originally recruited as a TE prospect (he caught 96 passes for 1,409 yards and 19 touchdowns during his junior and senior seasons), which explains the whole position fiasco last season on Fantrax. He is officially listed as a RB now on WVU’s website and as such, Fantrax has also updated their database.
Donaldson had about as good a freshman season as you could have prior to his injury vs. Texas (UT). He averaged 15.76 FPG through 7 games, including a 2.3 point performance vs. UT when he was knocked out of the game. He finished the season with 87 carries for 526 yards and 8 TDs. He struggled on a YPC basis vs. Kansas (3.7), Texas Tech (2.8) and Texas (2.3), and a large part of his production last season was based around TDs. Part of that could have been due to the team’s struggles, and as I mentioned in the game vs. Texas, he was knockout out early (he had 4 carries). His pass game usage was (ironically) minimal—9 receptions for 27 yards on 10 targets.
WVU fields a veteran offensive line this year, with feature junior center Zach Frazier, junior tackle Wyatt Milum, senior guard/tackle Doug Nester, junior center/guard/tackle Brandon Yates, and junior guard/tackle Ja’Quay Hubbard, who all played in 2022, and a few of them started in 2021. Veteran doesn’t necessarily auto-qualify as elite but it’s usually a prerequisite for solid OL play.
With these big powerful backs (who I know are going to be essentially used as sledgehammers in the offence with minimal pass catching usage), I always find it relevant to take a look at the offensive line. A lot of the CFF production for Donaldson is going to rest on these big fellas; and for him to be an elite asset he will need to be scoring TDs and averaging a high YPC (I know I know, this is obvious…).
I suppose the question is: how is our man going to be used next season? This staff has a history of giving big-boy volume to its RBs. But I do wonder with Donaldson coming off two major injuries if there isn’t some internal provisions being made to reduce his wear and tear.
Donaldson even acknowledged this offseason that the punishment seen at the RB position is a different animal from what he was used to:
Okay, at running back you get hit a lot.' That was one different thing where 11 people were actually attacking me. I was not used to getting hit by D-linemen. I was used to getting hit by linebackers, safeties and stuff like that.
But it sounds like the staff have identified this as something to develop in camp. When asked about what he’d been working on this spring, Donaldson said this:
I'm not used to being hit low a lot and I'm learning those things of how to brace my body and protect my body . . . Coach (Chad) Scott has been teaching me ways to protect myself by applying force instead of allowing the force to hit me. It makes sense applying force to the defender and don't take the hit – deliver it.
About his number change, he mentioned this:
I've been wearing No. 4 since little league, and that's just the number I've always wanted to wear . . . My little nickname, besides CJ, is C4 because I always ran go-routes, which is technically a bomb. Those two played hand-in-hand.
What is so strange is that despite his background being as a receiver, he was hardly used in the pass game last year. I suppose we can hope that that will change in 2023, but I have not seen much mention of increased usage in that capacity for CJ.
Head coach Brown has been highly complimentary of Donaldson throughout spring:
I remind myself, and I tell our staff, like he doesn’t have all these reps logged. Like, he hasn’t been playing . . . Now, I don’t want to get him tackled a bunch, but every full-speed rep he gets, he’s going to continue to get better.
He’s an extremely smart football player and he showed that today. He had a couple really explosive runs and showed good patience. He’s a load to tackle,…
If he will continue to work on his body and stay healthy, he’s got big time ability. He really does…
When you have someone that’s got elite ability, it lifts the others around you. Because they know, they see some of the things he does. The other guys around, they know, like, that kid’s got a chance. So what he does is, he lifts those other guys up.
We’re going to do our best to take care of him, but he needs those reps running the football because he’s only going to continue to get better.
So yea, it sounds like he’s probably going to be the starter again at RB this year. We can check that box off. The next question is: is he a 20+ carry per game guy? Hard to say, he did it only once last season. His build suggests he could probably do it, but his injury history says otherwise. WVU might not really have much else to rely on save for a potential standout WR in Devin Carter.
CJ’s injury history scares me a bit. Even if he doesn’t go down, this staff might go easy on the accelerator until they’re in a game where they absolutely need him. Which, admittedly, might be a lot of games. What an odd scenario; we have this big body at RB but he has not been trained to develop the body armour that RBs need to carry heavy workloads. How will it play out this season? Well shit, if I had that answer I wouldn’t be sitting here currently writing CFF articles a 1AM at night — it’d be in the middle of the day because I’d of quit my day job.
WVU might legitimately be one of the worst teams in the Power Five (P5) next season. That’s usually not good for the RB production.
My ideal scenario as it relates to Donaldson is WVU goes full 2020/2021 PJ Fleck and Mo Ibrahim mode with a big, veteran offensive line and just pounds the opposition with their sledgehammer RB. Unfortunately, even that comp suffered a season ending injury in week one of 2021 (turns out giving kids 20+ carries a game isn’t good for them, who knew? shhh that’s dirty talk round here…).
So, would I be willing to draft Donaldson? Absolutely. I think the Mathis news kind of elevates my valuation of ‘C4’. For a veteran RB to tuck tale and run, that’s usually a good sign. I don’t know if I’d go too far out of my way to acquire him, but I’d like some shares at a mid-round price.
If you enjoy this content, I encourage you to join the Pig Pen (subscribing), and follow me on twitter.
Have questions? Find out what people are saying about VolumePigs here.
VolumePigs is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.