At 3 years old, Rodney Anderson stood in the back of the hallway in his Houston home and waited while his parents took their places at the other end.
With all the fanfare they could muster, Rod and Jobie Anderson yelled down the hall, mimicking the PA announcers
“Starting at running back, No. 22, RODNEY ANDERSON,” Rod would shout, giving his son Emmitt Smith’s jersey number.
Nearly two decades later, the former Oklahoma running back smiles and laughs at the memory from his place at podium No. 5 in the cavernous room at the Indiana Convention Center.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
With the NFL Draft less than two months away, Anderson is inching closer to making that childhood memory become an adult reality by attending the scouting combine with more than 300 other NFL hopefuls.
“It’s a great feeling,” Anderson said. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid. I’m so blessed and honored to be here.”
Getting here, though, hasn’t been easy. And his future as an NFL running back is still far from guaranteed.
In four seasons at Oklahoma, Anderson had three season-ending injuries: a broken leg in his freshman season opener, a fractured C-5 vertebrae in fall practice and a torn ACL.
But his lone healthy season was spectacular: 1,161 rushing yards, 6.2 yards per carry and 13 rushing touchdowns.
Those numbers are good enough to make him a first-round talent, but the injury history is extensive enough to drop his stock.
“When he’s healthy and he’s on the field, he’s really fun to watch,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said Thursday. “That’s part of the process here with the combine, so when these guys go through the rigorous medical evaluations, we’ll go back to KC and then (head athletic trainer) Rick Burkholder will kind of share what they’ve found and what they think.
“Every team usually assigns a grade and every team is different, but usually they have a cut off point what you’re OK with and what you’re not. … Certainly hoping for the best from him because he’s an exciting player.”
Though the Chiefs haven’t scheduled a formal meeting with Anderson at the combine, he could still be an attractive selection for Kansas City, which has five picks between the third and fifth rounds of the 2019 draft.
The Chiefs have had plenty of recent success in finding diamond-in-the-rough running back talents, from drafting little-known Kareem Hunt in the third round of the 2017 draft to signing free agent Damien Williams prior to the 2018 season.
Veach likes to joke about his penchant for signing versatile 220-pound backs. And 6-foot and 224 pounds, physically, Anderson fits the mold of Veach’s preferred running back prototype.
“In the weigh-ins today, he was one of the most visually impressive guys,” Veach said. “He was put together. It looked like he hadn’t been hurt in his whole career.”
His skill set matches up with the Chiefs’ preferences, too.
In addition to rushing for over 1,000 yards in the 2017 season, Anderson also had 281 receiving yards on 17 catches. Five of his 18 touchdowns that season were receptions.
But perhaps Anderson’s strongest quality is his resilience he showed through the three catastrophic injuries.
“He’s like the hardest working person that I know,” OU offensive lineman Dru Samia said. “And to another degree, he’s also the epitome of doing everything right off the field and doing everything right on the field. He would be a blessing for any team to get. It’s unfortunate that he had those injuries, but he’s going to bounce back.”
The most recent injury came in the second game of the 2018 season when he tore his ACL against UCLA. It didn’t look bad at first, just an awkward landing as he was tackled late in the first quarter. He walked off the field under his own power without so much as a limp. But by the time his mom made it down to the locker room, team doctors confirmed that it was an ACL tear in his right knee.
A year filled with so much hope and expectation was over before it ever really began. But that didn’t derail Anderson from continuing on his journey to the NFL.
“If you spend any amount of time with Rodney, he quickly is able to turn the page and start a new chapter,” Jobie Anderson said. “He just has the ability to do that. It’s kind of contagious for the rest of us. And so we just go with Rodney. He’s always been like that.”
Almost immediately after the injury, Anderson relocated to Alabama to have surgery performed by renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews and began rehabilitation.
Though Anderson likely had some eligibility left through medical hardship, Anderson declared for the NFL Draft in November and moved from Alabama to California in December to continue his training and rehab.
Four months after the surgery, Anderson has all of his quad strength back and his flexibility has returned.
Though he didn’t run the 40-yard dash or participate in any on-field drills in Indianapolis, Anderson is hopeful he’ll be able to hold his own workout in April after Oklahoma’s March 13 Pro Day.
“I just want to show my progress so far,” Anderson said. “But I’m trying to be conservative with this so that I can be 100 percent (for the start of the season).”
With all the hurdles he’s faced in his football career, it would be easy for Anderson to wallow in self-pity and consider changing course. But that’s the farthest thing from his mind.
“It’s easy to fall into the whole why-me thing,” Anderson said. “But I don’t let myself do that. It’s a tough sport I signed up for. I know how it can go. All you can do is just fight back, be resilient and persevere.”