Part of the reason the New York Jets were not hesitant about moving on from Brandon Marshall and may not be hesitant about moving on from Eric Decker is because of the presence of Robby Anderson. The rookie UDFA was one of the few bright spots of the 2016 season finishing with 42 receptions, 587 yards (14.0 yards per catch) and 2 touchdowns. What level of potential did Anderson show in 2016 and what is his long term ceiling in New York?
Overview Anderson blazed a 4.34 forty yard dash at his Pro Day, complimented by a 36.5 inch vertical jump. He is a rail thin 190 pounds despite being 6 foot 3. Anderson cemented a roster spot in the pre-season with 13 receptions, 264 yards and 3 touchdowns, posting a ridiculous 20.6 yards per catch. When Eric Decker was lost for the season, Anderson’s role expanded and down the stretch he became the primary target of quarterback Bryce Petty when he took over for Ryan Fitzpatrick. He went over 60 yards in 4 different games, 3 of which were predominantly played in by Petty (he also caught both his touchdowns from him). He had 4 catches of 40 yards or longer, doing the majority of his damage outside the numbers. Anderson caught 53% of his targets, not an ideal number but for context Brandon Marshall only caught 46% of his targets in 2016.
The Pros Anderson has the build and game of a traditional vertical split end/X receiver. He plays to his stopwatch speed and thus is a constant threat on nine routes and working comeback routes off those nine routes outside the numbers. It didn’t matter the cornerback he was going against, Anderson has “run right by you” speed. The Jets quarterbacks were not always accurate enough to capitalize, however.
Despite being a young receiver, Anderson high points the football and is the antithesis of a body catcher. He uses his hands consistently and knows how to extend above his head to make a play. When you are 6 foot 3 and make yourself this big of a target by attacking the football aggressively, it makes life that much easier on your quarterbacks.
As the season went on, Anderson got more consistent at working the deep comeback and curl route off his vertical routes. This will be a key route for Anderson going forward because corners will respect his deep speed. Later in the year, he began to snap back to the line scrimmage and work back towards his quarterback more regularly.
Despite doing most of his work outside the numbers, Anderson did show an ability to slide into the slot and take advantage of single coverage. He was also effective on the deep post route. If Anderson is going to develop as a full time receiver for 16 games, which he will have every chance to in 2017, he will need to move around the formation like he did in these situations and continue to make plays.
The Cons Anderson is not physical or strong enough yet. This manifested itself in too many missed opportunities at the point of the catch. These were not perfect throws on nine routes but these plays were there to be made. He needs to be stronger with his hands and not be so susceptible to a defensive back swatting through his arms.
This issue isn’t just there on contested deep balls. Anderson needs to always work back to the football and learn to better wall off physical cornerbacks in the short to intermediate passing game. He was not much of a threat after the catch as a rookie, showing an inability to run through tackles or frequently create in space. If he wants to become a complete receiver, he will need to break tackles with some type of regularity and learn to protect the football as a runner.
The diversity of Anderson’s route tree is not fully fleshed out yet. He was basically limited to nine routes, post routes and comeback/curl routes as a rookie. The Jets need him to be a factor on slant routes, jerk routes, screens and add a double move to work off his post routes. He will always have routes that he is more comfortable with than others but the threat needs to be there for more than 3 or 4 routes.
Long Term Outlook/Projection Anderson is likely going to be a 50+ snap per game player for the Jets in 2017 and could very well match or exceed his target number from last season. If he takes strides from year 1 to year 2 in a similar way Quincy Enunwa did from year 2 to year 3, the Jets are going to have the baseline for a productive receiver group for a long time. Many Jets fans have compared him to DeSean Jackson but they have very different builds and Jackson is more of a threat after the catch. Anderson could develop into a Mike Wallace type receiver in the right offense, with the right surrounding situations which would be a great find for the Jets as a UDFA.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com