Sam Danold will enter his second NFL season with the same lead receiver he had during his first NFL season, Robby Anderson. The 26 year old former UDFA, who is best known for his vertical speed, will be entering his fourth year with the Jets and is likely on the precipice of a new long term deal from the organization. Should the team feel good about their lead receiver heading into 2019, despite him not yet registering a 1,000 yard season?
The Reputation – The Production
Anderson has unfortunately spent his NFL career on three teams who have a combined record of 14-34, limiting his exposure to both big games and to a wider spotlight for his spikes of production. He has been hamstrung by a jumble of Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty, Josh McCown and periodic rookie bumps in the road Sam Darnold at quarterback as well. An injury to his starting quarterback in both 2017 and 2018 likely is the primary reason he has not exceeded 1,000 yards yet.
Anderson is generally known strictly as a vertical threat, mostly because every highlight you have seen of him the past two years is catching a touchdown on a nine route. His ability to attack down the field is unquestionably his greatest strength but he has done an admirable job diversifying and expanding his game over the past two seasons despite still battling through some inconsistencies.
Anderson has been a streak shooter thus far in his career. His production comes in bunches, which are somewhat mitigated due to invisible stretches and a lack of production against certain teams. In 2018, Anderson had 312 of his 752 total yards over the course of week 14-week 16. In his other 11 games, he only had 440 total yards. In 9 of his first 10 games last year, he was under 50 yards receiving. It was a somewhat similar situation in 2017. Over a 5 game stretch in the middle of the season he compiled 490 of his 941 yards, while over the other 11 games he only had 451 yards and was under 51 yards in 8 of those 11 games.
Anderson has also been consistently quiet against the New England Patriots. In six career games against them, he has 33 targets, 12 receptions, 158 yards and 0 touchdowns (an average of 5 targets, 2 receptions, and 26 yards per game) while being held under 35 yards in 5 of the 6 games. The Jets will need more from him in those matchups going forward if they are ever going to outscore New England.
Anderson’s greatest strength is raw speed. He has a rare level of it that allows him immediately shrink and break the cushion of most corners in the NFL, even if they are playing off him. The best technique to cover Anderson is not to play off due to his speed but rather to get physical with him at the line of scrimmage to avoid letting him build up a head of steam (something New England has effectively done in their matchups).
Anderson is also smart with how he runs his vertical routes. He knows how to “get skinny” and stay on the stem of his route after he passes the corner (while creating separation with his arm without being called for a penalty) so his quarterback has a window to drop passes into.
He has gradually improved at catching passes in traffic throughout his career. He does not have a big build but has developed enough hand strength and field awareness to hold on during plays and hits like this. This is critical because it is only a matchup advantage for him if the Jets can more him around the formation more frequently.
Anderson’s speed off the ball should allow him to be useful in possession situations like below. If cornerbacks are going to play off, he should always have a favorable target position on stop and comeback routes because of his consistent success on deeper routes.
Anderson is the most productive receiver over the past two years on the Jets roster and when you factor in Quincy Enunwa’s inability to stay healthy, the receiver with the most physical upside. The Jets are not going to funnel targets to any single receiver with Anderson, Enunwa, newly acquired Jamison, Le’Veon Bell and sophomore tight end Chris Herndon in the mix. Despite Bell and Crowder potentially seeing more targets, Anderson is still the favorite to lead the Jets in yards because of his downfield ability and touchdowns because of his size/speed combination.
We saw a glimpse of his potential with Sam Darnold from week 14-16 last year and if that is the level Anderson can be at with a consistently good quarterback, it is fair to expect him to land in the 1,000-1,100 yard range despite the Jets’ other options in the passing game. Unless he struggles to stay healthy, which hasn’t been a major problem for him yet in his career or dramatically underperforms. Anderson is likely to be the recipient of a new deal from the team at some point this year. There is no reason with the Jets financial situation that they should not be investing in young receivers Darnold is comfortable with, who can stretch the field.
Anderson is unlikely to ever be considered a traditional “WR1” in the mold of players like Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckam or DeAndre Hopkins but the Jets don’t need him to be. If Le’Veon Bell is the player he always was, Herndon keeps developing and Quincy Enunwa/Jamison Crwoder stay healthy, he can function as their top outside the numbers option and big play threat while regularly taking advantage of what should be favorable matchups. If he can improve his consistency and start making an impact against New England, the Jets have themselves a good, young starting receiver they should be comfortable paying for a few more years.