Initial Reaction – New York Jets Lose Robby Anderson

James Kuntz with initial reaction to the New York Jets losing Robby Anderson to the Carolina Panthers

On Tuesday, March 24, wide receiver Robby Anderson signed a 2 year, $20 million contract with the Carolina Panthers. As a result, there is widespread consternation among Jets fans regarding the current state of the wide receiver group. I believe this anxiety is warranted and that the decision to allow Robby to leave was a grave mistake because, in addition to being a premier deep threat who draws attention away from his teammates, Robby Anderson is a well-rounded receiver with strong hands and an irreplaceable rapport with Sam Darnold.

Anderson has long been lauded for his ability to take the top off of a defense, and rightly so. One of the most notable examples of his skillset is the 92 yard touchdown last year against the Cowboys. However, critics often point to Anderson’s pedestrian stats, in particular his lack of a 1000 yard season, in order to diminish his value. I would argue that the fact that Robby Anderson has managed to have such consistent production while playing with some of the worst offensive lines in football is demonstrative of his ability. Secondly, Anderson’s stats don’t reveal the extent to which he’s helped other Jets receivers by diverting attention away from them. Jets fans have taken for granted the impact that Anderson has had on the game and  soon be reminded of the extent to which lacking a deep threat hurts an offense.

One can look to other teams in the NFL in order to understand the importance of a deep-threat like Robby Anderson. The Jets haven’t spent significant time without Robby Anderson because he’s been incredibly durable, only missing 2 games in the last four seasons, but the Texans provide a notable example of the difference between an offense with a deep-threat receiver and one without. The Texans’ offense suffered significantly when it was missing receiver Will Fuller, a player with a similar skillset to Robby Anderson:

QBR: 75.2 with Fuller, 59.8 without Fuller.
Yards per play: 6.08 with Fuller, 5.29 without Fuller.
Sacks per attempt: 7.8% with Fuller, 10.7% without Fuller.
3rd down conversion rate: 51.9% with Fuller, 32.9% without Fuller.

The most notable difference between the Texans offense with Fuller compared to without is the 19% decrease in 3rd down conversion rate. I hypothesize that this stark difference is a result of the fact that Fuller forces opposing Safeties to play more conservatively when he’s on the field than they otherwise would. Instead of providing corners with help over the middle, opposing safeties must stop Fuller from taking the top off of the defense. As mentioned, Anderson has not missed many games due to injury but if he had, one would expect the Jets offense to struggle just like the Texans did in the absence of Fuller. In addition to aiding other Jets receivers, Anderson has taken great strides in the last year to become a well-rounded player.

Anderson has complemented his deep speed with an expanded route tree and more tenacity at the catch point in order to become a more complete receiver. Although Anderson always possessed threatening deep speed, in the past, Anderson lacked strong hands and would frequently have the ball jarred loose in contested situations. This year, Anderson has been aggressive and successful at the catch point. Unlike previous years where Anderson found success only on go routes and posts, Anderson recorded more catches on short to intermediate routes than ever before (deep overs, digs, hitches, slants). Anderson attributed some of his success to working with former NFL receiver Hines Ward when he served as an offensive assistant with the Jets last year. Reflecting on Anderson’s progress, Ward said, “I always drill into Robby’s head that you want to be a complete wide receiver. You don’t want to be a one-trick pony where we’re just sending him deep all the time. So, working with his route running and things like that, getting proper depth, and making those 50/50 catches that he’s been making lately.” There is no doubt that Anderson embodied Ward’s vision of the ideal receiver last year.

One of the reasons Anderson’s been successful with the Jets is the rare trust he’s established with the team’s starting quarterbacks. Whether it was McCown in 2017, or Darnold for the past two years, Anderson has been a player who quarterbacks have counted on in big moments. The continuation of the thriving chemistry between Darnold and Anderson would certainly have benefitted the Jets moving forward.

As the Jets move forward without Anderson, the team must explore replacement options such as Brandin Cooks (if released) and Breshad Perriman. However, even if the Jets manage to replace Anderson with a similar player, establishing that same rapport between Darnold and Anderson with another receiver will take years.

Lastly, I would like to thank Robby.

Robby–you’ve been one of the few players who has genuinely bought into this team, and this is something that does not go overlooked by fans. There’s no consolation that can truly make up for losing you, but catching a game-winning touchdown from Teddy Bridgewater to knock the Buccaneers out of playoff contention would be a start!

Thank you, Robby.