Robby Anderson was a breakout candidate last season, but the Jets’ offensive struggles limited his performance. With quarterback Sam Darnold missing three games in 2019, the New York offense really didn’t hit its stride until the back half of the season. While Anderson’s play suffered, he did finish the season with 52 receptions for 779 yards and five touchdowns. He was second on the Jets in receiving yardage, behind Jamison Crowder.
Anderson, 26, still came into the offseason as one of the top receivers to hit the open market. He didn’t sign right away, but eventually agreed on a two-year deal with the Carolina Panthers worth $20 million.
An annual salary of $10 million is a lot to pay for a receiver who hasn’t quite looked like a No. 1 guy. So why were the Panthers so interested in his skills?
Anderson possesses elite speed, and more than that, he’s shown he’s crafty in getting open beyond simply running in a straight line. He’s still waiting for that breakout season, but with an established quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) and a coach who knows him from his college days (Matt Rhule), he could finally have one in Carolina.
So why were the Panthers willing to shell out for him? Below, I’ll show you what fans cam expect out of Anderson this season.
Anderson has true game-changing speed
In four seasons, Anderson has caught 207 passes for 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns. He recorded at least 750 receiving yards in each of the past two years, though he hasn’t matched his 941 yards from his sophomore season in 2017 when another veteran, Josh McCown, was throwing him passes. He broke the 100-yard mark in three games in 2019.
One play that showcases Anderson’s speed came in Week 6 of this past season in an upset win against the Cowboys. Two different Cowboys players fell down trying to contain Anderson, pictured at the bottom of the play below:
Anderson beat Chidobe Awuzie off the snap, and beat him again with a little stop-and-go that immediately gave him about 5 yards of separation. He then had to deal with safety Jeff Heath, who was slow getting around and fell down, further slowing down Awuzie, who had to jump over his teammate.
By then, Anderson was in his own zip code. That was a 92-yard touchdown, the longest of his career. But it’s more than just a big chunk of yardage. One of the biggest knocks against Anderson is he only runs streaks, but that little move he put on Awuzie shows how that can be an unfair criticism. He is great at pulling those twitchy steps without sacrificing speed, which is his true strength.
Although Anderson didn’t have any more 90-yard catches (which is understandable since he was one of only three receivers who did so last year), there were some other standouts. Take this one, from the team’s game against the Raiders in Week 12.
That play is an example of Anderson running a short route and finding the hole in a defense. He stopped underneath the safety while getting No. 20, Daryl Worley, crossed up. Worley was coming forward in case Darnold was going to run for it, which allowed Anderson to get some distance and catch the pass.
The reception went for a 31-yard gain, his biggest of the day. This was a heads-up play by Anderson — and the same can be said for Darnold, who delivered a great pass.
However, there were a few plays last season where Anderson almost assuredly would have had a touchdown if the throw was better. One such play happened against the Dolphins in Week 14.
Anderson was lined up at the top of the screen, against cornerback Ken Webster. Webster made the mistake of trying to jam him at the line, and Anderson quickly blew past him. You can see just how much separation he got before he started tracking the underthrown pass.
Ultimately, he had to slow down for it, but if Darnold had put a little more air on it, that would have been a touchdown. Instead, it was a 39-yard catch, which was still one of Anderson’s best on the year.
This next play does a really good job of showing you just how fast Anderson can close the distance, regardless of the separation afforded him by the defensive back.
When this play starts, Anderson had six or seven yards of cushion from Webster. He very quickly made that up and raced by Webster, who initiated a bit of an illegal contact and fell behind.
That was another play in which Anderson might have been able to take it all the way for a touchdown if he didn’t have to lay out for the pass. It went for 41 yards, his second-longest of the season.
With the Panthers, Anderson is joining a team in transition. Bridgewater has proven he is a stable quarterback who protects the football. One of the things that he hasn’t shown much of is an ability to launch the deep ball — mostly because teams haven’t asked him to do it often.
Anderson still has to demonstrate he can do more with the football in his hands; he had 193 yards after the catch last season, which is fairly low for a receiver. That said, the Jets didn’t do much to expand his route tree over the years, and he could certainly surprise in that area next season.
Still, whether he can reliably hook up with Bridgewater downfield will be a huge factor in whether or not the Panthers are a complete offense. That will also hinge on offensive coordinator Joe Brady — who transformed LSU into a historically good offense in 2019 and worked with Bridgewater in New Orleans before that — getting the most out of his weapons.
Anderson will be part of a receiving corps that includes 2018 first-round pick DJ Moore and 2017 second-round pick Curtis Samuel. Moore had 1,175 yards last season and looks like a true No. 1 receiver who will occupy an opponent’s top defensive back. The shifty Samuel should also command some attention, while teams almost always have to put a linebacker on running back Christian McCaffrey, who is a receiving threat out of the backfield. The Panthers will surely spread the targets around, but Anderson should also have more opportunities to do what he does best: burn defensive backs on the deep ball.
Anderson is still unproven, by and large. But he’s a playmaker who made magic on a bad Jets team, and he can make some more on a rebuilt Panthers team in 2020.