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Robby Anderson’s Development: What Looks Good? What Still Needs Work?

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Jets second year Robby Anderson is on pace for 55 catches and 859 yards in his second season. Those numbers are solid but not great. That is a pretty good reflection of where Anderson is at this point in his career.

He remains a bit of a one trick pony. If you are going to have one trick, being effective on deep routes is a very good trick to have. As we saw once again last Thursday night, he can win on speed as he did in his second half touchdown.

Just being fast isn’t enough to win consistently in the NFL. One part of Anderson’s game that is improving is his ability to get a good release off the line. On the play below he got a clean release off the line and inside of the cornerback. This could have been a touchdown had Josh McCown laid the ball out in front of him. McCown was fooled by Buffalo’s disguise, though. He presumably was tricked into thinking the Bills were playing Cover 2 by their presnap alignment and there would be help up top.

Anderson did everything he could to win on this play, though. The receiver held up his end of the bargain to score a long touchdown.

Anderson’s deep routes even have some nice subtle aspects. Anderson was running the yellow post route while Jermaine Kearse was running the orange in route on this play.

Anderson’s route stem went inside the numbers as he was heading up the field vertically rather than outside the numbers.

This was important because of the coverage the Bills were playing. Buffalo was man to man underneath with one deep safety whose responsibility was the middle of the field. As Kearse broke to the middle, the safety was in no man’s land. Anderson was also coming to the middle of the field into the safety’s area. The safety was responsible for both players and had to shade to Anderson a bit as he broke on Kearse. He had to take an angle that closed the passing lane to Anderson, but that delayed his arrival as he drove on Kearse.

You can see the angle the safety had to take to go to Kearse and how he drifted in Anderson’s direction.

I don’t know exactly how the play was drawn up or how it was coached, I think this was a case where Anderson read the coverage well. Because of how he took his route to the middle of the field, he occupied the safety just long enough for McCown to have a window to hit Kearse for a first down.

Anderson is a really good deep route runner at this point of his career, but the route tree he runs effectively is still a bit limited. Even some of his basic routes aren’t effective.

On this early third and three, Anderson was running a little hitch route to the sticks.

He cut his route off right as he arrived at the sticks, making it easy for the defender to drive on him.

What he needed to do was take the route past the sticks and drive the defender further down the field. That would have left Anderson more room to come back to the ball and still be in first down territory as he caught it. The way he did it gave the corner plenty of room to sit back and drive if the ball came his way.

Fortunately for the Jets, Josh McCown scrambled for the first down on the play. A three yard completion on third down to extend a drive won’t fill up the stat sheet the way a long vertical catch will, but it is an important play to execute, the type of play that can determine a game. This is an example of why somebody might say it is important for Anderson to develop as a route runner.

There was another instance on the same drive where Anderson showed he might still need to refine his game. This was on a route across the field.

The Bills were in man coverage. With space so compressed in the red zone, Anderson’s route led to a natural pick. The guy covering Anderson was actually picked by another defender.

Anderson approached a middle linebacker. Instead of slipping under the linebacker, he went upfield.

The time he spent going upfield around the linebacker allowed the guy covering Anderson to catch up to him. If Anderson had gone underneath the linebacker, the corner would not have been able to do so.

Again, McCown made it work with a scramble. This one went for a touchdown.

During the game Tony Romo on NFL Network said McCown had an opportunity to flip the ball to Anderson. I’m not so sure. At the very least, Anderson’s route made the degree of difficulty on that throw much higher than it had to be. McCown probably made the right play just running it.

Again, I share the caveat that I don’t have the playbook in front of me nor do I know how Anderson is coached.

But this shows what you have in Robby Anderson. He is a young receiver showing a lot of promise and mastering the art of the deep route. He still needs to work a bit on some of the other stuff to become a more complete receiver and take his game to that next level.