There’s no questioning that Robby Anderson had what qualifies as a “breakout year” in 2017. The former undrafted free agent caught for 941 yards and 7 touchdowns in his second season, from a less-than-stellar quarterback stable of Josh McCown and Bryce Petty.
While Anderson is a known deep threat who topped the leaguewide charts in a variety of deep ball categories, it’s been debated whether or not Anderson showcased the upside to be a complete “#1” receiver. Some think he’s a one-trick pony. Some think there’s no way he could rack up nearly 1,000 yards with only one truly dangerous weapon.
I went back and watched each of Robby Anderson’s targets in 2017, categorizing each by route type to get a feel for where Anderson’s production was coming from. Let’s dive in!
Firstly, a synopsis of the route types I broke down. I went with a relatively simple group of categories, and I know some routes have a variety of different names. For the purpose of this study, here are the labels I went with:
Which routes did Robby Anderson see targets on most often? Anderson officially tallied 114 targets, but I excluded blatantly uncatchable throwaways, bringing his total down to 110. Here is the breakdown of his targets by route:
Curl routes ended up taking the crown for Robby in terms of target volume by the end of the year. His trademark go route finished second; but was in the lead for most of the year until Josh McCown went down. When Bryce Petty took over, Robby saw a drastic decrease in downfield targets, seeing an unhealthily heavy diet of ~5 yard curls that ultimately crushed his late-season production playing with the limited quarterback.
Now, which routes was Robby most productive with? Let’s take a look at a pair of charts; first showing Anderson’s total yardage collected by route, and then his yards per target collected by route.
Go routes were Robby’s highest yardage yield by a longshot; over 200 yards more than the route he collected the second most yards on, the curl. A bevy of inside routes followed, with the post coming third followed by the dig and drag tying for fourth.
How about efficiency? Let’s take a look at Robby’s yards per target average by route type.
Once again, the go route takes the cake by a lightyear as Robby’s greatest weapon. The 6.9 yard per target difference between the go route and Robby’s second most efficient route, the corner, is greater than the difference between Robby’s efficiency on his second most and second least efficient routes.
You can also start to see another theme developing. Rounding out the top five of Robby’s efficiency chart was three other deep routes: the corner, dig, and post routes. In addition to his deep route proficiency, Robby was no doubt producing more the further down the field he worked, and the more often he was sent there.
The chart below shows Robby’s average target depth (yards down the field Anderson was when the ball reached him) and total yards accumulated by game. You can see a clear correlation between Anderson’s production and target depth; the deeper down the field he was seeing the ball on average, the more total production he gave the Jets.
Also take note of the huge dip in target depth when Bryce Petty took over.
Anderson also showed a significant production difference between the left and right side of the field. He saw 64 of his 110 targets (58%) on routes originating from the right side of the quarterback, and was significantly more productive with those targets.
Not coincidentally, his boost in production on the right side was accompanied by a significantly higher average target depth.
Finally, for your own deciphering, below is the complete collection of numbers broken down by route. Everything is in here, from average target and reception depth, to yards after catch. I also have a drops column in here based on my own judgement, trying to count only catchable passes Anderson had two hands on.
The full breakdown:
Some thoughts from me:
- Robby was flat out dominant running the go route. Absolutely exceptional. To catch over half of targets thrown your way at an average of over 30 yards down the field is insane. Josh McCown did his part by throwing a good rate of catchable balls, but Robby hauled in bomb after bomb that he had no business catching. He did it on both sides, too. Though all five of his go route touchdowns came on the right, he actually had a very similar albeit slightly higher first down rate (57% to 50%) and yards per target rate (18.1 to 17.4) on his left side go routes. The consistency on both sides from him further hardens his downfield greatness in 2017.
Anderson has top-end straight line speed that punishes defenders who fail to make sufficient early physical contact, with tremendous ball tracking ability to boot. Regardless of how he develops the rest of his game, Robby has at least one tool that is proven to be absolutely deadly.
- Anderson had a weird knack for dropping passes on post routes. I tagged him for 8 drops, and half of them came on his 13 post routes. More specifically, three of those came on his five left post targets.
Robby still had effective numbers on the post. With slightly better hands, it could’ve been easily his second elite-caliber weapon.
- Anderson didn’t do much underneath, but the Jets manufactured a handful of drag routes across the middle that he worked well with. The drag was Robby’s second most efficient route by quarterback rating, much of that produced by presnap motion across the formation.
Robby struggled to produce underneath. On his seven route types with an average target depth of less than 10.0 yards, Robby had a first down to target rate of just 24.5%, compared to 41.5% on his deeper route types. Of course, he can be expected to produce more first downs on passes down the field, but that’s a wide disparity. Anderson has only been a decent open field player to this point, creating extra yards with his speed in certain situations but often failing to create big plays due to lack of strength and elusiveness.
- Anderson averaged only 6.5 yards per target with a 28.6% first down rate on everything that wasn’t a go route. Those are below average numbers that were for sure hampered by Bryce Petty but are mediocre nonetheless. With McCown, Anderson averaged 7.1 yards per target with a 32.4% first down rate on non-go routes, numbers that are around average. Opponents adjusted to stop Robby downfield so much that he was able to produce at an average level outside of the deep ball even without a second proven weapon - indicative of the positive domino effect a great deep game has for a player.
There you have it! Coming in, I was hoping to see two things from Anderson. Number one, validation that his deep ability is as great as advertised. My goodness, did he live up to that billing.
Number two, I wanted to see some variety outside of his vertical routes. Unfortunately, I came away a bit disappointed there. There absolutely were stretches where the Jets thrived by feeding him underneath against defenses scared of his speed, but he needs to develop another consistent weapon to create his own yardage with. The post and dig routes could be that alternate, but his dig sample size was too small and he had too many drops out of the post.
As he is, Robby is a top-notch elite deep threat who feeds off of the defense’s reaction to that reputation to produce at average levels on the rest of the field - making him a solid, above-average receiver at the least. If he can add another consistent weapon or two to dominate high-leverage opportunities when opponents adjust to take away his vertical route, he has the upside to become elite.
What do you think? How has your perception of Robby changed after reading this article?
Will Robby Anderson become a legitimate #1 receiver?
This poll is closed
Yes, he will develop at least one more elite weapon
Yes, he already is
He certainly has the potential to become one, but it’s a toss-up whether he’ll get there
No, he’ll always be a one-trick pony, but he’ll still be a solid #2
No, and if he doesn’t develop more he will slowly phase out