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Can Robby Anderson Fly High with the Jets in 2019?

There are few people with much good to say about the 2018 New York Jets offense. With good reason, I might add. The team scored the 10th fewest points in the league. They averaged 4.9 yards per play, a mark that only three other teams failed to eclipse. They also amassed a pretty woeful 5.6 net yards per pass attempt, the fifth lowest of all 32 NFL teams.

Some may point out that growing pains were to be expected. After all, the team was starting a rookie quarterback in Sam Darnold. But, all in all, most people connected to the team (and following it) were pretty happy that former OC Jeremy Bates was out the door.

Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson is one such person. He believed that Bates “kind of put him in a box” and as a result was unimaginative with regards how best to utilize Anderson’s strengths. Anderson has high hopes for a change in fortune under new coach Adam Gase, a coach that’s

going to utilize me as a player and not just make me run straight down the field.

Anderson believes that he should expect 10 targets a game in 2019 and that 1,000 yards are definitely in the cards. If this is true, then Anderson could be a player of considerable value in fantasy in 2019. Especially if his current ADP is anything to go by. Anderson is currently the WR34 in Fanball drafts.

Slow Starter

Anderson has flirted with the 1,000 yard mark once before, back in 2017. He finished that season with 941 yards from 63 receptions. He averaged 7.1 targets per game that year, and in his own words was not merely a deep threat.

I wasn’t just running straight down the field. I was getting the ball in my hands, getting touches, getting momentum, opening things up for other people, and we were putting up points.

The expectation that he simply run wind sprints may well have contributed to his slow start to the 2018 campaign. In his first four games, Anderson had eight receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. However, 41 of the yards, as well as the touchdown, came on a single play. The image below shows how ineffective Anderson was in his first seven games of the season, compared to his last seven. 1

robby 1-19-17

A marked improvement, I’m sure you’d agree. But that’s not the real story. Anderson was still unproductive from Week 8 until the advent of … erm … well, Advent.

Santa and Robby Deliver in December

For a number of reasons, Darnold struggled to adapt to the pros in the early stages of his rookie year. His first nine games were pretty brutal to watch before he was pulled from the lineup after a 13-6 loss to the Dolphins.
sam darnold
His production was on par with some players enjoying distinctly ordinary campaigns after nine weeks of the 2018 season, as you can see.
darnold comps
But for some reason, when December came around and Darnold was back in the lineup, he looked like a completely different player. The difference between the Darnold who ended the season and the guy who had been there in the first nine weeks was striking.
darnold 14-17
One of the biggest winners of this transformation was Anderson. He had been at least more involved in the offense following Week 7, but in four games starting in Week 8 he had failed to top 48 yards in a single one. Nor had he visited the end zone since Week 5. But look what happened to Anderson when Darnold returned to the lineup.
robby 14-17
Look at the targets per game. Awfully close to that 10 looks a contest that Anderson wants, isn’t it? Anderson also became reacquainted with the end zone, scoring in three consecutive games from Week 14 to 16.

To put that into some context, Anderson’s line in the last four games of 2018 was 23 receptions from 39 targets, with 336 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He commanded a whopping 32 percent of the Jets targets in the closing month of the season. This figure was exceeded by only two WRs in Weeks 14-17. DeAndre Hopkins commanded 35 percent of the Texans’ looks. Michael Thomas eked out a living with a 34 percent share in the Saints offense.

 TOTALRank Among WRs
Targets396th
Receptions239th
Rec Yds3367th
TDs3t-2nd
PPR Points74.65th

I can already hear the objections: “small sample trap!” This is, of course, correct, and four games at the end of what was a lost season for the Jets must not be the sole reason for thinking Anderson is going to explode. But it does show that he can shoulder the workload of an alpha WR, and produce at a high level. This has to be seen as a plus for Anderson moving into 2019.

New Season, New Start?

The Jets offense at the time of writing projects to have Anderson and Enunwa manning the outside WR spots, with new signing Jamison Crowder at slot and Herndon at TE. They also have the not insignificant presence of Le’Veon Bell at running back. Anderson himself spoke of how this assortment of surrounding talent should mean more favorable looks for him:

[teams] can’t double team me no more and they can’t stay over the top because if they do, the others are going to get loose, too. It’s going to be explosive.

Anderson clearly sees himself as the alpha dog in the Jets passing game, and the man to really benefit from the new signings. However, another newbie is the man himself to whom Anderson has pledged his fealty, namely, head coach Adam Gase.

Gase’s offenses have tended to focus on one receiver heavily, with Jarvis Landry commanded 27 and 28 percent target shares in 2016 and 2017. There was also a 24 percent share for Alshon Jeffery in 2015 when Gase was the offensive coordinator in Chicago. In 2018, Gase and the Dolphins had masses of injuries in their offensive skill positions. This no doubt led to a spreading of the “wealth” in the passing game. As a result, their leading receiver Danny Amendola commanded a mere 18 percent target share.

But the signing of Bell and Gase’s history could be the biggest cause for concern for Anderson’s hopes of a truly dominant campaign. The Jets are paying Bell an obscene amount of money, or more accurately the second richest contract among RBs. As a result, they are probably going to want to feed him the ball. This means a lean towards the run that Gase began in South Beach. Gase’s offenses were notoriously slow-paced, and this no doubt led to the Dolphins attempted the fourth fewest passes in the NFL in the last three seasons (1,535).

A low-volume passing attack could certainly see Anderson command a high target share, but it would be stunning to see such a target share delivering 10-plus targets on a consistent basis. In 2018, only six WRs saw an average of 10 or more targets per game.

PLAYERTARGETS PER GAME
Davante Adams11.3
Antonio Brown11.3
Julio Jones10.6
JuJu Smith-Schuster10.4
Odell Beckham10.3
DeAndre Hopkins10.2

Five of those six players were on teams that were in the top ten in total pass attempts last season. The only exception was Hopkins. The Texans attempted the 27th most pass attempts. But Hopkins had practically no competition for targets for much of the season. The same cannot be said of Anderson. Plus there is the small matter of history going against Anderson. Over the course of a full season, the Jets have had one WR average at least 10 targets per game since 1992.2 That was back in 2015 when Brandon Marshall saw 173 targets, an average of 10.8 per game.

Outlook

While 10 targets a game may be pushing it for Robby Anderson, there are enough reasons to be optimistic of his chances of emerging as a genuine weapon in 2019. Volume could be a concern, as is the horrible chance of Gase turning Darnold into a check-down machine intent on feeding receivers close to the line of scrimmage (in which case, wheels up for Crowder, I guess). But while Anderson no doubt hopes to be given more opportunities with the ball in his hands, his speed will undoubtedly be a factor that helps him deliver splash plays.

2019 is also a contract year for Anderson. He will be motivated to perform in his hopes to ensure a notable payday in 2020. But the Jets will also be looking to make absolutely sure that he is a player that they can make work on a long-term basis. Anderson already has admirers outside of the Jets, with the Eagles apparently interested enough to consider making a trade prior to the 2018 deadline. If he can stay out of trouble, and on the field, big money could come his way, whether in New York or elsewhere. The staying out of trouble is something Anderson is keen to do, especially after two arrests in the space of a year earlier in his career.

At a late WR3 ADP, I think Anderson offers terrific value at present. Especially as he has shown (in a small sample) that he can be a WR1 if called upon, and given the chance. I don’t expect him to become the Jets version of DeAndre Hopkins. Although it would be sweet if it happened. But the sneaky upside the entire Jets offense suddenly offers makes him an attractive proposition in the mid rounds of drafts when you start looking for your second receiver. Keep an eye on Robby Anderson.

  1. Anderson missed two games with an ankle injury.  (back)
  2. Targets became an official stat in this year.  (back)
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