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NFL free agency profile: Robby Anderson could be the deep threat the Patriots’ offense lacked in 2019

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Related: Free agency profile: Hunter Henry would be an intriguing addition to the Patriots’ offense

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

With the Super Bowl in the rear-view mirror, the focus is now entirely on 2020. The next important point on the offseason agenda will be free agency, which starts on March 18 and projects to be a big one for the New England Patriots: not only does the team have 19 players whose current contracts will expire — including quarterback Tom Brady — it also will need to use its limited resources to build a foundation for the upcoming season.

Up until the start of free agency, we will therefore take a look at some players who might interest the Patriots. Today, the series continues with wide receiver Robby Anderson.

Player profile

Position: Wide receiver

Opening day age: 27

Size: 6’3, 190 lbs

Experience: Anderson originally entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie signing by the New York Jets in 2016, and spent his first four years in the league with the club. During his time in New York, he developed into the team’s number one wide receiver and a player capable of getting behind the defense as his career average of 14.8 yards per reception illustrates. While not the most prolific pass catcher from a statistical perspective, Anderson set himself up nicely entering free agency.

2019 statistics: 16 games; 92 targets, 52 receptions, 778 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns; 1 rushing attempt, 4 rushing yards

2019 salary cap hit: $3.4 million

Free agency status: Unrestricted

View from New York

We asked Michael Nania from Gang Green Nation to share his thoughts on Anderson:

After being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Temple, Anderson made the roster in 2016 and showcased his potential as a deep threat late in the season. In 2017, he became the team’s top option, and developed a strong rapport with Josh McCown as he was one of the most destructive vertical receivers in the game. Before McCown went down with an injury that season, Anderson was on pace for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns. Over the past two seasons since, Anderson has remained the Jets’ top option on the outside, but the Jets have been wrong to rely on him for that role.

Anderson is great down the field, possessing elite speed, excellent tracking ability, and a strong win rate on contested balls, but he is not fit to be a featured X-receiver on the outside, which the Jets have asked him to do for too long. His intermediate game is solid, as he takes advantage of the respect defenses have for his speed to win on 10-20 yard comebacks, curls, and corners, but his overall route-running game is not quite as sharp as that of most teams’ top options. He offers little after the catch or in the red zone, and at his slender frame (6’3, 190 pounds) does not have the ability to body up corners like you would want your top weapon to be able to.

All in all, Anderson is an elite deep threat who has developed solid secondary tools, and would be a great No. 2 option on any team. The better an offensive line he gets to play with, the more damage he will do. The Jets’ horrendous offensive line has severely limited the number of deep opportunities he has gotten, dropping his statistical production to a level that makes him look worse than he actually is.

Patriots fit

New England’s wide receivers struggled in 2019 due to various factors ranging from injury, to performance, to off-the-field issues. Needless to say that the team needs to improve in this area, and while returning players such as Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry — and possibly also in-season trade acquisition Mohamed Sanu — are expected to play a big role in this development some outside reinforcements might also become a part of this process.

Robby Anderson, as pointed out above, is probably not suited to serve as a true number one wide receiver. However, he could become a complementary piece in a Patriots passing attack that had a hard time when it came to stretching the field last season without tight end Rob Gronkowski in the fold as an attention-grabber: Anderson’s elite deep-field skills might help in this regard and in turn free things up for the likes of Edelman, Harry and running back James White underneath.

Realistically, the 26-year-old would serve primarily as a Z-receiver in New England with Harry as the primary outside X-option and Edelman moving in and out of the slot depending on the situation. This usage would allow the Patriots to take advantage of Anderson’s athletic profile while simultaneously moving him around the formation to create the best matchups within the offense.

Verdict

Anderson is intent on hitting the open market, so the Patriots should be in a position to pursue him if they think he fits what they are trying to build at the wide receiver position around Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry. Even though he is not among the league’s elite pass catchers, he would add speed to the group and a serious deep threat that has been lacking in New England ever since Brandin Cooks was traded after the 2017 season.

As with every free agent, however, the main questions regard finances and fit: Will the Patriots be willing to give Anderson what he is looking for compared to other teams, and do they think he can be better than his stat-lines and past performances against their very own defense suggest? There is a chance that all of the questions are answered with “no” — but if not, New England might be willing to pull the trigger.