Can Robby Anderson succeed against starter level defenders?

In an article from, Connor Hughes discusses whether Robby Anderson can produce in 2017, having made the jump from roster long-shot to prospective number one receiver.

He makes a valid point by saying that the level of coverage Anderson will face as the potential number one option will be better. However, is the jump required being overstated?

Even when he worked his way on the field last year -- he caught 42 passes for 587 yards and two scores as an undrafted rookie -- he usually saw a team's No. 3 or 4 defensive back.

That didn't ring true with me. Once Eric Decker went down for the year and Anderson started to get playing time he was rarely any lower than the third option in terms of snaps, targets and statistical production.

An oft-shared video clip on social media depicts Anderson burning Richard Sherman and almost coming up with the catch on an overthrown deep ball. Watch his highlight reel and you'll see him making catches downfield against players like Malcolm Butler, EJ Gaines, Ronald Darby and Tramaine Brock, so clearly he wasn't just racking up stats against reserves.

In fact, Anderson spent much of the year as a full time starter, which means that when the opposition was in a base defense, back-ups wouldn't even have been on the field. Also, he primarily lined up outside, which would automatically mean he had one of the starting cornerbacks covering him for many teams' defenses.

I went back and tallied who was covering Anderson on each of his targets and found that over half of the targets he had came against one of the starting cornerbacks from that day. These were split between 21 different players, all of whom started at least four games last year with 18 of them starting more than half of their team's games.

In addition, many of his other targets came against zone coverages. So he may have been matched up initially against a starting cornerback but a starting linebacker or safety was the nearest defender when the ball was thrown his way.

By my count, only eight of his 75 targets came against a cornerback who wasn't a starter that day.

So, the good news here is that he's not completely untested and has shown some ability to produce when covered by starting cornerbacks. However, as you might expect, the numbers are not quite as good in those situations.

In 2016 he caught 20 passes for 278 yards on 40 targets when facing what I would class as a starting cornerback. On all other targets he had 22 catches for 309 yards on 35 targets.

Although, maybe if you consider Darius Butler and Sean Smith - two players who started off the year getting starts at corner, then converted to safety later in the season (after they had faced Anderson), suddenly the numbers flip to 22 catches for 328 yards on 43 targets against starting cornerbacks and only 20 catches for 259 yards on his other 32 targets.

It's going to be challenging for Anderson this year and he'll probably have games where he doesn't produce much, like the most recent preseason game or last season's December loss to New England where he was held without a catch, for example. However, if he can stay healthy and continue to gain downfield separation, perhaps he can provide some excitement for a Jets fanbase with very low offensive expectations.