Over the last month, we've been sharing in-depth scouting reports on each of the Jets' free agent signings. Today we move on to look at wide receiver and return specialist Andre Roberts.
The 30-year-old Roberts is listed at 5-foot-11, 187 pounds, and was a third round pick in the 2010 draft. He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, with whom he spent his first four seasons. Since then he's spent time with three different teams in the past four years. He has caught 244 passes for 2,911 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career, but has been mainly used as a return specialist over the past few seasons. He has three career return touchdowns.
Roberts attended college at the Citadel, where he was a productive player with 286 catches for over 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns. He was also an all-state sprinter.
Roberts performed well at the scouting combine and was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the 2010 draft. While he started off as a return man, he soon worked his way into the line-up and made an impact as a playmaker on offense.
Roberts spent his first four years with the Cardinals, catching over 50 passes in his second season and then setting career marks with 64 catches, 759 yards and five touchdown catches in 2012.
At the end of his fourth season, he was picked up by Washington, but was a disappointment there, as he caught 36 passes in his first season and then saw his second season cut short by a knee injury.
In 2016, he played for the Lions, catching 14 passes and returning two punts for scores. Last year, he moved on to Atlanta but caught just one pass as he was mostly just used in a return role.
Let's move onto some further analysis of what Roberts brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Roberts isn't very big, but put up some nice numbers at the scouting combine, as you can see below:
Of course this was eight years ago and he's dealt with a knee injury since then. However, he still looked as fast as ever over the past few seasons.
We'll start by looking at his special teams contributions, since that's been his primary role in recent years and figures to be with the Jets too.
Roberts has averaged a solid but unspectacular 23.4 yards per kickoff return and 8.1 yards per punt return in his career. He seems to be getting better with age though. Until 2015, he had no return touchdowns and hadn't placed in the top 10 for average yards per return for kickoffs or punts.
However, he's been in the top 10 in kick return average over the past two years and was third in the NFL in punt return average in 2016. He returned his first kickoff for a touchdown in 2015 and then two punts for touchdowns in 2016. While he didn't score in 2017, he had a longest kick return of 61 yards and a long punt return of 27.
His 99-yard kickoff return in 2015 displays his anticipation and speed and he changes direction a few times to exploit running lanes and go the distance untouched:
On one of his punt return touchdowns, Roberts displayed his elusiveness to make the first couple of guys miss:
On offense, Roberts is a player who is capable of producing both on the outside and in the slot. In Washington, he played approximately two-thirds of the time in the slot, but since that time he has played more on the outside.
In the past, he's sometimes handled the ball on end around plays, but that hasn't happened in the past few seasons.
Despite his speed, Roberts has never really been a major deep threat with most of his downfield catches at 20-to-30 yards downfield. He's more likely to be used as an underneath threat.
However, he does have the ability to get over the top for big plays from time to time:
Roberts has good route running ability and can run the full route tree. He runs routes with precision and makes quick breaks.
Here's a play where he confuses the defense in zone coverage to get wide open in the end zone:
Roberts can make catches when tightly covered, but doesn't make a ton of highlight reel type catches.
Roberts has a catch rate of 56 percent for his career, which is lower than you'd like for a player who isn't targeted a lot down the field. He's been very consistent though, although he's actually never had a season where he caught more than 60 percent of his targets.
Roberts drop rates have generally been with an acceptable range, but Washington fans lost patience with him during his two years there, giving him the nickname "Dropberts". He's actually only dropped three passes in the past three seasons, although he's been targeted a lot less than in the past.
His hands have let him down at times when returning kicks and punts, although he's never had more than two fumbles on punts in any one season and he's only lost five fumbles in his career, although four of those were in the past four years.
Here was perhaps the worst fumble in his career, which happened in his rookie year:
Yards after the catch
Roberts obviously has the ability to elude tacklers and make things happen in space, which is why he's so successful as a return man. Despite this, his numbers for yards after the catch per reception haven't been great, although he was able to sneak into the top 20 twice.
Here was a nice play from his rookie season. This was actually his first NFL touchdown:
Despite being small Roberts is capable of finding open spots in the end zone and 10 of his 14 career touchdown catches have come from inside the 20, with seven inside the 10.
Here was a tough catch he made despite tight coverage for a touchdown in 2016:
Roberts isn't very big and hasn't contributed much as a blocker over the years, but will contribute on screen passes or down the field at times. He's had two penalties for holding and one for a crackback block in his career.
Here was an effective downfield block, but it was hardly impressive from a technical standpoint:
Roberts lack of size can be detrimental to him getting open at times. He can be bumped off his route or outphysicalled at the point of the catch. That happened here on this pick-six:
He's been called for offensive pass interference once in his career.
As a return man, he got embarrassingly lit up by the Cowboys punter a couple of years ago.
As a return man, Roberts' decision making can be questionable at times but he has excellent open-field running instincts.
As a receiver, he occasionally struggles to locate the ball and sometimes has to adjust to the ball awkwardly in the air, which can slow his momentum. There was also one play where he was calling for the ball as he ran across the field, but actually ran into a defender's area and had to make a tightly contested catch.
Roberts doesn't seem to blow many assignments but has had one false start penalty in his career.
He is regarded as intelligent and has trained to become an options trader after his NFL career comes to an end.
Roberts is a disciplined and hard working player who comes from a military background. He also credits Larry Fitzgerald with mentoring him when he was young.
In 2017, he won the NFL's Salute to Service award for work in the military community.
Realistically, Roberts is probably battling for a special teams role. However, if he does contribute on offense, it will perhaps be as a slot receiver. While the Jets have several bigger players who can make contributions from the slot, they don't have many smaller slot specialists.
Former teammates of Roberts on the Jets' current roster include Spencer Long and Brandon Copeland. Copeland has also been involved with Roberts' offseason options trading.
Three years ago, Roberts was placed on injured reserve midway through his second season in Washington after he reportedly tore his MCL. However, another report described this as a meniscus injury.
Prior to that injury Roberts had only missed one game in his rookie year and one in his third season and he's played in every game since. Over the years, he's also been listed on the injury report with shoulder, ankle, quad and thumb issues.
As noted, the expectation is that Roberts will compete for a role as the primary return man. However, he's far from guaranteed a role and only signed a minimum salaried deal.
Last year, the Jets brought in a bunch of young return men, obviously hoping one would step up, but none really did. Other than Lucky Whitehead, who got hurt in camp and was later re-signed to the practice squad, the Jets didn't really bring in anyone with much experience, so going with a more established player like Roberts makes sense.
However, they did have some more established veteran return men in recent years, such as Jeremy Ross, and he didn't work out too well either. Even bringing back Jeremy Kerley proved costly when he had a key fumble and then got suspended.
If Roberts can win a role, then his experience and versatility as an offensive option could be valuable. However, the Jets are deep enough that he would probably only get into the rotation for special packages or if there were injuries.