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This has been a particularly frustrating season for Jets' wide receiver Robby Anderson. Entering the year, the Jets were hopeful he was going to have a breakout season and establish himself as a bona fide number one threat. For a variety of reasons, that hasn't happened as he had disappointing numbers in the first half of the season.
However, he's been playing some of the best football of his career over the past three weeks. Let's investigate what's behind this upturn in fortunes and what effect this will have had on the pending free agent's value in the open market.
Despite his slower-than-expected start, Anderson's confidence has never wavered. While quick to emphasize that he wasn't complaining about his role, Anderson has stated that he views himself as one of the league's best receivers if he's getting opportunities and targets. He has been getting those looks for the past few games and has responded excellently.
Anderson is averaging 101 yards per game over the last three weeks with only three other NFL receivers - Robert Woods, AJ Brown and Chris Godwin - averaging more over that span. If he could sustain that level of play, then perhaps his earlier comments about potentially being a top-five receiver or a pro bowl level talent aren't as far-fetched as many took them to be.
This isn't unprecedented in Anderson's career either. Something similar happened towards the end of last year as he averaged 104 yards per game - the second highest total in the league - from Week 14 through Week 16. That's the dilemma with Anderson though. He's clearly capable of producing at an elite level but hasn't been able to do this consistently over an extended period with injuries, coaching changes and quarterback issues all contributing to his inconsistent production.
Anderson's contract is up at the end of the season and he's sure to attract interest on the open market, especially since his asking price based on his actual production makes him a potential bargain if his next team - which could still be the Jets - can get him to produce like this on more of a regular basis.
The main change over the past few weeks is that the Jets have started featuring Anderson on more intermediate routes. Anderson has continually shown he can get separation on such routes and Sam Darnold currently seems to have confidence in him.
Unfortunately, the Jets' new offensive staff made the same mistake as the last one. Despite Adam Gase saying before the season that Anderson wasn't a one-trick pony, that was how the Jets mostly used him anyway - on low percentage deep routes and as a decoy running clear-outs - in the first 10 games. Anderson's best football in 2018 came when they started featuring him in a more varied role and his best performance - a nine-catch, 140-yard effort against the Packers - featured zero deep balls.
Over the past few games, Anderson has shown his improved route-running skills, an ability to come up with contested catches and some elusiveness to gain extra yards after the catch. Additionally, although Darnold found him on a deep ball on Sunday, his numbers could have been even better than they were because there have been a handful of potential big plays where Darnold failed to connect with him.
ESPN's Rich Cimini previously reported that Anderson would be seeking a deal for somewhere between $10 million and $12 million per year, but implied that he doesn't believe the Jets view him as that kind of player. With Anderson now flourishing in more of a featured role, perhaps their thinking will have changed on that front.
Looking at some of the deals handed out around the league, Anderson's numbers, production and potential do place him favorably within the group of receivers earning that kind of money. The most obvious comparison is Oakland's Tyrell Williams who was the same age as Anderson when he signed a four-year, $44 million deal during the offseason. They also have similar measurables and skillsets.
For his career, Williams has 191 catches, 3,054 yards and 22 touchdowns. Anderson isn't far behind with 189 catches, 2,942 yards and 19 touchdowns. That's particularly impressive given that Williams has been in the league for a year longer than Anderson and played 22 more games than him. He's also typically played in much more higher-powered offenses than Anderson has.
Therefore, $11 million a year is realistically at the low end of what Anderson could command on the open market. Having restored his reputation and alleviated any off-field concerns by showing a great attitude all year, Anderson has re-established himself as a fan favorite and a lot of fans hope he'll be back. The Jets could have serious competition though.