With the emergence of D.J. Moore as the Carolina Panthers’ number one receiver, and the improvement of Curtis Samuel, the addition of Robby Anderson forms quite a strong receiving trio. It’s safe to believe that Anderson chose to go play for Carolina in order to reunite with his former college head coach, Matt Rhule (at Temple University).
In his four years in the NFL, Anderson has yet to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, only breaking 800 yards receiving in one of his four seasons. Let’s break down the tape and take a look at what he does well, as well as some things he can improve on to help him break that 1,000-yard barrier.
Anderson has elite speed, but it isn’t just his speed that allows him to win vertically so often. There have been plenty of guys with 4.2-4.3 speed, who struggled to win down the field in the NFL, but what separates Anderson is his understanding of how to win vertical.
In this clip from 2017 versus Miami, Anderson eats up space, and gives a single jab to freeze the defender outside. From this point, it is a flat-out sprint; Anderson has the awareness to understand that the ball is going to be thrown down field, so he looks late. A common mistake receivers make when running routes down field, is that they’ll create that initial separation, but begin looking back early ultimately slowing themselves down. This is why deep balls are often overthrown. Anderson consistently does a nice job of maintaining his eyes down field for multiple steps prior to turning his head to track the football. As a matter of fact, he gets twenty-five yards down field prior to looking back for the ball.
Another thing to take note of which he does well, is that he shoots his hands late, rather than running with his arms extended. This may not seem important, but as mentioned previously, these minute details are enough to affect the outcome of the play.
Anderson does a nice job having a plan at the line of scrimmage. In this clip, you’ll notice his cover defender has inside leverage. He works a speed release, immediately getting width and eliminating his shoulder pad with a blade release (eliminating the shoulder pad gives the defensive back no target to strike on the jam). From here, he just wins with his speed. You’ll notice he looks earlier here because he understands the ball may be released earlier (due to the safety posing a threat to get over the top).
In this clip from 2018, Anderson is aligned with a condensed or nasty split (tighter to end man on line of scrimmage). He does a nice job expanding with his vertical stem, and uses a single jab once he gets on the defender’s toes. With his speed, all Anderson needs to do is freeze that defender before he accelerates by them. On display once again is his ability track the ball; watch his eyes lock on to the ball, never losing sight of it as it drops in over his shoulder.
Threatening with Speed
Anderson has been able to use his speed to win on the short and intermediate levels as well. He does a nice job of keeping the threat of the deep ball regardless of what route he is running. He eliminates indicators prior to his break point (indicators being changing his pad level, shortening his stride, or a premature body lean into his break to name a few).
Here he is seen running a 5-step slant versus off-cover defenders. When Anderson opens up his stride and accelerates off the ball versus cushion, he is more often than not going to be able to maintain that separation by threatening the defender with his vertical stem — as you see here. He keeps his hips and shoulders square, looks through the defender, and pushes for five full strides, breaking off the fifth. In the second clip, he does a nice job running it from the condensed or “nasty” split, spraying to attack the defender’s leverage before snapping it off.
Here, Anderson is at the top of your screen, and immediately eats up the cornerback’s cushion off the ball. You’ll notice how early this defender flips his hips to turn and run with the threat of the vertical stem. This is due to how often Anderson has been able to stretch the field over the past few seasons. Anderson makes it look like he’s trying to win vertically, prior to slightly dropping his weight (sinking his hips) to initiate his deceleration and get out of his break on the comeback. He has a sense of urgency out of his break to maintain the separation that he has at the top of the route.
Similar to the previous rep, Robby Anderson once again sells the threat of winning vertically prior to his comeback. However, the one difference in this route is that he actively bursts towards the defender’s near hip to get into his “blind spot” before his break. This creates an issue for the cornerback because he temporarily loses sight of Anderson, as Anderson breaks back down-hill.
One thing to note is that Anderson is a bit high/tall at his break point, and it causes a bit of inefficiency in how he gets out of his break. This is one flaw to his game. As a longer receiver, who runs a 4.34 forty-yard dash, it is a bit more difficult for someone with his frame to drop his weight/sink his hips to get out of breaks (Julio Jones’s ability to do so is in part what makes him elite). Anderson thrives more so on routes which require a single/pressure step routes (posts, slants, etc.) In the clip below, you will notice Anderson is too tall as he tries to exit his break and gets stuck, losing acceleration to the catch point.
Robby Anderson has shown that he is a capable route runner, especially when using the pressure step as we mentioned previously. However, it is one of the parts of his game which he can most improve.
Robby Anderson is highlighted at the bottom of your screen, running a blaze out. He is able to identify that he can leave his post stem early due to the cornerback’s inside leverage. He snaps his eyes to the quarterback out of his pressure step to the post, before finishing with a second pressure step to work back towards the sideline. This is an impressive route, and if Anderson is able to consistently run these types of nuanced double moves, paired with his ability to stretch the field vertically, he can take his game to the next level.
Robby Anderson is able to win down the field beyond just using his speed. He is able to use change in tempo and double moves in order to, at the very minimum, freeze his cover defender. When you possess the linear speed that Anderson does, most of the time all you need to do is get your cover defender to pause for a tenth of a second. You’ll notice in the first clip, Anderson simply uses a hesitation in the middle of his vertical stem to get his cover defender to pause, and by the time Anderson accelerates, the route is won. In the second clip, Anderson is running a true stutter and go. He doesn’t have to be as patient in his stutter as some receivers, because as we discussed, he just needs to freeze the defender for a split-second. Once again, he accelerates by the corner.
When facing a press cover defender, he was able to win multiple times on slant routes. He often uses a single jab to move the defender outside, or hold him outside. Most importantly, he re-establishes his vertical stem prior to his pressure step to the slant. One thing Anderson could do more consistently is attack the ball, and “snatch” it out of the air.
Room For Improvement
Along with the potential for improvement on sharper breaks, such as curls, comebacks, and square cuts (digs/square outs), Anderson can also improve in two more distinct categories.
The first of which is his play strength. As seen in the clip above, Anderson does struggle with corners who are able to be physical with him. Here is running a hitch versus press, and doesn’t produce the force necessary to club his cover defender by.
The second, and perhaps the one thing that can immediately take his game to the next level is attacking the ball in the air on deep routes. Here are two distinct plays, which could have been touchdowns. In the first clip versus the Buffalo Bills, you’ll notice Robby Anderson takes a passive approach on the attempt of this reception. Ideally, he would gather both feet, and rise up to make a play on the ball, rather than waiting on it to drop in, ultimately the cause of the pass break up. Two things can happen in this situation: Anderson can get to the ball before the defender does, or, when Anderson rises up to make a play on the ball, the defender will run through him (drawing a pass interference).
In the second clip, Robby Anderson is aggressively hand fighting with the cornerback, however, he has a hard time rising up to make the play on the ball. Anderson thrives tracking the ball over his shoulder, but he struggles when attempting to high point it.
There is reason for optimism when discussing the receiver room for the Carolina Panthers. They have one of the most versatile groups in the league with Moore, Samuel, and now Anderson. It is going to be exciting to see how this offense performs in 2020 with a new face at QB, a new head coach, and improved receivers.
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