FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Robby Anderson was just a scrawny 11-year-old when he started showing signs of being a speedy playmaker with a knack for making tough catches.
His Little League quarterbacks back home in Florida would toss the football down the field and Anderson would usually come up with a reception that left defensive backs shaking their heads.
“It was will and want-to, you know?” Anderson said.
He’s doing much of the same 13 years later for the New York Jets, quickly developing into a go-to guy in just his second season. Anderson has a team-leading seven touchdown catches, including at least one in each of his last five games.
“He’s pretty special in the way that he can go get it,” offensive coordinator John Morton said. “He’s got another gear to go get that ball. That’s a plus in this league.”
Anderson’s TD streak is the longest in the NFL right now, and one that has begun to put him in conversations about the league’s top scoring threats. Anderson is striving to not just be mentioned with the likes of Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins, but to firmly establish himself as one of the best receivers in the game.
“It feels good,” Anderson said. “But where I’m hoping to go and where I’m trying to go, that’s what I want to get used to, is being talked about with those guys.”
Not bad for a guy who went undrafted out of Temple last year and was hardly a lock to make the Jets’ opening roster as a rookie despite leading the league in preseason yards receiving.
One reason he was passed over in the draft could have been his slight frame, which might have raised concerns over whether he could handle the rigors of the pro game. He’s 6-foot-3 and just 190 pounds, but Anderson said that he’s gained 10 pounds since last season, when it appeared more physical defensive backs could have their way with him.
That isn’t the case this year, as Anderson routinely fights for balls and refuses to be pushed around. He credits cornerback Morris Claiborne for challenging him at practice to become a better receiver.
“I think he’s turned himself into a pretty good football player,” coach Todd Bowles said. “You know he can run and you know he can catch the ball, but I think people miss the little things he does: his work ethic, his blocking has improved, his understanding of the game has improved, his route running has improved.”
With 41 catches this season, Anderson is just one away from matching his rookie total. His 714 yards receiving easily eclipse the 587 he had a year ago.
“Even looking at film from last year, I don’t really even feel like the same player I was last year,” Anderson said. “I feel like I’m more explosive. I just feel like I’m on a whole other level than I was last year. With my game, coming off the line, my releases, all of that.
“I really feel like I’ve really improved and I hope to look back next year and say the same thing from this year.”
He has 16 receptions of 20 or more yards, which ties him for third in the NFL behind only Brown (20) and Hopkins (18). Six of Anderson’s seven TD catches have been for more than 20 yards.
There was the 54-yarder last Sunday against Carolina when Josh McCown rolled to his right, pointed to Anderson downfield and the receiver blazed past a defender and caught the pass over his shoulder for his second touchdown of the game.
The first, though, was even more impressive. With James Bradberry and Mike Adams blanketing him in double coverage, Anderson snared McCown’s perfectly placed pass in the back of the end zone for a 33-yard TD .
“That was unbelievable, more the catch than anything,” Morton said. “Robby has an unbelievable canny about him tracking the ball at another gear down the field. I haven’t been around a lot of players that can track a ball like him.”
His eye-popping catches and increased production have garnered Pro Bowl talk. He even campaigned for fans to vote for him after his second TD last week.
“Will y’all vote for me for the Pro Bowl, man? Please?” Anderson said while looking into the television cameras.
Former NFL linebacker Chris Spielman, who’s doing color analysis for FOX, admonished Anderson by saying he should be worried about winning the game. Bowles also didn’t like it, and said he and the receiver spoke about it.
“He knows me personally, he knows my heart and knows my intentions,” Anderson said of his coach. “He’s teaching me. I’m new to this and new to the media and things like that, so he doesn’t want people to have a bad perception of me. That’s it. He understands what I truly meant.”
After the game, Anderson insisted he meant no harm and was just caught up in the moment. But even his Jets teammates seemed to think it was much ado about nothing.
“They know me,” he said. “They know I’m not a selfish player, by any means.”
Except, of course, when it comes to catching footballs against defenders. Then, he wants every one that comes his way, and he wants to take them all the way to the end zone.
And maybe, someday, all the way to the Pro Bowl.
“That’s everybody’s dream,” Anderson said. “You play basketball, you want to go to the NBA All-Star game. Baseball, everybody wants to go to the All-Star game. That’s the goal for everybody since you were a little kid.”