Sam Darnold isn't the only former Jet that's set to take the field on Sunday for the Panthers.
Wide receiver Robby Anderson is also getting ready for his first chance at revenge against the franchise where he started his career.
The speedster played four years in green and white, blossoming into a dangerous playmaker while accumulating 3,059 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. He had distinguished himself as this franchise's No. 1 receiver when the Jets allowed him to walk in free agency.
Anderson signed a two-year pact worth $12 million guaranteed with the Panthers this past offseason. Immediately, the 28-year-old had a career year, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for his first time in the NFL (ending up with 1,096 receiving yards in Carolina last season). He had more receptions (95) than he's ever had before in his career.
As much Anderson was tearing it up between the lines while donning green and white, it wasn't all fun and games behind the scenes. The Temple product told the Charlotte Observer in January that he was "losing [his] love for football" while playing for Gang Green.
Now, Anderson is poised for even more of a breakout season in 2021, part of a talented group of wideouts while reunited with his former quarterback. Members of the Jets' defense understand the challenge that the wideout presents.
"Just his speed," Jets safety Marcus Maye told reporters this week. "They do a great job of designing routes for him, setting up different plays for him. Making him run certain routes and then come back later and run a different route. So you just gotta know where he's at at all times."
Echoing Maye, veteran Lamarcus Joyner singled out Anderson's "elite speed and quickness." Other than Joyner and Maye, New York's secondary is very young and inexperienced, a matchup for Darnold to exploit. In fact, it's safe to say that at least on paper, the Panthers could dominate through the air on Sunday. With rookies expected to get plenty of playing time this season, they'll be tested right away.
That's good experience for these defensive backs—and the reason why the Jets never signed a veteran corner this offseason—but it could get ugly before those youngsters figure it out when playing against a high-octane offense.
Head coach Robert Saleh acknowledged early in the week that Anderson is a constant threat to win vertically. If you don't win at the line of scrimmage, it's hard to prevent the big play.
"He’s got tremendous vertical speed. Obviously, you got to know where he is because of his ability to blow the top off in coverage and win one-on-ones, especially vertically," Saleh explained. "He’s a very talented young man, he’s got a lot of fight in him, too. His mindset, he’s built the right way. He’s going to be a definite challenge to deal with."
So, how does this youthful unit contain Anderson on the outside?
Regardless of how explosive he can be, second-year cornerback Bryce Hall is confident that by sticking to the game plan, New York can keep a lid on Carolina's aerial attack.
"Just like everybody else in the league, there's nobody that you go against that you just look at and be like, 'Oh, this is gonna be easy work that you take lightly,'" Hall said. "I think [the key is] not doing anything outside of what got us to this point, as far as trusting our technique, trusting our coaches, and just being who we are. And so if we do that, if we do our job, I think everything will take care of itself."
Depending on how Hall and his fellow defensive backs perform on Sunday, Anderson could give the Jets and their fan base a first-hand look at what they're missing since his departure.
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