We'll start with tight end Colin Anderson, who the Jets signed to a futures deal on New Year's Eve. Anderson was the only one of the eight players signed by the Jets that day who hadn't ended the season on their practice squad. They had, however, worked him out at the end of September. Anderson is 6'4" and 240 pounds and went undrafted out of Furman last year. He spent preseason with the Minnesota Vikings.
After the jump, a brief look at footage from his time with Minnesota to try and assess some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is Colin Anderson?
Anderson had a breakout year in 2011, catching 40 passes for 696 yards and seven touchdowns and capping off his season by throwing this touchdown pass on a gadget play against Florida.
Entering his senior year as a preseason all-conference selection, his numbers were down, as he caught just 30 passes for less than 500 yards and no touchdowns. He wasn't expected to be drafted despite some good numbers at his pro day, including a 36.5" vertical, a 4.32 short shuttle and a sparkling 6.85 three cone drill. His numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.80 seconds) and bench press (17 reps) were less impressive.
As expected, he went undrafted but did get signed by the Vikings and saw some playing time with them in preseason. Anderson only played 61 snaps in total and I acknowledge that this is a small sample size. However, in a way, this is an ideal way to evaluate players because for some that might be the only chance they get to show what they can do. Like the Jets would have when weighing up whether to sign him, we have to look at what's available to us to see if anything stands out. Let's therefore recap Anderson's performances in each game.
Week One - v Houston
Anderson played 10 snaps in this one, entering the game late in the third quarter. He was targeted twice, catching one pass for five yards on 3rd and 19 as he initially stayed in to block, then leaked out for a dump off pass underneath only to be tackled in the open field by a defensive back. The other target saw him line up at full back and run down the seam, but he struggled to locate the ball over his shoulder and it sailed beyond him and was almost picked off by the safety.
As a blocker, there was one play where he lined up at tight end and blocked down on the inside linebacker, who was able to eventually get off the block and in on the tackle. However, the replay showed that the runner was directed into him because the outside linebacker fought off a double team to redirect the runner inside. Otherwise, Anderson would probably have sustained his block long enough for the runner to get to the second level.
He also stayed in to block a few times in pass protection and although he didn't give up any pressure, he didn't exactly look comfortable. On three occasions, the main reason he didn't give up a pressure was because someone else got beaten worse than he did. On one play, he was double teaming on the right side and got rocked backwards into the quarterback, but the left tackle was cleanly beaten to the inside and committed a holding penalty as the quarterback was flushed out. He managed to stay in front of his man on another play, although he did start to lose his balance as the quarterback was sacked by a rusher going between right guard and right tackle. Finally, he was again driven back into the quarterback, but this time the pressure came in between the center and right guard. On this play, Anderson displayed good footwork to stay in front of the edge rusher. This was the same guy who drew the holding call earlier on, so Anderson handled his assignment one-on-one better than the left tackle on that particular play.
Week Two - at Buffalo
In this game, Anderson saw action on 15 snaps. On several of these, he ran a route, but was only targeted once and that pass was batted down at the line as he stopped his route just shy of the marker on 2nd and seven. On one of his other routes, he motioned from out wide into the left slot and then ran an in-route across the field. This drew the single-high safety into the middle and enabled the quarterback to throw a 35-yard touchdown into single coverage down the sideline.
As a blocker, there was one play in pass protection where he initially blocked his man, who then dropped off into coverage, causing Anderson to lose his balance and topple forward. I guess that's akin to a post-up defender "pulling the chair" in basketball. On one running play, he was driven back initially at the point of attack, but managed to re-anchor enabling the runner to gain positive yardage. There was also a play where he made a block from the slot, but the receiver next to him dropped a dump-off pass. On the next play, they ran the same play, but this time the receiver faked a screen and then ran down the sideline, but could not make the catch.
Week Three - at San Francisco
In this game, Anderson only saw action on one offensive play. On first and ten, the Vikings went with a three-TE set and Anderson leaked out and ran a downfield corner pattern off play-action. The 49ers read this well and the cornerback on that side dropped off and was in position, so the quarterback was forced to check down. It's still interesting to see that they installed a play where Anderson was the primary option.
Week Four - v Tennessee
We got a more extended look at Anderson in this game, as he played 35 snaps. He caught one pass for nine yards, but actually that doesn't tell the whole story. The one catch he did make came as he lined up out wide and broke to the inside to make a catch in front of the cornerback who hit him as the ball arrived for a first down. Despite the fact starters don't typically play much in the last preseason game, the cornerback he beat on that play was Alterraun Verner. On two other plays, Anderson drew a holding penalty to give the Vikings a first down, one on the outside linebacker at the line on a play where he wasn't targeted and one on a safety downfield as he was targeted on an out pattern.
It could have been a bigger day for Anderson in the passing game. On one play from the 11-yard line, he was wide open leaking into the flat and would have had a chance to score, but the pass was thrown well behind him and he barely got a hand to it as he reached back. On another play, he was again wide open in the flat, this time on 3rd and two. However, the quarterback inexplicably didn't throw to him for the easy first down, instead throwing downfield for an interception.
On another play, they dumped the ball to a running back in the wide flat for a touchdown. Anderson was in the slot on that side and although he didn't make a clean block, he did enough to slow the safety down and prevent him from being able to stop the runner from reaching the pylon.
Entering the fourth quarter, Anderson had been called upon to make two key blocks in the running game. On one, he met the linebacker in the hole and although he was able to get off the block to get in on the stop, Anderson did rock him initially, enabling the runner to get some momentum and pick up five. On another play, he stayed on his block well as the runner was re-routed in his direction.
In the fourth quarter, Anderson was called upon to run block a lot more and initially had very good results. On three consecutive plays, the Vikings gained 21 yards. The first one saw him seal the defensive end to the inside well. On the next play he lined up at full back on the right side and blocked the outside linebacker, initially driving him off his spot and then, as the linebacker re-anchored, he finished the block by driving him forward again and to the ground. Finally, he again lined up as a full back on the right side, this time rocking Scott Solomon off his spot at the point of attack. (You may recall Solomon, who had a brief spell on the Jets roster last season).
Anderson had one more impressive block in the fourth quarter, again sealing a defensive end on the edge, but this time driving him laterally and out of the play. After that, he got some tougher assignments, which he struggled with, although it says something that they even tried to use him in this way. Essentially, they tried to run behind him on three consecutive plays, while he blocked a defensive end. He was blown up and knocked over on the first and his man stood him up and got off his block to make the stop on the other two, first to the outside and then to the inside. These were pretty meaningless plays, though, as Minnesota lined up the game-winning field goal with just over a minute to go.
When evaluating a player I'm not too familiar with, it's often easy to predict what their deal might be before even watching any footage. Listed at 234 pounds when he left college, Anderson lacked ideal size to play tight end in the NFL and, on inspection of his pro day numbers, he didn't have the elite level athleticism that could facilitate a move to receiver. However, at 6'4" perhaps he would have the frame to potentially add weight and could then contribute at this level.
This type of prediction doesn't always prove accurate once you review the footage, but in the case of Anderson, I saw enough examples of him getting into good position only to be outmuscled by his man to back up the original hypothesis. If Anderson can bulk up, which presumably he's been doing ever since he entered the league, this will give him a chance to hold his ground at the point of attack better, sustain blocks longer and become even more effective when he does gain a leverage advantage. There were several plays where he displayed good technique as a blocker and I therefore feel like he has a shot to develop into a decent role player as a blocking tight end that can also line up at fullback.
In terms of being a pass catching threat, he did a few things but we didn't really get too much of an insight into what he's capable of. Again, making himself into a more physically imposing threat would perhaps help him here because he doesn't really rely on speed so adding some strength could improve his chances of gaining natural separation with his body.
I'll reiterate here that this is a small sample size and that Anderson is a long-shot to make the roster and might not even survive long enough to make it to training camp. However, with his first year at the pro level behind him, perhaps he has a shot to showcase some versatility and make a case for himself to get consideration for a roster spot or a chance at the practice squad to develop further.
We'll be looking at more players throughout April.