If 13 is known as a “baker’s dozen,” what’s the nickname for 11? A swindler’s dozen? I dunno. But the Buffalo Bills signed a league-leading 11 players so far in free agency. Twelve if you count D’haquille Williams (not an NFL free agent) but then the joke doesn’t work. We close out our swindler’s dozen of players with Andre Roberts, the All-Pro return man who also dabbles in receiving.
We’re gonna spend more time on receiving by far than returns. There’s three reasons for that. The camera angles on returns are a nightmare. Returns as you’ll see are heavily dependent on the other 21 players. Looking at Roberts’s physical tools using receiver plays actually tells us a lot. I mean, just look at this. This is far from an every play thing, but who the heck cuts around a line like this to try to block for a run? Someone used to returning that’s who. Roberts cuts around the edge like he’s trying to find that tiny gap for a touchdown.
This is a standard route across the middle. Roberts is free because the defender turns late. The highlight here is the focus Andre Roberts uses to bring the ball in. In 2018 Roberts had a “meh” catch rate of 58%. A small sample size and several very uncatchable passes skewed this down. Roberts has never had stellar catch rates with a variety of teams and quarterbacks, which does suggest Roberts is a limiting factor. His most recent tape showed decent hands however.
There’s a good chance Andre Roberts’s catch rate is dragged down by a mediocre ability to separate. The somewhat gradual deceleration into the turn allows the defender to be attached to Roberts the entire time. This was fairly common regardless of the route. Roberts also isn’t an incredibly fast runner and can’t separate in that manner on a consistent basis.
Similarly, there’s a brief pause on the turn that enticed the defender to try to jump the route. When the defender stumbles, Roberts is open again.
Roberts runs across the middle and gives a little tap on his way through. Roberts isn’t overly physical and this is about as much contact as you can expect on a regular basis. It does help him cross the field clean though, to be fair, the defense is not aggressively covering Roberts.
The New York Jets put Andre Roberts all over the field. From jet sweeps to go-routes on the outside and everything in between. On this play it looks like they’re trying to get the ball to Roberts in space with the hope his vision, honed via the return game, will result in yards after the catch. During a return, the ball carrier can see the entire opposing team as the play develops as well as get a running start. Neither luxury is afforded to Roberts on this play. He finds out the hard way that the close proximity and blind angles of eleven starters coming after him is a different beast. If the Bills attempt to do this, they’d be better off allowing Robert to get the ball in stride and able to see the defense.
We can’t have a receiver review without blocking! Roberts isn’t too shabby. This is a really nice block, with the only disclaimer being that Roberts’s momentum is superior in the collision based on angle of movement. Roberts can be counted on to engage and will win some battles if called on. He’s no Robert Woods when it comes to blocking but he’s solid.
Thanks to Roberts being used sparingly as a receiver, I had time to review one historical game. I chose this game from 2012 during Roberts’s most prolific receiving season. There are six years between this play and the rest and the difference is night and day. He’s faster, makes better cuts and is far more physical (though a lot of players got pretty physical with Cortland Finnegan). The actual catch, though, is pretty similar to 2018 and it’s not a bad sight by any means. In 2012, he had 64 catches for 759 yards. Roberts had a stretch of four years over 400 yards.
Play 9 (kickoff return)
For just about any big return there’s a perfect storm consisting of an error from the opponent, solid blocking by teammates, and a great effort by the returner. Andre Roberts’s kickoff returns for big gains tended to follow this precise format. Green Bay sets up a wide lane on the same side of the field as Roberts. The Jets see it and make the gap wider. Roberts is more than happy to run into the giant lane. From there, though, he still needs to adjust his “lane” on the move. Slowing down will lead to a tackle from behind and Roberts navigates the quick shift well. He understands the angles and gets every yard he can before being corralled out of bounds. This was his second-best return of this game.
Play 10 (punt return)
The Detroit Lions scattering isn’t exactly an error, but the exact spread leads to a lane opening up. As occurred in the kickoff return, the Jets help the lane get wider. Roberts cuts through but sees the end of the tunnel shutting quick. He scoots around and then twice is nearly pushed out of bounds. The second attempt Roberts helps stiff-arm away.
The 2012 Andre Roberts would be in serious consideration for a starting receiver role. The 2018 version is slower, less agile, and less aggressive. Adding him into the rotation isn’t a bad idea at all and if it should happen he’s a dependable player. Roberts should be expected to see most of his action on special teams. When it comes to how much impact he’ll have on a unit that underachieved last season, he should be a breath of fresh air. Improvements in coaching are necessary to really let Roberts shine. A few tweaks in the right direction could turn this into a much better signing than it seems.