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NFL Draft

Why Robert Woods Is A Top-10 NFL WR

  • The Draft Network
  • August 23, 2020
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New to TDN, I’ll be doing a weekly series that exposes some of the NFL’s most common misconceptions and false narratives. After I explored the Seattle Seahawks and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer last week, this week I stayed in the NFC West and examined why Robert Woods isn’t just the Los Angeles Rams’ best pass-catcher (not Cooper Kupp), he’s also a top-10 wide receiver in the entire league.

Top Ten

Although Troy Aikman tried to ruin it for all of us Woods fans by outrageously saying that Woods is the best wide receiver in football (he’s not), Woods is still extremely underrated on a national scale. After all, seemingly everyone prefers Cooper Kupp (or even the recently departed Brandin Cooks) when it comes to Rams receivers. However, I’m here to tell you that (as good as Kupp is), it’s Woods—not Kupp—that truly makes the Rams’ offense click.

Yes, I know anointing the former USC prospect as a top-10 wideout, especially with the amount of talent across the league, seems extremely rich. At the same time, though, that doesn’t mean putting Woods this high up isn’t warranted. If we’re simply listing the top 10 (in random order), I’d put Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and Odell Beckham Jr. as the top nine. I’d then slide Woods right in at No. 10.

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You can make compelling arguments for Kenny Golladay, Amari Cooper, Allen Robinson, Adam Thielen, Tyler Lockett, or even Stefon Diggs ahead of Woods for that last coveted top-10 spot, but simply put, no one over the past two seasons has offered the same combination of talent, production, and consistency that Woods provides. Tenth may seem high, especially with the influx of young receivers entering the pro ranks, but it’s more than a justified assessment of the savvy veteran and his seemingly always underrated game.

Woods is special and it’s about darn time he gets the recognition he deserves.

Versatility

The first thing that sticks out in Woods’ balanced game is how he’s used.

A Swiss Army knife that makes head coach Sean McVay’s 11- and 12-personnel groupings click, Woods is a scheme transcendent player capable of playing whatever role is needed. It’s this versatile component to his game that is the main reason he ranks over Kupp in terms of both his level of play and overall importance to the Rams. After all, whereas Kupp almost primarily aligns out of the slot and is taken out in 12-personnel grouping, Woods offers both slot and outside capabilities, as well as a surprising amount of potential out of the backfield too.

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Asked to run plenty of jet sweeps and orbit motion designs as a runner, Woods also demonstrates terrific patience and vision as a ball-carrier, allowing McVay to dial up plenty of unorthodox play-calls that involve targets at or near the LOS. This quick-game component has also let Woods have more success on intermediate/deep routes too, as defenders have often (unsuccessfully) tried to play Woods tighter when he’s having success in the short sections of the field.

At the end of the day, Woods can truly do it all. Playing a staggering 80% of Los Angeles’ offensive snaps, he’s as efficient and dependable as they come, whether it be as a traditional pass-catcher, creative runner, or even as a surprisingly violent and aggressive blocker. It’s not often in today’s specialized game that you can point at a player and say he can play in any scheme or formation, but Woods is a part of that unique and prestigious club.

Route-Running

Woods can lineup anywhere on the football field. Fortunately for him and the Rams, it also turns out that he can run any route out on the football field.

Tied for fifth in average separation per route run in 2019 (3.4 yards), the Rams wideout is as crafty and nuanced as they come, often excelling with double moves, intricate crossers, and decisive out-breaking routes. Able to win in a multitude of ways, he has the elite fluidity and agility needed to sell any route in the playbook, whether it be stretching the horizontal plane, pressing vertically, or even executing a simple drag route across the middle portions of the field.  

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With a trademark stutter-fake, Woods is also dominant at the LOS, presenting Doug Baldwin-like qualities in his ability to defeat press coverage with elite patience, quickness, and an innate way of slithering through contact. Able to accelerate from 0-100 in the blink of an eye, his fast-feet serve as a huge plus in this regard, often allowing Woods to beautifully sell double moves and leaving defenders grasping for their ankles.

No, he won’t ever be considered the most physically gifted player or the most outstanding athlete, but Woods ultimately negates these so-called “weaknesses” with all of the traits required to be an elite route-runner: superb angles, a terrific understanding of leverage, elite quickness, strong fluidity, and explosive cutting ability.

That’s more than good enough for me.

Awareness / Control

When it comes to how Woods achieves his success, route-running has a large role to play in that. Another important (and arguably equal) factor, however, has to do with one simple concept: understanding zone coverage.

Working the middle sections of the field as well as any wide receiver in the league, Woods’ knowledge of where to settle in zone concepts is nothing short of spectacular, especially in critical move-the-chains situations. Accustomed to finding open seams and holes in tight spaces, Woods also has the patience to let things unfold at the LOS before seeping into the open field on certain passing designs like crossers and drags, a trait that not every top wideout possesses.

Adding on to this, Woods’ overall body control is an additional trait that helps set him apart from the league. Showcasing unreal toe-tap ability in sideline situations, Woods knows exactly where to be no matter the situation, even when underthrown or late passes from an inconsistent Jared Goff force him to rotate, stretch, or leap for a difficult grab.

No, he won’t necessarily excel with a big frame or overly imposing strength, but it’s this strong mental ability and his impressive contortion skills that give Woods other strong calling cards outside of his patented versatility and route-running.

Production

Numbers rarely lie and in Woods’ case, that sentiment certainly stays true.  

A model of dependability at the position, seemingly all of Woods’ statistics—advanced or basic—back this narrative up. One of just one of four wide receivers to have at least 85 receptions and 1,100 receiving yards each of the past two seasons, Woods is in rare company at the position, accounting for just two drops (zero from the slot) over the past two seasons.

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Furthermore, ranking ninth in catches and 14th in receiving yards in 2019 (despite missing a game), Woods has demonstrated a level of consistency that only Julio Jones and Michael Thomas have matched over the last two seasons.

According to a Pro Football Focus (PFF) study, only Jones, Thomas, Hopkins, and Allen have had more 5+ catch, 50+ yard games over the last two seasons—Woods has also logged more than 70 receiving yards in 68% of his games in that same span. To put this in perspective, the only two players with a higher mark in this regard are Thomas and Jones, each putting forth a 72% mark in this regard.

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With all of this in mind, Woods deserves to be in the top 10 discussion, especially when accounting for his superb film and high-quality traits. It might not be a popular opinion, but he’s the engine of that Rams offense and deserves to be recognized as such.

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