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2018 Rewind Study: Robert Woods's 2017 Season/Is He a WR1 For Fantasy 2018?

Date:
February 25, 2018 6:14 PM
February 26, 2018 6:00 PM
— Our offseason ‘Rewind’ reports are where we look at an individual player’s previous season(s) of work–analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a ‘blip’ performance, or signs of future greatness…or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do two per week in the offseason. —

REWIND 2018 SERIES

-- Our offseason 'Rewind' reports are where we look at an individual player's previous season(s) of work--analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a 'blip' performance, or signs of future greatness...or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do 1-2 per week in the offseason. --

We started with 32 proposed players, one from each team, back in early February…an audience vote, and Robert Woods won all the various voting stages and is the first ‘Rewind’ report of 2018. The reason for Woods’s election victory – his emergence as a useful+/Rams’ #1 WR…was it real or a blip?

The masses think it’s is a blip. Actually, the masses don’t even think about Robert Woods…he may as well not even exist.

The FFM voters are very interested. I 'called' this Robert Woods uprising about 2–3 weeks before the fantasy pundits realized it was happening during the 2017 NFL regular season. Woods then went on a WR1 fantasy scoring tear and helped lead many of our fantasy teams’ midseason comebacks/races to catch the playoffs after many a slow start. Just as Woods was going from good to great (Weeks 8-9-10), he was taken away from us with a week-to-week injury. We all had to move on to complete our fantasy scramble to the playoffs. Woods reappeared Week 15 but no one was sure if he was 100%. The Woods momentum as a real/top WR emerging was fully lost as fantasy seasons ended. It felt like a cute blip and we were all moving on. Or are we…?

I keep dropping Robert Woods hints that he may very well be the Rams #1 WR for 2018…the #1 WR on the #1 offense in the league™. I keep using that line over and over – because you understand what I’m saying, and it’s fantasy-exciting/intriguing…but you don’t fully believe it. I’m not sure I fully believe it. Thus, here we are trying to figure it out. Woods was #1 in this ‘Rewind’ voting for a reason.

You’re not sure Woods is the Rams #1 WR…because there’s Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins sitting out there muddying the waters. Making disbelief matters worse…you don’t think Robert Woods is a #1 WR talent anyway. We’ve all mocked him for years. He was one of the early names that led all of us to openly mock high-output, highly drafted USC wide receivers that the experts all fell in love with because ‘USC’.

Top USC WRs in the last decade that were supposed top NFL prospects at any given time during their college careers (oldest-to-most recent):

Ronald Johnson

Patrick Turner

Damian Williams

Robert Woods

Marqise Lee

Nelson Agholor

JuJu Smith-Schuster

 

It wasn’t that some of them weren’t NFL-capable…it’s just some of them got hyped to the moon pre-Draft and then never came close to the hype. We all started writing them off…and then in 2017 the last four on the list (above) suddenly mattered/produced, like someone activated a USC WR switch that secretly existed in Pete Carroll’s secret lair. Even O.J. Simpson got out of jail…2017 was an upbeat year for  old-school USC football. I digress.

We’d all written off Woods long ago…banished to ‘OK’, nothing special – USC-good/overhyped. Now, we’re debating whether he is the #1 WR on the #1 offense in the NFL™. What a difference a year makes.

It’s been a strange journey for Robert Woods

In 2011, as a sophomore, Woods caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 TDs (in 12 games)…on his way to becoming an All-American WR. In 2012, he dipped a bit to 76 catches, 846 yards, and 11 TDs, but he was still thought of well enough to be the #41 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to the Buffalo Bills.

In his rookie season, 2013, he was expected to be a key weapon right away. Unfortunately, he was stuck with rookie sensation, draft analyst beloved QB E.J. Manuel and the radical offensive mind of Doug Marrone. Needless to say…it was a so-so rookie campaign for Woods (40-587-3 in 14 games working with Manuel and Thad Lewis).

In 2014, the Bills traded heavy to get the illustrious Sammy Watkins…who was instantly jammed in as the starter/star. Despite 24 more targets on the season, Woods had as many catches as Watkins (65) in 2014 and one less TD (6 to 5). Watkins was the focus…Woods quietly wasn’t bad. When E.J. Manuel was finally shoved aside a few games in 2014 season, and Kyle Orton took over – the Bills went 9–7 (but missed the playoffs) and Woods’s numbers spiked…4.6 catches, 49.4 yards, and 0.44 TDs per game in 11 games with Orton (Weeks 5–17).

Rex Ryan, killer of passing games, came in to coach in 2015…and Woods had his worst season of his career. Sammy Watkins got the prime targets and had a solid year. Chris Hogan emerged. Percy Harvin got a push. Woods wasn’t a starter some of the time.

Things got a little more interesting in 2016…

Sammy Watkins got hurt, again, shocker. Chris Hogan was snagged by the Patriots. Robert Woods then stepped up as real #1-like WR…

Woods in Week 4 (2016) vs. New England (a win)…7 catches for 89 yards on 10 targets. A couple weeks later, 10 catches for 162 yards on 13 targets against the Legion of Boom. From Week 3 to Week 9, in 2016, Woods playing without Watkins (mostly) – 5.7 catches, 70.3 yards, and 0.17 TDs per game. Weak TDs with Tyrod Taylor but everything else was nice. Woods was showing a toughness I’d not seen from him prior…not that he didn’t have it, but I never saw it until he got the spotlight…nor had I seen him facing/succeeding against tougher coverage.

Just as you started to get excited about Woods in 2016…he got nicked up and missed a couple games, and when he returned, so had Watkins – and Watkins sucked the focus away from Woods. Woods's 2016 ended on a bit of a whimper.

Dynasty-Fantasy GMs yawned at Woods’s prospects as he entered his free agency. The Rams didn’t yawn – they gave him a 5-year/$34M deal, which seemed odd/reaching at the time. Maybe some thought this bigger deal gave Woods a leg up as the top WR for the Rams for 2017, but soon after Cooper Kupp was drafted and then the Rams made a late preseason deal to acquire Sammy Watkins. Woods instantly became the third-most intriguing fantasy WR on the Rams, at best.

As the 2017 season kicked off, most fantasy GMs chased Sammy Watkins as the top Rams fantasy WR. Some, like me, poked around at Cooper Kupp being a Jared Goff BFF. No one was really thinking about Woods. And for two weeks it made sense…two low-level/quiet performances for Woods Weeks 1–2. But then in Week 3, things started to change. – a 6-catch, 108-yard performance against the 49ers. However, he followed that up with a 2-17-0 dud versus Dallas in Week 4. Back to no one caring.

In Week 5, everything really changed…

From Week 5 to their playoff game, Woods emerged as the top target and performer among the Rams WRs. A nine-game stretch averaging 5.9 catches, 81.9 yards, and 0.45 TDs on 8.5 targets per game (94 rec., 1,310 yards, 7 TDs pace for a 16-game season). In the midst of that nice stretch, just as we all got excited, and for me/FFM, as he was helping turn around my fantasy season…poof…he got banged up and missed a few games (Weeks 11–14). For the second year in a row, Woods was grabbing the mantle of #1 WR…and for the second year in a row he got hurt late, undermined the momentum, and made himself easier to forget.  

Not as easy to forget him in 2017, though. Woods came back Week 15 in a crushing defeat of Seattle and posted a 6-45-1 line as the Rams seized the NFC West. He posted a dull 3-33-0 line Week 16 and then rested Week 17. It started to put you back to a fantasy sleep on him…but he rousted you awake with a 9 catch for 142 yards performance in the Rams’ playoff loss.

Woods had five or more catches in a game in 8 of his last 11 games last season. He had 70 or more yards in a game in 5 of his final 8 games last season.

Let’s step back and realize where we are at with Robert Woods

In 2016, when Watkins went down and Woods was pushed, he had a 6-game stretch with WR1-ish catches and yards (not TDs). He did the same from Week 5 on in the 2017–18 campaign. Woods has been knocking on the #1 WR door for two years. He’s been an acting #1 WR for two different teams in two very different sets of circumstances.

Your gut still won’t allow you to buy Woods as a WR1 for fantasy 2018, and I get that. He’s not as flashy as Tyreek, Antonio, DeAndre, Julio, Odell…‘Robert’ just doesn’t jump out at you (nor does he have a cool first name).

…but would you buy Woods as the Rams’ #1 WR, at least? If you do…remember, he’s the #1 WR on the #1 offense in the NFL™.

You won’t believe that either because… What about Kupp? What about Watkins?

The answer lies in the 2017 numbers…but I’ll use the Rams 2018 playoff game as the statement game. The Rams struggled to score and eventually lost. Atlanta brought a solid pass defense to the party. So, in times of playoff trouble…where did the Rams turn?

I re-watched this playoff game and it was like my eyes were really opened to it for the first time. I re-watched some Rams regular games in 2017, and I saw signs, but it was the playoff game that really made me stop. Why the playoff game? A big reason – the Falcons didn’t put their best cover corner on Sammy Watkins, as so many teams did in 2017. Desmond Trufant covered Robert Woods, mostly. Woods answered with 9 catches for 142 yards on 14 targets. It wasn’t the numbers (but they were nice) but how it unfurled…how it presented itself.

Sammy Watkins had lesser coverage and Jared Goff could have cared less to take advantage of that. Watkins had 1 catch for 4 targets. An extension of the regular season relationship for Watkins-Goff…with Goff mostly ignoring him or trying to hit him for big plays here and there. Goff, in times of need…he looked for Woods in this game.

I mean, ‘looked’ for Woods…like, when Goff was pressured he was more than willing to try to thread needles to Woods. I get why…because Woods usually caught the needles in a haystack. Woods quietly toyed with Desmond Trufant at times. Even when Woods was tightly covered…Goff went to Woods a bunch, with Atlanta’s top corner in tow. Goff is no dummy. He knows to stay away from danger. He has other options (Kupp, Watkins, etc.). He still deduced Woods was his best option in the critical playoff game…because it worked…because Woods IS Goff’s #1 WR.

Sammy Watkins is definitely not Goff’s #1 WR. Watkins had every chance to get closer with Goff throughout 2017, and yet Watkins’s numbers and targets got worse as the season went on. Forget about Sammy Watkins – he’s the media boogeyman in this scenario. He was a bigger John Brown/Arizona in 2017 for the Rams…deep-threat guy; that’s all. Not close to being used like a #1 WR…no signs of it at all.

You think it’s Cooper Kupp? He is more of a threat to Woods than Watkins, to me, but what I saw in that 2018 playoff game was representative of where Kupp is in the pecking order – similar to the way his 2017 regular season unfolded with Kupp-Goff as the weeks went on. Kupp is like Goff’s Danny Amendola (not Julian Edelman) – a good, sound WR but not the prime time guy. Not the guy you go to in trouble. Kupp is the guy you go to underneath and medium trying to work the whole field…a nice #2 or #3 option; a quality NFL starter. However, I consistently saw Kupp drop critical passes all season in 2017…Woods was much more reliable…and made spectacular catches at times. What we all think/thought Kupp and Watkins brought to the table heading into 2017…Woods brought it, not the others. Yet, we all missed it looking at Kupp-Watkins for clues. Our brains won’t allow us to consider Woods a #1 WR for some reason.

Woods is like the clichéd movie BFF of the person looking for love everywhere but in their best friend, but then at the end of the movie the person has that ‘moment’…the moment where they realize the love of their life was right in front of them all along.

Referencing earlier numbers…the nine-game stretch to end the 2017–2018 season and the six-game stretch where Woods operated as a #1 for the Bills in 2016 – Woods showed he will produce 5.5–6.0 catches per game, 70–80 yards per game, and (with a good/great QB) he’s in the 7–8 TD per season range...IF given the chance. And he's been getting/earning/taking the chances.

Let’s take the midpoint of all those numbers…5.75 catches and 75.0 yards per game with 7.5 TDs in a season. It equals = 10.3 FF PPG, 16.1 PPR PPG.

Where would those PPG numbers rank in 2017 among all WRs in fantasy? Tied for #6 with Marvin Jones in non-PPR. #7 in PPR…ahead of #8 Tyreek Hill. A blink behind Jarvis Landry, Michael Thomas, and Larry Fitzgerald…just missing the top 4 scorers per game in 2017.

You don’t believe Woods could score among the top 4 WRs for fantasy because ‘he’s not that good/talented’? Do you think Jarvis Landry and Michael Thomas are classically ‘awesome’ WR talents or freaks? They aren’t…they’re just the ultra-reliable #1 WRs for their QB…

…just like Robert Woods is for his team. The #1 WR for the #1 offense in the league ™.

Sometimes the WR1 you were looking for was right in front of you the whole time…you just weren’t looking.

As a bonus, Woods trades like a WR2–3 in dynasty right now.

What’s better than finding a potential WR1? Finding one at a WR2.5 price!

See more of our football work at College Football Metrics – dedicated to the NFL Draft and Dynasty Rookie Draft scouting and valuations all preseason. Celebrating our 7th season covering all things draft. Go to (link): College Football Metrics

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>