BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot
Expected to be a plug-and-play receiver when the Buffalo Bills drafted him with the No. 41 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Robert Woods had a strong rookie season and developed immediate chemistry with the team’s first-round pick, quarterback EJ Manuel. In his second season, in which he will take over for Stevie Johnson as the Bills’ slot receiver, he has a chance to be an impact player.
Before the Bills
Labeled by some scouts as the most “NFL-ready” wide receiver in the 2013 draft class, according to Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Woods came to the Bills from a productive background at USC. In his three-year collegiate career, Woods had 252 receptions for 2,930 yards and 32 touchdowns. Woods was also a standout kick returner for the Trojans with 55 returns for 1,364 yards and one touchdown. Woods proved that he could play in any wide receiver role and that he could block effectively in college.
Woods was a starter in all 14 games he played in his rookie season.
He caught three touchdowns, including one for 18 yards in Buffalo’s season debut against the New England Patriots.
Woods never amassed more than five receptions in a game and only had two games with 80 or more yards, but his production was steady throughout his rookie season despite having to play with three different quarterbacks. That said, Woods was at his best when Manuel was under center.
Sixty-five percent of Woods’ 40 receptions came in the eight games he played with Manuel at quarterback. Woods finished his rookie season with 587 receiving yards, 69 percent of which came with Manuel. Lastly, all of Woods’ touchdowns came when Manuel was at quarterback.
The Buffalo Bills traded Stevie Johnson, their leading receiver of the past four seasons, to the San Francisco 49ers in May. The team’s ability to trade Johnson, for whom they received a conditional 2015 fourth-round draft pick, was made possible after the team traded for veteran receiver Mike Williams and drafted Sammy Watkins in the first round. Woods, however, is the player who will expected to step up and take over Johnson’s role as the team’s slot receiver.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), 22 of Woods’ 40 receptions in 2013 came from 0-9 yards past the line of scrimmage. Short-yardage passing in prime slot receiver territory, so Woods should thrive in this area.
Woods is expected to play inside in three-receiver sets, with Williams and Watkins manning the outside positions. When the Bills go to two-receiver sets, it’s likely they’ll move Woods outside to start opposite Watkins. The only situation where it might be best to have Woods on the bench in two-receiver sets would be in the red zone, where Williams plays bigger than his actual 6’2″ height.
In his rookie season, Woods was on the field for 924 of 1,044 snaps (88.5 percent), per PFF, in the 14 games he played. This percentage should only increase in 2014 given Woods’ chemistry with Manuel. It was clear in 2013 that Manuel has faith in Woods, and it’d be foolish to take Woods off the field. Don’t be surprised if Woods leads the receiving corps in playing time and receptions this season.
Woods underwent minor ankle surgery this offseason, according to ESPN’s Mike Rodak. He missed some time in offseason workouts as a result, but is expected to be a full-go for training camp. It’s a minor problem, but something to keep an eye on nonetheless, especially considering Woods battled nagging ankle issues at USC.
In 2014, Woods is a prime candidate to break out.
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