The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: Robert Woods

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Editor’s Note: This profile is part of our annual Path to a Fantasy WR1 Season series. For our methodology and an outline of the process, make sure you read the 2021 Path to WR1 Series Primer.

Every single season, there tends to be at least one wide receiver who finishes in the top-12 despite being drafted well outside of that range. Last season, Stefon Diggs proved to be of tremendous value. The year before that, Chris Godwin broke out and had one of the most efficient seasons in recent history. For 2021, one player that has the opportunity and ecosystem to become a WR1 is Robert Woods, wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams. In this article, we will explore his path to becoming a top-12 fantasy receiver and the different factors that could challenge or lead to that outcome.

Production Recap (2017 to 2020)

Over the last four seasons with the Rams, Robert Woods has turned around his career after a disappointing start with the Buffalo Bills. In fact, since 2017, Woods has been one of the most productive receivers in the league. Among wide receivers with a minimum of 10 opportunities, Woods ranks 9th in targets (483), receptions (322), and receiving yards (4,070). He has also been surprisingly productive on the ground, compiling the 2nd most rushing yards (439) and rushing touchdowns (4) among all receivers. Despite his impressive volume and production, Woods is only the WR15 in PPR points per game (15.3) over the last four years, partially due to his lack of touchdowns. In four years, he has only scored 23 times, which is what ultimately separates him from the elite wide receivers. 

From an efficiency standpoint, we see in the chart above that Woods has routinely finished above his expected fantasy points, the exception being 2019. While he did finish that season as the WR12 in PPR per game (min. 8 games played), setting career highs in targets (139) and receptions (90), he only scored three touchdowns on 156 opportunities. As expected, Woods regressed to the mean and collected eight touchdowns last year on nearly the same number of opportunities. The downside, however, is that he averaged career-low yards per reception (10.4), leading to only 936 receiving yards in 16 games.

Laying Down the Path

After a slightly disappointing 2020 season, Woods enters this upcoming year with a revamped offense. Gerald Everett and Josh Reynolds left in free agency, and DeSean Jackson and Tutu Atwell were added to the roster. In addition, Cam Akers and Van Jefferson are no longer rookies and will likely be more involved in this offense going forward. But by far, the most impactful addition to this team was Matthew Stafford, who presents an upgrade from Jared Goff. For reference, below are a few metrics comparing Goff and Stafford. What stands out immediately is that Stafford has the higher true completion, deep ball completion, and catchable pass rate, despite targeting players further downfield. This should benefit Woods directly; and assuming he remains the focal point of their passing offense, I expect a very productive season in 2021.

2020 Matthew Stafford Jared Goff
Passing Yards/Gm 255.2 262.8
Attempts 33.0 36.8
TD Rate 4.92% 3.62%
Pass TDs 26 20
Interceptions 10 13
Air Yards/Att 8.7 6.5
Adj. Yards/Att 7.3 6.5
True Comp % 79.2% 74.7%
Deep Ball Comp % 42.6% 27.1%
Pressured Comp % 15.9% 38.0%
Red Zone Comp % 54.9% 66.1%
Catchable Pass Rate 78.6% 76.8%

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*Stats provided by PlayerProfiler & Rotoviz

Let us dive into the various factors that could make or break Robert Woods’ potential WR1 season.

Targets and Opportunities

The path to a WR1 season begins and ends with volume. Simply put, a receiver is unlikely to finish in the top-12 for fantasy if he is not a focal point of an offense. Therefore, projecting targets and opportunities will be key to understanding Woods’ likelihood of finishing as a WR1. But before we can determine what those numbers might look like, we have to first assess the targets that will be available in this Rams offense. Since 2018, the Rams have averaged 37.3 pass attempts per game on a 57.3% passing rate. Interestingly, even in a neutral game script, they still averaged about 38.6 passing attempts on a 58.2% rate. And considering Sean McVay will continue to call the plays, I expect similar numbers for Stafford at around 37 to 38 attempts per game this upcoming season. If we assume about 3.5% of those attempts are likely to be throwaways or spikes, that gives the Rams about 35.5 to 36.7 available targets.

Now that we have a better understanding of the volume available in this offense, we have to determine how many of those targets will go Woods’ way. Over the last 3 seasons, the WR12 (lowest-ranked WR1) has averaged a 24.7% target share or about 8.8 targets per game. In that same timespan, Woods has operated as the lead receiver for the Rams at a 24% share. If we project 36 targets will be available, Woods would receive 8.6 targets per game using those assumptions. We also have to account for the 81 vacated wide receiver targets that are now available with Josh Reynolds no longer on the team. While some of those will surely go towards Jackson, Atwell, or Jefferson, we have to remember that targets are earned. They do not simply go to the next man up. Therefore, Woods could absorb some of those opportunities, further improving his baseline for production. And if we factor in his involvement in the rushing game (1.3 attempts per game since 2018), it would not be surprising if Woods eclipsed 10 opportunities per game in 2021.

Receiving Yards

Knowing that Woods will average anywhere between eight to nine targets per game, how can we translate that into yards? According to Pro Football Reference, the WR12 has averaged 70.7 receiving yards and 75.9 air yards per game over the last three seasons. If we assume Woods receives about 8.64 targets per game, he would need to average about 8.1 yards per target and 8.8 air yards per target to meet those thresholds. Coincidentally, Woods has averaged about 70 yards per game, 8.2 yards per target, and 8.8 air yards per target since 2018. 

At first glance, this would indicate that hitting those WR1 thresholds is within the realm of possibility, especially if his usage in this offense remains the same. And if we once again factor in his rushing involvement of 9.1 yards per game since 2018, expect Woods to hover around 80 scrimmage yards per game in 2021. Keep in mind, this assumes that the offense as a whole remains static and relatively unchanged from the last few years. However, a more polished quarterback like Stafford may elevate the efficiency of this offense, further improving the likelihood that Woods finishes as a WR1 for fantasy.

Touchdowns

As our Editor-in-Chief Kyle Borgognoni mentioned in our Series Primer, volume generally leads to more scoring opportunities. Therefore, we should be able to use Woods’ projected targets and opportunities to estimate his touchdowns. We know that over the last three seasons, the average wide receiver touchdown rate is at roughly 5.1%. That means that an average wide receiver scores once for every 19.4 targets. If we apply that average rate onto Woods’ projected volume (8.64), that would equate to a 16 or 17-game pace of about seven to eight receiving touchdowns. For reference, the WR6 and WR12 over the last three seasons have averaged about 8.3 and 6 touchdowns, respectively. Therefore, it is safe to assume that if a receiver nets anywhere between 6 to 8 touchdowns with high volume, they are likely to finish within the top-12. If a wide receiver scores less than that, they would have to average absurdly high targets and receptions to make up for the lack of scoring.

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However, as you can see in the chart above, Woods’ touchdown rate over the last three years has been subpar at about 3.4%. While he does rank within the top-6 in total targets (398), he finished well below the trend line of expected touchdowns relative to his opportunity. Furthermore, at a projected volume of 8.64 targets and a 3.4% average rate, that equates to about 5 touchdowns over a 16 or 17-game pace. That will likely not be enough for Woods to finish as a WR1. And that is exactly why in his time with the Rams, he has usually hovered around the mid-to-high-end WR2 range, rarely breaking through the WR1 barrier (outside of 2019).

How can Woods improve on his touchdown numbers in this Rams offense? Here are three possibilities:

  • Everett and Reynolds leave behind three receiving touchdowns. One of those scoring opportunities could go Woods’ way.
  • Woods has averaged about one to two rushing touchdowns per year. If he remains involved in the rushing game, that will continue to boost his touchdown floor.
  • The Rams may score more this season. Since his career year in 2018, Goff’s touchdown rate has been on the decline at 3.55% over the last two years. Stafford had a career-high touchdown rate in 2019 at 6.5%, averaging 5.4% over the past two seasons. For reference, the difference between those two rates would have given the Rams an additional 10 to 11 touchdowns on their 590 passing attempts. Even at Stafford’s career rate of 4.5%, the Rams would have scored four more times last year.

In short, Stafford could absolutely improve the Rams offense after two years of declining quarterback play. And with Woods as one of the beneficiaries, he could have a career year in touchdowns and finish as a top-12 receiver for your fantasy teams.

A Value in Redraft Leagues

If you are looking to target Robert Woods in your redraft leagues, he is being drafted as the WR18 with an ADP of 4.09 per the Ultimate Draft Kit. And while finishing as a WR2 is likely the median in his range of outcomes, do not be surprised if Woods does finish within the top-12. After all, over the last three years, the WR18 and the WR12 are only separated by an average of 0.9 PPR points per game. From a draft strategy standpoint, if you do decide to take three running backs in the first three rounds, Woods would be an excellent pick in the fourth round as your WR1. As you can see below, there are several high-upside options in that range. But with an upgrade at quarterback and the potential for additional scoring opportunities, I truly believe that Woods can exceed his ADP and be a value in 2021.

If you are new to this series, be sure to check out some of our recent “Path to a WR1″ articles.

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