The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Robert Woods
This will be an ongoing series that is great because it introduces the idea of a range of possibilities for WRs. Rankings create an illusion of absolutes. The more you see players ranked in the top-12 at their position, the more you become convinced that’s where they’ll end. The more you see players ranked outside the top-12 of their position, the more you become convinced they can’t enter the top-12. There are no absolutes in a game as chaotic as football especially when extended over a full season.
Weird stuff happens every year. Guys we had written off become fantasy gems and guys we thought would be cornerstones of a championship team become waiver castoffs by mid-season. The key to winning comes down to avoiding busts in the early rounds and identifying a combination of breakout candidates and value. Enter Robert Woods.
2019 Season Recap
Robert Woods actually had more targets and receptions in 2019 than he did in 2018 where he finished as the overall WR9 in .5PPR scoring. Despite the increased production, he only finished as the WR20. It’s not hard to spot the problem:
The per-game targets and receptions were more than enough to bump him into WR1 territory, but he missed a game and only managed three total TDs(two receiving and one rushing). Worse for fantasy owners, one of those receiving TDs occurred in Week 17 when most leagues have already wrapped up the season. WR20 is a useful finish for fantasy owners, but if he had matched his six TDs from the year before he would have finished as the WR10 despite the missed game.
The Path for 2020
The great thing about Woods is that some of the hurdles that exist for other receivers don’t appear to be a problem. It’s not too much of a stretch to project him for a WR1 season because he’s done it recently and he’s flirted with WR1 per game numbers in the other two seasons with the Rams:[lptw_table id=”163448″ style=”default”]
Target Share – Luckily, the Rams throw to their receivers a lot. They threw to their receivers 362 times in 2018 and 393 in 2019. Woods managed to carve out a 22.7% market share last year and a 23.9% market share in 2018. There is concern that an emerging Tyler Higbee could cut into Woods’ targets, but that didn’t exactly play out even when Higbee was on his late-season tear last year.
Higbee closed out the fantasy season with four consecutive games with seven or more receptions and 100 or more yards from Weeks 13-16. Kupp tailed off with no more than six targets in any of the games and only accrued 182 yards during that period, but Woods still ran hot. Woods piled up 47 targets during that run and produced a 32/404/1 line. While Higbee was the TE1 over that stretch, Woods was the WR5(Kupp was the WR15 buoyed by four TDs). His streak wasn’t limited to those four weeks either. Woods closed out the season with nine or more targets in every one of his last seven games. Even if Higbee becomes a bigger part of the offense, Woods should still see the 130 or so targets needed for another WR1 run especially with Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks vacating 121 targets.
Catch Rate – Woods’ catch rate shot up as soon as he joined the Rams in 2017. Since then he’s posted catch rates of 65.9%, 66.1%, and 64.7%. It is concerning that last year’s catch rate dipped along with an 8.2 yards/target compared to the 9.4 yards/target he posted in 2018. These are still numbers good enough for a WR1-caliber season.
Receptions – Woods is not going to push for double-digit TDs and he’s not going to average more than 15 yards/reception. He’s going to have to rake up those per reception bonuses to get into WR1 territory. He was a WR1 with 86 receptions in 2018 and would have been a WR1 again in 2019 with 90 receptions if the TDs were inline with career norms. He’s going to need to be among the reception leaders again in 2020 to be a WR1. If the target share and catch rate are not an obstacle to accruing receptions, health might be.
Woods doesn’t have a reputation for being injury-prone, but he has missed games here and there throughout his entire career. He’s played in 12 or more games every year, but 2018 was the only year where he appeared in all 16 games entering his eighth season. Very few WRs can miss time and still finish as a WR1. Without the threat of a double-digit TD season, Woods can’t bank on the receptions or yards to get him to WR1 territory without a complete season.
TDs – This is where Woods season got derailed last year. His volume alone cannot get him to WR1 territory if he continues to be shut out of the end zone. There’s an argument that if he were to see the same volume as he did last year, we could expect positive regression when it comes to TDs. We know TD distribution can vary wildly from year to year, but there’s a really good reason Woods didn’t score much last year and it’s probably not going to change for 2020.
Not all targets can be weighted evenly. Targets in the red zone and inside the 10-yard line are significantly more valuable for fantasy production than regular targets. While Higbee didn’t seem to affect Woods’ target share, he certainly limited Woods in the red zone. Higbee led the Rams with 19 red-zone targets with Kupp soaking up another 18. Woods’ nine red-zone targets barely edged out Gerald Everett‘s eight.
We love the targets, receptions, and yards that Woods has been seeing with the Rams, but we need to see him return to career norms and score at least 5-6 TDs for him to really push for a WR1 finish. The problem is that while Gurley and Cooks vacated 121 total targets, they only produced nine red-zone targets with only six of those targets inside the 10-yard line.
Woods accounted for 12 of 89(13.5%) red-zone targets for the Rams in 2018 and converted those targets into 7/44/4. Woods had 9 of 69(13.0%) red-zone targets in 2019 and converted those into 6/39/2. For Woods to get the TDs necessary for a WR1 season some combination of factors in the red zone needs to change. Either there needs to be more red-zone targets available as a team, the role Woods plays in the red zone needs to change, or Woods needs to become more efficient when targeted in the red zone. Basically the Rams offense needs to return to 2018-level dominance(unlikely), red-zone targets need to be more concentrated to a few players including Woods(unlikely), and/or Woods needs to convert more red-zone targets into TDs (possible, but comes down to luck).
WR1 Possibility: Low Chance (25%)
I did a Twitter poll and with just shy of 400 votes so far 38.6% of responses say he has less than a 25% chance at a WR1 season, 31.9% say about 25%, 18.3% say about 33%, and 11.2% say he has better than a 33% chance. Given the health concerns and red zone usage, I’d say 25% is a pretty reasonable estimate. This is still fantastic when you consider he’s almost a lock for WR2-level production and he’s being drafted as a back end WR2. That’s called value with upside!
Robert Woods is going criminally under drafted right now. He has three straight years where he’s produced as a WR2 on a per-game basis and is just one year removed from a WR1 season. If he had been a little luckier last year in the TD department you’re not even reading this article because he’s being ranked and drafted as a WR1 this year. I am concerned about the health and how this offense will function with the emergence of Tyler Higbee and Josh Reynolds, not to mention the addition of Cam Akers and Van Jefferson. Regardless, it still seems like Woods is being drafted at his floor when a few TDs is all that separated him from a second straight WR1 season.