Fantasy Football: Robert Woods Is Primed to Bounce Back in Music City
Last season, big things were expected for the Los Angeles Rams.
With Matthew Stafford in town to replace the inconsistent Jared Goff, a deep playoff run was on the horizon. Maybe you were like me and failed to hear that Cooper Kupp had breakfast with Stafford nearly every day, and those two turned into a dynamic duo as notable as any in the NFL.
However, Robert Woods was -- because of his historical yardage upside over Kupp -- taken over Kupp in most fantasy football leagues entering 2021.
Kupp, obviously, had a seismic breakout, and in November of 2021, Woods tore his ACL in practice. The Rams signed Odell Beckham for the rest of 2021, and this offseason, they've inked Allen Robinson. With a room full of capable targets, Woods was the odd man out. He was shipped to Tennessee, profiling to be the WR2 to A.J. Brown.
Then, on the night of the NFL Draft, Brown was sent packing to Philadelphia, and Woods now has a path to the clear top role in Tennessee. As of now, though, he's not being drafted like it in fantasy football leagues.
The Land of Forgotten Production
There are plenty of wideouts who over time get a bit...dusty. That's why it's not always the right process to look back at historical production to assume capability in the future.
However, it's incredibly punitive to throw Woods in the washing machine for an ACL tear during his age-29 season. Last season, Woods was actually having a strong year, but it was masked a bit by Kupp's unsustainable, unprecedented run of scoring to start.
Take a look at where Woods ended the 2021 campaign compared to other wideouts when viewing them through the lens of Pro Football Focus' Expected Fantasy Points model:
No one is doubting Mike Evans or Ja'Marr Chase as the top option in their passing offense, and they didn't even crack the top-20 spots. At 15th overall, Woods -- oddly enough -- sits just ahead of A.J. Brown, the man who he'll be tasked to replace.
This came on the heels of seasons as the WR10, WR17, and WR13 for Woods in half-PPR formats dating back to 2018. It surprised me how consistent he has been between two very different quarterbacks.
In terms of numberFire's Passing Net Expected Points model, Ryan Tannehill's career average (+0.08 per drop back) is a definite downgrade from Stafford (+0.12), but he and Jared Goff (+0.07) are very similar. Goff was Woods' quarterback for the previous three seasons in L.A.
Woods' 2021 production alone isn't a very strong reason to slide him to his current position in fantasy football drafts as the WR40. His production was rock solid before an ACL tear. He showed virtually no signs of being "washed."
So, the next step is to evaluate whether or not he's being properly (or improperly) penalized for his situation.
The Titans make no secret about the fact they'd like to feature Derrick Henry and the running game. Tennessee's situation-neutral pass rate of 51% was the third-lowest mark in the league last year, and that came in a season where Henry was limited to just eight games due to injury.
This year, Woods and Treylon Burks will replace Brown and the oft-injured Julio Jones from 2021. It's not a glaringly better (or worse) situation at this time, so that begs the question -- can this run-first offense support two pass-catchers, or is there a risk to taking Woods should the rookie Burks pop as the top option?
Here's what the top-two wideouts have looked like for the Titans since Tannehill's first season with the team in 2019:
|2019||A.J. Brown||11.9||WR15||Corey Davis||6.2||WR64|
|2020||A.J. Brown||15.2||WR11||Corey Davis||11.4||WR31|
|2021||A.J. Brown||11.2||WR34||Nick Westbrook-Ikhine||5.2||WR78|
There is an optimist's way to look at these results, and there's also a pessimistic outlook.
Optimistically, the 2021 results are actually encouraging. If there was a year that the pass-catchers in the Titans' offense would take off, it'd have been when Henry was on the shelf. However, Henry's threat proved to be a more important factor than potential added volume given Brown's decline from 2020 to 2021. Corey Davis was also incredibly fantasy-relevant in 2020 as Henry led the league in rushing.
A pessimist might return that Tennessee has never supported a second top-30 wideout. While that's true, Davis still has zero top-20 seasons even after leaving to be the Jets' as the top option, and Woods has mustered four straight.
It's growing increasingly unlikely that Burks is a star right away given his issues in camp, but even if he is, Woods would be -- by far -- the best second option Tannehill has ever had in Nashville.
Minimal Risk Is Where Rubber Hits the Road
Whether you're uneasy or inspired by the look back at Woods' historical production and his current situation, some context of what it takes to grab Woods in drafts right now might help.
This whole article has taken a deep dive into whether or not Woods can remain roughly a top-20 wideout in fantasy football. That really isn't the argument.
As mentioned, Bobby Trees is coming off the board as the WR39 in fantasy drafts right now. Pretty much everything you can say against Woods also applies more drastically to contemporaries in that range.
Tyler Lockett is coming off the board as the WR35, but he'll be with Drew Lock behind D.K. Metcalf in the Seattle pecking order, and Lock has never supported a second top-90 wide receiver. Yes, you read that correctly -- a second top-90 guy.
Whatever trepidations exist about Tannehill or the Titans' offense might be somewhat fair, but it's just gone too far when Tannehill -- even dating back to days in Miami -- has supported plenty of top pass-catchers before in comparison to some of the other quarterbacks the wideouts in Woods' current range will be working with.
Robert Woods' 2022 Overall Outlook and Projection
Currently, numberFire has Woods projected as the WR40 in fantasy football this season. Personally, I think that is just too low.
Woods has shown the ability to produce at a high level in Los Angeles. While his current situation isn't as good as his previous one, there has still historically been a spot for production on the perimeter in this Tennessee offense.
Even if Woods slots in as the clear second option to Treylon Burks, which is a big assumption given the rocky start to Burks' pro career, Woods will be the best secondary option Tannehill has ever had in Music City. Considering Corey Davis' 2020 season -- when Derrick Henry was leading the NFL in rushing -- left him as the WR31 that year, Woods' floor is higher than the floor of his ADP neighbors by a country mile.
With just the 19th-best offensive unit per our nERD rankings, Tennessee's offense isn't very sexy. A.J. Brown was an upside player in this attack, and Woods is very capable of similar production if his recent years are any indication.
Right now, that lack of high-end appeal has left Woods on the board significantly longer than other top targets in similarly ranked offenses, and it might result in a potential highway robbery if you nab a fringe top-20 wideout pretty deep into your fantasy football draft.