I remember where I was Friday, April 26, 2013 around 7:30 pm. I was sitting in a Moes chowing down on a Joey Bag of Donuts when the ESPN “the pick is in” jingle hit, and that is when I turned to my buddy and said “I really want Robert Woods here”. Lo and behold my wish came true.
At the time the Bills were in desperate need of a serviceable wide receiver ( and I needed a new home jersey choice) opposite Stevie Johnson. When the 2012 season ended the following were in that role; Brad Smith, T.J. Graham, Donald Jones, Ruvell Martin, and David Nelson. That year those five wide receivers combined for 92 catches, 989 yards, and seven touchdowns. Scott Chandler and CJ Spiller had more receptions, 43 each, than the Bills’ second wide receiver, Donald Jones, 41.
Coming out of college, nfl.com gave Woods an 83 grade and called him “a productive potential No. 1 receiver”. Today, and for at least the next seven weeks with Sammy Watkins on IR, that will be Woods’ role with the Bills. It is an opportunity he personally can cash in on, as this year is a contact year for Woods, and an opportunity Bills fans should be cautiously optimistic about.
The Bills don’t have the luxury of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Jacksonville Jaguars, or the Oakland Raiders where anyone of two or three guys could be a number one wide receiver on a different team. But then again not too many teams do have such luxury. What the Bills do have is a competent, and serviceable wide out to carry the load.
Who is Robert Woods?
In three and a quarter seasons, 48 games, Woods’ line looks like this; 170 catches for 2,008 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Certainly not All Pro numbers but if you look at how he stacks up against his draft class, which has turned out some solid wide receivers, it is on par.
Two of the above wide receivers, Tavon Austin and DeAnadrea Hopkins, are considered number one wide receivers and are awarded targets like number one wide receivers should get. Woods has seen his fair share of targets, the most coming in 2014 with 104, but he has always played second fiddle to either Stevie Johnson or Sammy Watkins. Woods’ best year, stat wise, came in 2014 when he played in all 16 games amassing 65 catches for 699 yards and five touchdowns. (By the way I mentioned a contract year for Woods, Tavon Austin, whom Woods has better numbers than, before this year signed a $42 million, 4 year contract with $30 million guaranteed)
Can He Handle The Load?
Before Bills practice Wednesday, Rex Ryan called Woods a “complete receiver”. Ryan got a pretty good taste of what Woods can do, in person, before he even signed on to coach the Bills. In what was Woods’ best game as a Bill, Woods caught nine balls for 117 yards and a touchdown in that 2014 Monday night route of the Jets, in Detroit, following the massive snow storm that swept through Western New York.
In what is one of the strongest, overlooked by many fans, aspects of Woods’ game is his ability to block for the successful run game over the past few seasons. That is part of the reason Ryan called Woods a complete receiver.
“That’s my role here — blocking receiver,” Woods told the Buffalo News in 2015. “Get these guys going. Other teams, other roles, everything’s different. But this role here for me is to get these guys free.”
But this time, this part of this season it is now different. Woods must focus on running routes and catching balls instead of sealing off lanes. Currently Woods is tied for 41st in the league with 18 catches. Six running backs have either as many or more catches than Woods. As far as his opportunities? Headed into week five Woods as seen just 25 targets, tied for 56th in the league.
Obviously those numbers will continue to go up. In the first two weeks of 2016, with Sammy Watkins on the field, Woods was targeted just seven times, hauling in five catches for just 30 yards. During the past two games, without Watkins, Woods has seen eight and 10 targets respectively good for 13 catches and 140 yards. His 18 total catches are good for the team lead.
What may hold Woods back from succeeding is not himself but who is lined up opposite him. The Bills currently have only three players with double digit receptions through four games; Woods, LeSean McCoy, and Charles Clay. The receiver with the next highest catch total is Walt Powell, with seven.
This is the current group of active Bills’ receivers; Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Walter Powell, Greg Salas, and Brandon Tate. The four names on this list that follow Woods have combined in their career for the same number of touchdowns Woods has in his career, 11.
The Bills need to get Woods help. Yes, it is true Charles Clay will see more targets, and LeSean McCoy will touch the ball whenever he can. However, if the Bills don’t put a serviceable wide receiver opposite Woods he may not succeed. The Bills did sign Justin Hunter and according to Sal Capaccio who covers the team on a daily basis and does sideline radio on game days, Hunter will “possibly” see the field this week.
But the best wide receivers in football have some talented players behind them on the depth chart and the Bills just don’t have that at this certain position. Hunter, another 2013 rookie selection, only played in nine games last season, scoring one touchdown. He was cut by the Dolphins after week three.
The good news is Robert Woods and the wide receivers will not be looked upon to lead this team to the playoffs. The Bills recipe for success is as follows; play well on defense by forcing turnovers and flipping the field, run the ball successfully, conservative but high percentage passes, likely to Charles Clay first, then air it out to the wide receivers. The only problem is if that recipe is soured in any given week and the Bills have to play from behind, is Robert Woods and the rest of the receiving core good enough to make the plays necessary to lead a comeback or keep the team in it? We will soon find out.