Should We Be Excited About Robert Woods’ Fantasy Football Upside in 2021?
The winds of change are blowing through the Los Angeles Rams this offseason. The team has made a big change at quarterback in the hopes of reigniting a once explosive offense after a down year in 2020.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this could be a player who, despite excellent production in recent years, could be overlooked by many fantasy managers. But I think Robert Woods could be about to make those managers regret their actions in 2021.
Stifled by Scheme in 2020
Woods has enjoyed excellent production since joining the Rams in 2017. He has reeled in 322 passes for 4,070 yards with 19 touchdowns, numbers which are good for the eighth-most receptions and ninth-most yards among all wide receivers. These deeds have translated into fantasy success, too, with Woods the overall WR10 in PPR formats over the last four seasons.
But 2020 wasn't quite the banner year for the former Buffalo Bills wide receiver. Woods matched a career-best 90 receptions but managed just 935 yards -- 21 wide receivers produced more yards than Woods. Woods scored eight total touchdowns, but his low yardage output restricted him to just 15.2 PPR points per game. This was only enough to finish as the WR19.
What caused such a low yardage total?
Well, the Rams' passing offense was not exactly one of the league's elite last season. With Jared Goff at quarterback, the Rams averaged just 0.14 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play in 2020, the 18th-best mark in the league. This was a drop from 2019 when they managed the 10th-best figure with 0.16.
Quite simply, the Rams became a dink and dunk unit when forced to pass the ball, which they did at a pass-to-run ratio of 1.3, the 11th-lowest in the league. Jared Goff's intended air yards per attempt was 6.5 in 2020, the 38th-highest. He averaged just 122.7 completed air yards per game, a significant drop from his 2019 mark of 154.8.
Woods was one of the biggest losers of this small ball attack. He saw his average target distance fall from 8.0 in 2019 to 7.1 last season. Of his 129 targets, 91 were from behind the line of scrimmage up to nine yards downfield. He also saw just seven targets 20 or more yards downfield. A year earlier, these numbers were 70 and 15.
Woods was forced to extract as much yardage after the catch as possible, which he did very well as it happens. He managed 487 yards of YAC, fourth among all wide receivers. But 42 players saw more deep targets (15 or more yards) than Woods.
The New Guy
Rams coach Sean McVay fell out of love with Goff and this constricted offensive approach, and the Rams responded by sending him and two first-round draft picks to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford. If there is one thing Stafford has over Goff, it is arm talent and an ability to send the ball further down the field than Goff did in 2020.
Last year, Stafford's completed air yards per game was a robust 147.7, just seven yards behind Goff's mark from 2019. In the last two seasons, Stafford has averaged 10.7 and 9.0 average intended air yards per attempt, good for first and eighth in the NFL.
I'm not suggesting McVay wants Stafford to fill the air with footballs down after down. But he now has a signal-caller who can work the areas of the field a little further from the line of scrimmage, which should add a yard or two to all Rams pass catchers receptions.
If Woods commands a target share like what he has drawn in the last few years, then suddenly we have something to get excited about.
Robert Woods' 2021 Fantasy Projections
I believe Woods will serve as a key figure in the passing game and will be one of Stafford's favorite targets. With these targets set to be much more than extended hand-offs, Wood will have a chance to make some plays downfield, and when allied to his ability to gain yards after the catch, this makes him an attractive proposition in fantasy football.
Woods is a player I'm targetting in every draft I'm in.