Compared to his peers in this 2013 wide receiver draft class, Robert Woods has a “quiet game.” The USC Trojan is an average-sized receiver with good quickness, but his measurements as an athlete is nothing special. Yet, Woods is one of the best prospects at his position – a wide receiver class that I contend is a deep one.
I think where we often miss with prospect evaluation – whether you’re a scout, media, proponent of data mining/analytics , or a fan – is the notion that stronger-faster-quicker-taller is better. I have been gradually arriving at the perspective that Combine measurements are best used as a baseline: Does the player have the minimum strength-speed-quickness-size to compete in the NFL?
The level of these qualities only come into play once you can feel comfortable with the conceptual and technical promise of this player at his position. Otherwise, you just have a tall, strong, fast, and quick player trying to play his position and failing in dramatic fashion.
Robert Woods may have a quiet game as an athlete but just like music, some of the most stirring moments are the quietest.
A series I started this year at the RSP blog is The Boiler Room. One of the challenges involved with player analysis is to be succinct with delivering the goods. As the author of an annual tome, I’m often a spectacular failure in this respect.
Even so, I will study a prospect and see a play unfold that does a great job of encapsulating that player’s skills. When I witness these moments, I try to imagine if I would include this play as part of a cut-up of highlights for a draft show at a major network or if I was working for an NFL organization creating cut-ups for a personnel director. Unlike the No-Huddle Series, The Boiler Room is focused on prospects I expect to be drafted, and often before the fourth round.
It’s incredibly difficult to boil down any player with just one play. Yet, if I need a play to add to the highlight reel that will help a team make a decision where to slot Robert Woods on its board, this is my nomination. Watch just the first five seconds and pause it.
At first glance, this is garden-variety hitch under a defender’s cushion, which Woods breaks in conjunction with Matt Barkley’s throw based on a presnap read of the defender’s position. Woods does a good job driving off the line with his pads over his knees to force the cornerback to account for a deeper route before the receiver stops his route well under the defender at the first-down marker. The makes the catch falling towards the boundary after taking a hit from the defender.
It’s a good play, but it’s quietly a far more impressive display of athleticism than a tape measure or stopwatch can capture.
Woods takes an outside release and drives off the line as the cornerback peeks into the backfield. Woods stops and turns back to the quarterback once he gets depth beyond the first-down marker, but he could have made a more dramatic change of direction by sinking his hips and making a more violent plant of the front leg at the top of his stem.
Although his break isn’t one that will earn high marks from the Russian, Chinese, Japanese, French, British, Polish-Philadelphian (Jaworski), or the Fort Lauderdale (Irvin) judges, playing wide receiver is only like figure skating in the respect that both range of athlete own their share of drama. In football, there are times where it doesn’t matter if technique is sloppy; if the job gets done then everybody is happy.
Woods makes his break and rather than breaking to the ball, he retreats a step to the sideline. If Matt Barkley intends to throw the ball to Woods’ outside shoulder, this is an effective break to gain horizontal separation on the corner and maintain the depth of his route.
I may not love his body positioning as he waits for the ball, but a common thing Woods does well is get his shoulders square to the ball and his hands away from his body to make the catch. I believe many coaches would prefer to see Woods attack this ball from his break rather than wait for it so he can avoid any possibility of the corner jumping the route. In this case, Woods’ body does not provide a good barrier to the football if the corner got a better jump.
Another common aspect to Woods’ game as a pass catcher is that he’ll often make a slight adjustment as he makes the catch to turn his body to shield the defender as he’s making the reception.
Just before Woods gets hit, the receiver turns his hip towards the oncoming defender. The contact from the defender is hard enough that Woods cannot secure the ball to his chest. This is where the first angle of the video doesn’t reveal the difficulty of this reception.
As Woods falls towards the sideline, he manages to plant his left arm on the ground while holding the ball behind his head.
Woods finishes the play with his right arm pinning the ball behind his head, turning to the side to maintain possession of the ball. Also note the side that Woods turns to after he hits the ground.
Why would Woods turn to this side? Was it luck or quick thinking? I believe Woods turned to this side because if he turned to the opposite gravity sends the ball away from his finger tips and if he loses his grip there’s nothing else he can do to secure the ball. But the direction Woods turns allows him to us his forearm as support if the ball has any movement before he reaches the sideline. He also does a good job of producing the ball with control after the catch to sell the reception.
Some of you may note that if the ball moves in the NFL at this point, it’s not a catch. This is true, but the fact that Woods reacts this quickly and intelligently to an unusual situation is something we commonly see with good NFL starters and I would advise not to write it off as luck.
This play alone is not an indicator of Woods becoming a good NFL starter, but you know I have trouble just showing one play – take a look at this highlight package of plays as a freshman against Stanford. Many of them are against No.9 – a cornerback by the name of Richard Sherman.
There are enough plays like this one from the Boiler Room and games like the YouTube package above that Woods’ portfolio shows a knack for making adjustments in tight coverage. Plays like these are more routine for starters in the professional ranks. Woods’ hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, and comfort with physical play may not broadcast at a high volume, but the intensity of the message is as strong as any receiver in this class.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available April 1. Prepayment is available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2013 RSP at no additional charge a week after the NFL Draft. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.