Fantasy Football Riser: Buy Up on Robert Woods

SI Fantasy analyst Matt De Lima is taking a look at players likely to see their average draft position (ADP), rise between now and the start of the season. He starts with a closer look at Rams receiver Robert Woods, who despite low touchdown totals in 2019, should positively regress in 2020.
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Sensible decisions are never sexy in fantasy football. We’re drawn to that sweet nectar of “ceiling”, “upside”, “potential” and “hype”. We want sleepers, breakouts, bounce-backs, and comebacks. We often forget and in turn, discount those players who have reliably been there through the years.

Since his Los Angeles arrival via free agency three years ago, Rams wide receiver Robert Woods has been very sensible. He spent the early part of his career playing second fiddle to Sammy Watkins with the Buffalo Bills. Separately, do you remember that Watkins coincidentally rejoined Woods after the Rams traded for him just before the 2017 season? That was a very forgettable Watkins season in LA. I digress...

Woods was decent in Buffalo but far from great, similar to the Bills during his time there. As Rams management correctly concluded, they weren’t using Woods right.

By the time he arrived with the Rams, we didn’t yet know Sean McVay was the “boy wonder,” savant head coach. Woods wasn’t young anymore after three mostly mild seasons. He wasn’t established, and playing in Buffalo won’t garner many headlines. Woods flew under the radar during that time because he lacked those aforementioned “sexy” qualities that fantasy fans gravitate toward.

Breaking down the Numbers: Robert Woods vs Cooper Kupp

Now, we know Woods is really good. It’s reflected in both his play as well as his average draft position (ADP). However, to appreciate Woods, you have to sink your teeth into the nuance. You have to dig into the numbers and contextualize his ADP.

In 15 games last season, he had 90 receptions on 139 targets for 1,134 yards and two touchdowns. In contrast, his teammate Cooper Kupp had 94 receptions on 134 targets for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns. So pretty similar, right? Except for those pesky TD numbers.

Touchdown totals from year to year are fickle. That said, Kupp has 21 touchdowns in his three-year career, while Woods has 25 career touchdowns in his seven seasons in the league (13 in his three seasons with the Rams).

Now, Kupp did miss half of the 2018 season so not only is he scoring more, he’s scoring more with fewer games played. Even if we are to assume some positive touchdown regression for Woods, it’s pretty clear that Kupp seems to be the preferred guy around the end zone for Jared Goff. However, it’s the ADP of both guys that should grab your attention.

Kupp (ADP 32) is solidly drafted in the WR12 range (I really like him if you can snag him as your second receiver). Woods (ADP 55) on the other hand can be had all the way down at the WR24 range. This is a pretty huge discrepancy for two players in lock-step with each other on targets, receptions, and yards. To me, these stats tell me Goff isn’t really looking for one guy more than the other. So the real gap is touchdown differential and again, we have to keep in mind that touchdowns are a total wild card.

Parsing the red zone totals, we see the difference more clearly. Inside the 20, Kupp had 21 targets with 16 receptions for 110 yards and seven TDs. Woods saw just 10 targets with seven receptions for 70 yards and two TDs. Interestingly enough, he also had four carries for 38 yards and a touchdown in the red zone. I can’t really wrap my head around those carries but this seems to be something the Rams like to do because he had three red zone carries in 2018, and Brandin Cooks also had a handful of red zone carries in each of the last couple years.

New Look Rams Offense in 2020

Speaking of Cooks, this offense looks a little different now after being sent to the Houston Texans this offseason. While his impact was limited due to a concussion last year, he still commanded a lot of attention and targets. Josh Reynolds is the Rams new WR3 with the second-round rookie Van Jefferson waiting in the wings. I think Reynolds is at best a handcuff for those who draft Woods or Kupp, while Jefferson is more dynasty play than somebody you’d seriously consider in redraft leagues. Lastly, with the departure of Todd Gurley, I believe we’re going to continue to see a lean toward favoring the passing game. The Rams averaged 39.5 attempts per game, third-most in the league.

I’m inclined to believe that Woods will surpass his 2019 touchdown total and that Kupp will fall short of his 2019 output. Since both reliably produced reception and yardage totals throughout their careers in Los Angeles, you should cling to that.

To tie Woods and Kupp so closely only illustrates that Woods is undervalued. Between Kupp and Woods, they should on paper be ranked closer together, but it’s hard to unhook yourself from the idea that Kupp is more valuable because of his high red zone usage. I’m expecting this discrepancy between the pair to meet somewhere in the middle.

Robert Woods ADP Evaluation

As the season draws near, I believe we’ll see Woods’ ADP float gently higher, eventually moving up from pick No. 55 to No. 47. In drafts, he’s surrounded by players with injury histories (T.Y. Hilton, David Johnson, James Conner), shifting pecking orders (D.K. Metcalf & Tyler Lockett, Mark Ingram) and “what has this guy really done?” types (Devin Singletary, Jonathan Taylor).

Not to knock on those guys because every player has value when the price tag is right; however, Woods has simply been the more quietly productive and reliable player since joining the Rams. I’m confident more level-headed fantasy drafters will ultimately elevate Woods, and hopefully, we can take advantage before his ADP climbs.