For a player who had 111 receptions for over 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011, you wouldn’t think wide receiver Robert Woods would be flying under the radar, but somehow he is.
You’d think a player with such a high level of production at a major college program like USC would be considered top 10 draft choice. The strange thing is, there’s no major injury or off-field concerns dropping his draft stock.
Most of the the things holding Woods back have been––to an extent––outside his control.
For one, USC was overrated this past season. Woods was assumed to be surrounded by national championship caliber talent, and that just wasn’t the case. The Trojans finished the season a disappointing 7-6 despite coming into the season ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press.
“We had a rough year,” said Woods at the NFL Combine. “We all kept thinking positive, after every loss. We still had faith in our team that we could still get to a bowl game and win every game. Our whole thing was, ‘OK, let’s just win the last four or the last three.’ Unfortunately, we lost them at the end, but we still had a positive outlook.”
On top of the letdown from a team perspective, Woods became the No. 2 receiving option for quarterback Matt Barkley in 2012, playing second-fiddle to Marqise Lee.
It was almost hard to fathom that a player like Woods who came into the season with 175 college receptions as a freshman and sophomore would be considered an afterthought in the passing game.
But Woods didn’t tumble down the depth chart to just anybody. Lee materialized as the go-to receiver for Barkley in 2012, and all he did was becoming the Biletnikoff Award winner given to the nation’s most outstanding receiver by hauling in 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns.
A year from now, barring unforeseen circumstances, Lee will very likely be considered the top wide receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft class.
Following USC’s bowl game loss to Georgia Tech when he made public his intention to declare for the NFL Draft, Woods expressed frustration with not getting the ball as much as he was accustomed to and received some negative attention in the media.
“I would say that whole phrase in that interview got mis-worded,” said Woods. “I had said that if Coach Kiffin’s game plan was to get me to come back, then he probably would have got me the ball more. But his game plan wasn’t to get me the ball; his game plan was to win football games, and he did that.”
Despite playing a secondary role in the receiving game last season, it’s not as if Woods wasn’t productive. He still made 76 receptions for 846 yards and 11 touchdowns. Most receivers would kill for those kind of numbers.
Woods finished his three-year college career with 250 catches for 2,933 yards and 32 receiving touchdowns, good enough to become USC’s all-time leader in receptions with one year of eligibility left unused.
And so Woods enters the NFL Draft looking to emerge from Lee’s shadow to potentially become a No. 1 receiving option once again.
At 6-0 and 201 lbs. and possessing 4.51 speed in the 40-yard dash, Woods compares himself to Indianapolis Colts wideout Reggie Wayne.
“He’s smaller, one type of receiver,” said Woods. “He’s not like a Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald, but he’s making plays all around the field, and I can see myself similar to him.”
It’s possible the Packers could be looking for a Reggie Wayne of their own this draft, now that Greg Jennings has departed via free agency and Donald Driver has retired.
When Green Bay is on the clock with the 26th draft pick in the first round, they’ll have to weigh the value of adding another weapon at the disposal of quarterback Aaron Rodgers against the downside of adding a player to a still-crowded position, even with the losses of Jennings and Driver.
Woods may very well develop into a No. 1 target in the NFL, but he’d be hard pressed to be anything more than No. 4 in his rookie year behind Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones.
Another factor working in Woods’ favor is his experience as a return specialist. He has 55 career kickoff returns, taking one for a touchdown his freshman season, and 30 largely nondescript punt returns.
If the Packers want to give Cobb a reprieve from his return duties, Woods could make sense as an alternative.
“I feel like if I know the playbook early and study,” said Woods,” I can come in right away and make an impact.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.