Hello there. This is a post in which we’ll bravely explore the dark and deepest depths of depth charts, looking for sleepers who are sometimes absurdly deep that you should watch out for either as a late-round flier, or an early season waiver wire add. I’ll also be wrong often in this post, so you can enjoy that too.
I look at ADPs a whole lot in July and August. And think about them a lot, and scrutinize them a lot, and generally let them consume my existence. My mom says I’m cool.
Now that we’re into July and leagues currently drafting aren’t drafting stupid early and they’re just drafting sort of early, the average draft position of many players — from the premier quarterbacks to the sleeper wide receivers — will fluctuate, and sometimes wildly. This is part of the process, as every brave degenerate attempts to finalize each valuation.
But about those sleeper wide receivers: there could be a lot of them. Just like last year and, well, most years, the wide receiver position is set to be awesomely deep. Example: right about now you can get DeSean Jackson — the fast option in Chip Kelly’s new offense that will very much favor the skills of fast options — at about 85th overall.
Inevitably, the great tumble of the wide receivers each summer will lead to a few names with questionable ADPs lingering late into the draft, though they have a high upside. They descend to the proverbial burial ground of the late-round sleeper, or if they sink further, maybe even early season waiver claim territory.
But there’s at least one name who’s firmly in this sleeper territory, and it’s a place where he doesn’t belong because of the opportunities and target volume he’s about to receive: Robert Woods.
In April, the Buffalo Bills answered the ancient riddle of “how the hell are we going to support Stevie Johnson?” by selecting Woods with their second-round pick (41st overall). The pick marked the second major offensive move in only the first two rounds of this year’s draft, after then general manager Buddy Nix shocked all of humanity by taking quarterback E.J. Manuel at No. 16 following a trade with the Rams.
His speed is good, but it falls short of great after he posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.51 at the Scouting Combine back in February. But whatever Woods lacks in quicks is more than compensated for with his excellent hands and route running.
Film breakdowns of his USC play continually go back to the catch showcased below. On the boxscore, the play was a mere minor development, and a gain of about eight yards for a first down at midfield. But there’s so much more here: a perfect route, the ability to stop quick, fast forward movement forcing the defensive back to leave a sizable cushion, and most importantly, terrific hands and concentration.
Watch that again, and pause it at about the 14-second mark during the replay. Note the amount of room between the receiver and the defensive back, and how Woods cuts back to present a large, open target to quarterback Matt Barkley. The contact is jarring, but he’s strong enough to absorb the hit, and focused enough to keep the ball trapped on the back of his head David Tyree style.
Seriously, look at this:
That picture has all the quality of a Youtube screen cap because it is a Youtube screen cap, but you get the idea. Matt Waldman from Football Guys and the author of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio — who’s far more proficient in the fine art of tape breakdown than I – noted the unique instincts Woods displayed while securing the ball and the catch:
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.
I’m diving deep into this one, single play because it’s a primary demonstration of Woods’ ability to thrive on short to intermediate routes, which is a key element for the comfort level of a rookie quarterback. Manuel may not win the starting job in training camp, with the Bills possibly deciding that he’s too raw, and they’ll then let him learn while watching Kevin Kolb. But if he does start immediately, being able to trust a possession target like Woods is just as important as having a field stretcher and burner like Johnson.
That’s why even with Manuel and the scary uncertainty he brings, Woods’ production potential as a rookie shouldn’t fall far. Already on the depth chart he’s been penciled in as the No. 2 receiver behind Johnson, who’s expected to be featured more in the slot.
Predicting how the Bills’ new offense organized by rookie head coach Doug Marrone and coordinator Nathanial Hackett will translate from the college level at Syracuse to the NFL is, of course, difficult. But for what it’s worth, I’ll toss this out there: last year at Syracuse Alec Lemon led the team with 72 receptions for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns, while Marcus Sales wasn’t far behind with 64 receptions for 882 yards and six scores.
The gap between Johnson and Woods will surely be more significant regardless of the quarterback. That’s especially true with T.J. Graham, Marquise Goodwin, and maybe even Da’Rick Rogers in a bare knuckle fight for targets opposite Woods if Johnson is indeed used much more often in the slot. But trust in his soft hands and ability to accumulate yards after the catch will keep targets flowing to Woods.
Now, let’s unearth the buried lede: Woods’ current ADP at FantasyPros is 229th overall and 73rd at his position, meaning right now in most leagues he’s an area code or two away from being drafted. That’s (deservedly) far behind fellow rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who sits at 131st overall, and (not nearly as deservedly because Ponder, and because Peterson) also well behind Cordarrelle Patterson (152nd overall).
Those ADPs are correct in the sense that you’re taking Patterson and Hopkins before you’re thinking about Woods. But when you’re trudging through the late-round toxic and needing to feed the burning desire to spend a flier on a wide receiver while picking between the remaining rooks, and Woods, Justin Hunter, and Aaron Dobson are around, if ya’ll wanna win give Woods a spin. At worst he should receive equal consideration either on draft day or the early wire.