The profession of Robert Woods: Reasons for optimism, pessimism

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NASHVILLE — Underestimate Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson’s tendency to make big moves at your own peril.

His Saturday acquisition of wide receiver Robert Woods from the Los Angeles Rams — in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round pick — is just the latest high-profile addition in a long string of offseason deals over the years. .

Some of the biggest names Robinson has previously added — via free agency or trade — since taking over in 2016 include running back DeMarco Murray, cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler, safety Kenny Vaccaro, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, guard Rodger Saffold; point rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree, wide receiver Julio Jones and defensive lineman Denico Autry.

Some of these moves – obviously – worked much better than others.

How will the Woods trade be viewed over time?

Here are five reasons Titans fans are excited about the team’s latest big addition, three reasons for caution.

BE EXCITED

Consistency and production: Prior to the injury last season, Woods was on pace for 85 catches, as well as 1,050 yards and eight touchdowns. Those numbers look a lot like Woods from 2018 (86 catches, 1,219 yards and six touchdowns), 2019 (90 catches, 1,134 yards, two touchdowns) and 2020 (90 catches, 936 catches and six touchdowns).

In other words, it didn’t look like the 29-year-old was slowing down due to his age before the injury.

A few more stats to back up that argument: Woods was on pace with 15 catches from 20+ yards last season, which would have been the second-highest total of his career. Additionally, the quarterbacks who pitched Woods last season posted a quarterback rating of 107.9, the second-highest number of his career.

Complementary piece: AJ Brown’s numbers were good last year — 63 catches for 869 yards (13.8 yards average) and five touchdowns — but not as good as he was in his 2020 Pro Bowl season. Injuries played a big part. role in that, as Brown was limited to 604 offensive snaps in 2021, down from 760 in 2021.

But even healthy, Brown didn’t always have as much of an impact as he had the previous season. One theory is that he received so much attention from opposing defenses.

The Titans hoped Jones would provide the kind of complement that would release Brown in 2021, but injuries limited him to just 10 games and 393 snaps. Compare that to 2020, when Corey Davis provided a much more consistent threat against Brown, playing 14 games and 719 snaps.

If Woods continues to be as productive as he was before the injury, defenses will have to keep their eyes on him — and Brown. And if the Titans add a better receiver in the draft, that should give Tannehill quite the buffet in 2022.

Stroke Lock Capability: We all know how much the Titans place great importance on run blocking, which is understandable for a team that was built for years around Derrick Henry. The Titans ran the ball on 48.8% of plays last season (second in the NFL), and that was with Henry limited to just eight regular-season games.

So the fact that Woods is one of the best run-blocking receivers in the NFL must have certainly been attractive to the Titans.

He earned a Pro Football Focus rush-blocking rating of 84.9 percent last season, leading NFL receivers with at least 100 rush-blocking opportunities. Woods has posted a run block rating above 75.0 in four of his last five seasons, a trait that didn’t go unnoticed by coach Mike Vrabel ahead of the Titans’ game against the Rams in 2021.

“I would say (Woods and Cooper Kupp) are two of the best blocking wide receivers in the league,” Vrabel said. “It’s been impressive to watch them not only with their road craft and what they do, but also the commitment they make to blocking players. I’m not just talking about the DBs. They try to block linebackers exteriors – cut them or do whatever they need to do in their attack.

Versatility: The Titans are very versatile at wide receiver, as evidenced by the praise given to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for being able to position himself in any spot last season.

Woods has shown a similar ability to play inside and outside.

In his nine games last season, 152 of Woods’ 340 pass shots came from the slot (44.7%), while 184 were away (54.1%). We shouldn’t ignore Woods’ running ability either, as he’s totaled 74 career carries for 507 yards (average 6.9 yards) and five touchdowns.

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Veterans Branch: Prior to the Woods trade, Brown had been the most Titans-experienced receiver on the roster — and he only played three seasons in the league. Westbrook-Ikhine has two years under his belt, while others like Dez Fitzpatrick, Racey McMath, Cody Hollister, Mason Kinsey and Josh Malone have very little experience.

That changes dramatically with Woods, who played nine NFL seasons — four at Buffalo, five with the Rams.

But Woods has done more than just catch passes during his NFL tenure. He has, in every way, transformed into a teammate and a leader – serving as one of the Rams’ captains for the past two seasons.

Here’s what Rams coach Sean McVay said about Woods after the ACL injury:

“You’re sick for Robert,” McVay said at the time. “He epitomizes everything that has been right about this place. Such a great competitor, such a tough player, such a great football player and a great person. It’s so unfortunate.

Woods should serve as an invaluable mentor to Brown and other young receivers.

The price was right: The Titans gave up some good draft capital last season when they acquired Jones, giving up a second-round pick in 2022 and a fourth-round pick in 2023.

But it was very different this time. The Titans only dropped out of the sixth round of 2023 — due to Woods’ injury status and the Rams trying to offload him for salary cap space.

So if for some reason things don’t work out with Woods, the Titans wouldn’t have hurt themselves so much in the draft. Sixth-round picks aren’t counted on to have much of an impact. Linebacker David Long is the only sixth-round pick under Robinson who has excelled, while the production of the others – wide receiver Racey McMath, safety Brady Breeze, quarterback Luke Falk, offensive lineman Corey Levin and player offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola – has been minimal (at best) so far.

BE CAREFUL

The question of age: The good news is that Woods, who turns 30 next month, is three years younger than Julio Jones. But the fact remains that high-impact receivers 30 or older are rare in the NFL these days.

Only one receiver 30 or older — Buffalo’s Cole Beasley (82 receptions) — has finished in the NFL’s top 25 for catches in 2021, and only four (Adam Thielen of Minnesota, Marvin Jones of Jacksonville and AJ Green of Arizona were the other three) finished in the top 50.

No receiver 30 or older finished in the NFL’s top 25 in receiving yards last season, and only five — Green, Marvin Jones, Thielen, Beasley and Buffalo’s Emmanuel Sanders — finished in the top 50 of the league.

Only two receivers 30 or older — Thielen (10 touchdowns) and Randall Cobb of Green Bay (five touchdowns) — caught as many as five touchdown passes last season.

The injury: Woods had held up until the injury last year, having played in 56 of a possible 57 games since the start of the 2018 regular season. But ACL injuries at the wide receiver position, especially for wide receivers in the range of 30 years, can not be simply ignored.

Odell Beckham Jr., for example, suffered his first ACL tear in 2020 as he approached his 28th birthday. Beckham returned last season and was back to playing at a high level in the playoffs, but then tore the same ACL again in the Super Bowl. Going back a few years for another player in the same age bracket, former Jacksonville wide receiver Cecil Shorts tore his ACL (and suffered a dislocated patella) at age 29 in 2016. He didn’t never returned to the game after posting 229 catches in his career.

On a more positive note, former Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson tore his anterior cruciate ligament at age 30 during training camp in 2015. He missed all of 2015 but rebounded with 97 catches for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016.

At the very least, however, Woods’ injury – sustained last November – looks likely to slow his offseason and possibly part of next season as well. Such was the case for Dupree, who only played his best football at the end of 2021 after suffering a season-ending ACL injury in 2020.

Salary cap: At this point, Woods is expected to count $13.5 million towards the 2022 salary cap. That could change if the Titans restructure Woods’ deal, or if it’s ultimately determined that the Rams will pay a portion of that amount. .

But if the $13.5 million hit sticks, that’s a pretty big number — sixth-highest for the Titans behind Tannehill, Dupree, Kevin Byard, Henry and Taylor Lewan. Does it make sense to add that kind of salary when the team just released Jones partly for economic reasons, as Jones was expected to count $14.3 million over the cap?

According to OverTheCap, the Titans were $6.8 million over the cap Monday morning, and that’s before the contracts of some small free agent additions were even factored into the equation.

On the other hand, if Woods’ contract remains unchanged, the Titans could cut him next season – with no capping fee – if things don’t work out.

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