When the Tennessee Titans traded for Robert Woods in March, it was expected that the 30-year-old wideout would play Robin to AJ Brown’s Batman in the Titans’ passing offense this season.
Fast forward one month; Brown is in Philadelphia, the place he reportedly wanted to be all along, while Woods, who’s working his way back from a torn ACL, is Tennessee’s new No. 1 receiver by default.
Presumably learning from Taylor Lewan and Bud Dupree, the Titans have brought Woods along leisurely. In fact, Woods even admitted in May that he thought Tennessee’s trainers were holding him back.
But as the Titans held joint practices with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday and Thursday at Saint Thomas Sports Park, Woods appeared to be running without restriction and participating in 1-on-1 and team drills without any difficulty.
“He comes in and has a presence about him,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “He’s done it for a long time, I respect him and he’s a really good dude. As we grow our relationship on the field, just getting used to what he does well and he’s so smooth. That’s one thing I noticed almost immediately is he’s so smooth. He’s able to transition really well and it looks like he’s going 100 percent but he’s not. For a quarterback, that makes it easy to throw the ball to him.”
Added Woods: “I feel good. It feels natural going out there running routes. Really, I just feel like I’m playing pass-and-catch with Ryan out there right now.
“… I’m starting to get going and find my matchups and really just work my technique in those situations, go in there, going against a different [team], so just trying to be a little bit faster, a little bit more quicker when I get those chances.”
If Woods is close to or at his best by Week 1, the Titans’ passing attack may not suffer as big of a drop-off as many have predicted.
Prior to Woods’ injury last season, he excelled as a focal point of the Los Angeles Rams offense. He put up back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 and ranked in the top 17 among all receivers in targets, receptions and yards both years. He had three straight seasons with 86 or more receptions from 2018-2020, and he ranked 13th and 15th in receptions and targets, respectively, in 2020.
Woods also adds value in areas that don’t typically show up on the stat sheet.
He’s as sure-handed as they come with a drop rate of just 2.9 percent over the last four years. For comparison, Tennessee’s top three leading receivers have had a drop rate of 3.1 percent or higher each of the last two seasons.
Woods is also one of the top red-zone threats in the NFL. He’s had double-digit red-zone targets every year since 2016, and despite playing in just 9 games, Woods still tied for 29th in red-zone targets and 26th in red-zone receptions last season. Since 2017, Woods has caught 37 of his 53 red-zone targets (70 percent) for 232 yards and 17 touchdowns.
However, Woods’ value to the Titans can’t be measured simply with pure statistics.
He’s the Titans' only receiver over the age of 28, and just the second WR over the age of 25. Rookies Treylon Burks (22), Kyle Philips (23) and Reggie Roberson (23), plus Cody Hollister (28), Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (25), Terry Godwin (25), Dez Fitzpatrick (24), Racey McMath (23) and Mason Kinsey (23), have just 58 receptions, 656 yards and five touchdowns between them.
Woods is only receiver on Tennessee’s roster with more than 42 career receptions and at least one 1,000-yard season, and he adds leadership and a veteran presence to one of the youngest and least experienced receiver rooms in the NFL.
“[Woods’] leadership has been great,” Vrabel said. “His consistency each and every day, being able to work through things, talk through things, provide [receivers coach] Rob [Moore] with an extension of a coach. It's been great to have him.”
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