With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#26: Robert Woods, WR, USC
We continue this year's series with USC receiver Robert Woods, the unheralded first-round talent in a batch of top-level receiver prospects. Woods really broke out for the Trojans in 2011, when he caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns. Two things slowed him down in 2012 -- the arthroscopic ankle surgery he had in December, 2011, and Marqise Lee's ascent as a ridiculous offensive threat. But even with a changing role in USC's offense, it was Woods who was there to catch the bail-out screen or crucial slant to extend the drive. He followed up that 2011 season with 74 receptions for 849 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final collegiate campaign, despite the fact that he did look a bit slower on tape, and some evaluators may have pegged him as little more than a "possession receiver" -- a term that is just as limiting and pejorative as "game manager" is for quarterbacks.
Woods' stock started to rise after the season. He ran an official 4.51 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, and improved on his average agility drills at USC's pro day, where he was the unquestioned star. It was there that Woods started to look like the player we saw in 2011 -- he exploded off his breaks, showed straight-line speed, and appeared to put the entire package together just in time for the draft.
The question is, in a league that is more and more about the vertical passing game, does Robert Woods flash enough of the skills needed of the elite receivers selected in the first round? Or, is he a complementary piece of the overall puzzle -- a secondary receiver who will gobble up catches and fail to take it over the top?
Pros: Outstanding straight-line strider who sells head and foot fakes very well. Plants and drives with the ability to get away from defenders in close quarters. Understands the route tree and plays faster than he is with his ability to exploit cuts and angles. Collects his body well on quick cuts and gets around for yards after the catch in a hurry. Natural slot receiver who doesn't hear footsteps and will make the tough catches with defenders moving in on him. Practiced receiver on intermediate routes -- slants, posts, drags, and all manner of comebacks. Looks the ball into his hands and doesn't move his head upfield too quickly.
Great YAC receiver on screens and swing passes because he's so good with his feet in short spaces. Great catch radius -- he'll jump for balls, extend his body, and make the extra effort to bring the ball in. Woods has outstanding field awareness, and he'll poke holes in zone defenses to get open. Understands motion timing and formation diversity; can line up and make plays all over the place. Excellent effort player who will keep a play alive, swerve out of contact, and gain yards other receivers might not. Ankle injury showed him a bit in 2012, but he looked very fast and explosive at his pro day. Good return man who gets and stays open with excellent vision and awareness.
Cons: Has a limited upper gear -- not a pure speed receiver and could top out in more vertical offenses. Not an especially physical player; will get tied up in press coverage and when manhandled in the five-yard contact area. Needs stutter-go moves to displace himself from defensive backs on longer vertical routes -- this is where the lack of top-end speed shows up. Tends to let defenders establish position, either inside or outside, when moving in a straight line. Prone to inexplicable stretches of drops. Needs to do a better job of separating with hands, especially in the red zone. Blocks with effort and intent, but not a lot of power.
Conclusion: When I was watching Woods' tape, the two words that came to mind over and over were "vision" and "awareness." This is a player who understands where he is in the passing game at all times, and isn't just running around freelancing -- something, by the way, that Marqise Lee has to solve before the NFL gets hold of him. Woods is a sneaky-fast player who will surprise enemy defenses at every level by using angles and spaces to get open and make plays.
In the end, I believe that Woods is less a possession guy with a low ceiling and more the type of player who will provide optimal value to his NFL team with an early and easy command of the little things required for greatness at his position. He is a reliable route receiver and a gamebreaker able to affect coverages on a regular basis -- not to mention, a great example of the truism that playing receiver is about far more than track speed.
NFL Comparison: Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
More Shutdown 50:
#50: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State | #49: John Jenkins, DL, Georgia | #48: Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State | #47: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State | #46: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse | #45: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State | #44: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU | #43: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson | #42: Kyle Long, OL, Oregon | #41: Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State | #40: Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International | #39: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame | #38: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU | #37: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama | #36: Johnthan Banks, DB, Mississippi State | #35: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama | #34: Matt Barkley, QB, USC | #33: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas | #32: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford | #31: Matt Elam, SS, Florida | #30: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas | #29: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M | #28: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State | #27: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia