Robert Woods has reached an interesting point in his Buffalo Bills career.
The 24-year-old receiver is entering the fourth and final season of his rookie contract, and most observers expect he'll be signing his next deal elsewhere. In the meantime, though, he's a vital part of a Bills receiving corps that is deal with injury at the top and instability at the bottom. Of all of the receivers currently on the roster, Woods is really the only one who is certain to be on the field for Week One.
Woods is often overlooked, despite the fact that he compares favorably with a few other receivers in similar situations who found new homes this offseason:
As FAs this year, Marvin Jones got $8M/year; Sanu got $6.5M/year....Here's # vs Robert Woods, a FA after this season pic.twitter.com/Cf1mn5Ysq3— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) May 9, 2016
With that in mind, it's an important question to consider at this point. Is Robert Woods a legitimate number-two receiver in the NFL?
Jerry Sullivan doesn't think so. Sully compares Woods to Stevie Johnson, "a No. 1 when the Bills had no one better. Woods is No. 2 for the same reason." He makes some fair points about Woods' production in his three seasons in the league, in that he's not a big-play threat (only two career receptions over 40 yards), nor a guy who consistently separates from cornerbacks and hasn't shown great chemistry with Tyrod Taylor (his biggest game last season came in London, with E.J. Manuel at the helm).
That said, things seem to be going better in camp this year. Vic Carucci's recap of Monday's practice included this bit about Woods:
The work he did on improving his speed is paying off. He's quicker into his routes and showing even more in the way of moves that have routinely had defensive backs (including Ronald Darby) turned in all directions except where they need to be to cover Woods. With Sammy Watkins still watching from the sidelines, Woods is making the most of his chance to gain the right kind of attention entering the final year of his contract.
Of course, training camp performance means very little. The scrimmages and preseason should tell us quite a bit about how much he's improved as a route runner, as well as where his chemistry and timing with Taylor stands.
We already know that he's among the better receivers in the league when it comes to blocking, and his production has been fairly consistent over his three seasons. This season, though, stands to be the most important of them all. He may be forced into a number-one role if Sammy Watkins misses any time with injury, and he's playing for his all-important second contract (which I don't believe is going to come with the Bills, unless his performance drops off or he misses more than half the season with his own injury).
If he's up to the challenge, he's going to have to show he's learned some new tricks in the last few months. If the start of camp is to be believed, it seems he may have.