With Kupp’s status uncertain for Sunday, Woods’ versatility could be instrumental once again as the Rams (7-0) prepare to host the Green Bay Packers (3-2) at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
“It goes unnoticed sometimes with all the stuff he’s able to do and how much I rely on him and how much all the receivers rely on him,” Goff said. “His versatility, how smart he is, his ability to block, his unselfishness, all that.”
Woods has caught 41 passes this season and ranks eighth in the NFL with 602 receiving yards. He’s averaging 14.7 yards per catch.
A sixth-year pro, Woods typically plays as an outside receiver who is relied upon heavily in the intermediate passing game, while sometimes contributing in jet motions, or sometimes on deep routes downfield.
But in the second half of a Week 5 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Woods found himself in the slot after Kupp and Brandin Cooks were placed into concussion protocol. Josh Reynolds, a second-year pro, and rookie KhaDarel Hodge came off the bench and played on the outside. So Woods, with a deep knowledge of the offense, shifted inside and made the transition appear seamless as he finished with five catches for 92 yards.
“Just being here for two years, I was able to grasp my position and focus on it last year a lot more, whereas this year, better able to understand the whole offense and the concepts,” said Woods, who signed a five-year, $34-million contract shortly after McVay was hired in 2017. “I have my position understood and locked down to where I am paying attention to some stuff that the running backs are doing, some stuff that the tight ends are doing, just keying into the whole concepts and the purpose of the plays.”
“When those guys went out, he didn’t ever complain,” said Todd Gurley, who routinely credits Woods blocking ability in the run game. “He just did what he had to do, helped those other guys get lined up.”
Even as Kupp cleared protocol in time to return for a Week 6 matchup against the Denver Broncos, Woods soon found himself in the slot again after Kupp sprained his knee in the first half and eventually was sidelined for most of the second. Woods remained in the slot through last Sunday’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Over the last three weeks, Woods has caught a team-high 17 passes for 279 yards, while ensuring that younger teammates are up-to-speed when they’re thrust into action.
“I’ll ask him about looks and stuff, what one player is giving him, certain stuff like that,” said Reynolds, who has four catches for 56 yards over the past three weeks. “We definitely communicate on the sidelines and stuff during games.”
“He’s exceeded every expectation that we’ve had for him,” said passing-game coordinator Shane Waldron. “He’s done a great job as a leader, in the run game — as a runner, as a blocker, as a pass protector at times — and obviously as a great route runner, and really just improved his game every day.”
Over the offseason, Woods worked to develop stronger hands at the request of coaches. By all accounts, he has shown marked progress, though the understated Woods said there were no special drills or workouts that helped him improve.
But he did credit extra throwing sessions with Goff for becoming more familiar with his quarterback’s ball placement, as the two improved chemistry and Woods worked to catch Goff’s passes in stride.
No matter which role Woods’ is in, the extra effort appears to be paying off — for Woods, for Goff and for the undefeated Rams.
“He’s got some of the best hands I’ve ever played with,” Goff said. “It’s comparable to anyone I’ve ever played with. If you guys watch most of his catches nowadays, it’s all out in front of his body — all with his hands. He makes some miraculous catches as well with his hands.
“He’s just become a guy that I can really trust with any route, any sort of cut, anything.”