After much talk early this offseason about the need to find a true complement to Sammy Watkins — from the G.M. to the director of player personnel — it appears Robert Woods will again be the Buffalo Bills' No. 2 wide receiver.
Chris Hogan admitted Doug Whaley's comments motivated him... now he's off to New England. One can only imagine what Woods is thinking.
Free agency is grinding to a halt. Maybe the Bills do pull an upset and draft a receiver in the first or second round but that seems unlikely with needs on defense.
Through three seasons with three different primary starters, the second-round pick Woods has averaged 51 receptions, 613 yards and four touchdowns per season. The day after the 2015 season ended, he revealed he played 14 games through a torn groin. The Bills have a hodgepodge collection of vets now after re-signing Leonard Hankerson, but the gritty Woods (who called himself a "blocking receiver" in this offense) will probably start again.
Both Andre Reed and Eric Moulds view Woods as a solid No. 2 who'll need to deliver when defenses inevitably veer extra attention toward Watkins in 2016.
“I really like Robert Woods," Moulds said. "The biggest thing for all the receivers is to stay healthy. They lost Chris Hogan, a guy who was consistent in what he did. If I’m a defensive coordinator, the first thing I’m going to do is say ‘Sammy Watkins is not going to beat us. Clay is not going to beat us.’ Let’s see if the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers can beat us. They’re going to have to run the football effectively to take the pressure off the passing game. And if they don’t, then it’s going to be a tough year for Sammy. But if they keep Woods healthy and a No. 3 guy can come in and make plays, you’ve got enough weapons on that offense to make a lot of noise and really compete against New England.
"I think Buffalo can take a step in beating New England and be the team that knocks them off. But they consistently need to stay healthy.”
Moulds, who lauded Watkins' route-running ability in our roundtable discussion that ran Sunday, even believes Woods is a better route runner than Watkins.
He's only 6-foot, 190 pounds, but Woods finds other ways to get open. Moulds cites his "great hands," adding "he's strong, he's physical, he has tools you can't really teach" — Woods has "a knack for getting open." And Moulds sure knows the value of a 1-2 punch at receiver. In 2002, he teamed up with Peerless Price through one of the most prolific seasons in franchise history.
That season, Moulds caught 100 balls for 1,292 yards and 10 scores, as Price caught 94 for 1,252 and nine scores. That team started 5-3, though faded at 3-5.
A threat on the other side of a No. 1 wideout sure can open up the playbook.
“Looking at Robert Woods, he has to get a lot more opportunities to catch the football because he’s a very good starting receiver," Moulds said. "The biggest con is — like Sammy — being healthy. Both of those guys need to be healthy. If they’re not healthy, you’re not going to get that consistency from those guys. These guys are a great tandem. I think a thing people don’t realize is in my 12-year career, I only missed like two or three games. I was on the field all the time so I could make plays. And Peerless only missed three or four games.
"We were on the field at the same time. That’s how you create a great tandem. You get better with each other, you take pressure off each other. That’s how you build that great tandem.”
Meanwhile, Reed calls Woods a "great possession guy" who also runs better routes than Watkins. When the Bills' offense was humming in the 1990's, he was surrounded by other playmakers himself. James Lofton. Don Beebe. Pete Metzelaars. Bill Brooks. Quinn Early. So, yes, the Pro Football Hall of Famer knows what Watkins will face next season. Reed always was matched up with No. 1 corners be it Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson or James Hasty. Double-teams were common, too.
“It’s frustrating but you know that somebody else is going to be open," Reed said. "You’ve got to be able to realize you’re making it better for the team. That’s when being a team player comes in. And then when you have your opportunities, that’s when you have to make it count. That’s when you have to deliver.
“He has everything that a No. 1 receiver has. I think he can’t be too nonchalant about it. Because if you’re that good, there’s always room for improvement. And I see that in Sammy — he always wants to get better.”