Quick question: How does a premier receiver talent go from the No. 1-ranked prospect at his position to an overlooked, underappreciated talent struggling to stay visible in a relatively above-average (at best) wideout draft class?
Answer: Play for the USC Trojans.
Maybe that's an oversimplification of Robert Woods' strange, disappointing 2012 season, but I'll bet it's not far off. Woods' blend of route-running savvy, strong hands, vision and good speed (mid-to-late 4.4s) should have him squarely in the second half of round one, especially when plodders like Cal's Keenan Allen are projected to land in the same territory. Yet, the Trojan wideout could go anywhere from late day one to late day two--not exactly a scenario a big-time receiver expects to find himself in come draft time.
Of course, that's exactly where Woods is at right now, victimized this season by a nagging leg injury, Matt Barkley's powder puff arm, USC's failing coaching staff and the rise of fellow Trojan wideout Marqise Lee, who will garner plenty of early consideration for the No. 1 receiver spot in next year's draft class (hey, sound familiar?).
But while Lee has the look and skill set of a lethal No. 1 receiver at the NFL level, Woods is cut out in the Greg Jennings mold--an elite-level route-runner who can create separation and make tough catches, but isn't necessarily a go-to target outside of a West Coast offensive scheme. That means Woods likely isn't in the first-round picture for teams interested in receivers who can routinely stretch the field, elevate and take the top off of the defense. But he's a knockout prospect for a team like Miami--an organization that is currently very interested in receivers who can shred the route tree, get open and make plays after the catch. And if that player has the juice the stretch the field, even better.
That isn't to say Woods can't make plays downfield--he's actually better at going up to get the football than his size (6'1") suggests. He's also shifty enough to work his way through traffic and find daylight. Ultimately, Woods is a creator with the ball in his hands, and will bring very deceptive speed and downfield blocking ability to the NFL team that calls his name on draft night ... or the next night. Whatever.
Robert Woods' 2012 season might've been a disappointing one in terms of overall productivity, but it might also eventually slide him all the way to the NFL team that most craves a receiver with Woods' skill set and potential for immediate impact. Sounds like a win-win in Miami.