Robert Woods is your favorite fantasy expert's favorite sleeper pick. Or at the very least, one of their favorites.
The Rams' silent assassin has quietly churned out three consecutive seasons of 1,000-plus all-purpose yards and notched a career-high eight touchdowns in 2020 — an impressive feat, especially when you consider that COVID-19 transformed training camps into virtual affairs, ransacked rosters on a weekly basis, and forced players to constantly test and quarantine.
Woods' offseason has delivered even more life-altering moments. In March, Woods announced that he and his wife Alexandra are expecting their first child, and not two months prior, the Rams and Lions pulled off a stunning, QB-swapping blockbuster trade.
"[I was] shocked," the wideout reveals to CBS Sports when he first heard about the deal. "Jared was the No. 1 pick. You think he's the face of the team, franchise quarterback, and then that happens. … But then you remember, we got Matthew Stafford."
Stafford may very well be the missing ingredient in an already hearty Rams stew. It boasts the top-ranked defense, a significantly improved offensive line, a high-powered receiving core that recently added DeSean Jackson, and an elite head coach.
Woods has trekked to the Super Bowl before, and realizes 2021 may be the year he finally tastes victory — at his home stadium, no less. "I know what it takes to get there, what it feels like to get there," he says. "Now, I need to win it."
In the more immediate, Woods is focusing his attention on a partnership with Castrol and Keep America Beautiful. The USC alum spoke with CBS Sports about driving change through the sustainability initiative, as well as facing Tom Brady, how Jalen Ramsey makes his job easy on Sundays, Sean McVay's dad jokes, and more.
The following Q&A has been edited for clarity, flow, and length.
CBS Sports: It seems like you've had a pretty busy offseason. You just celebrated a birthday. On Instagram, it looks like you and your wife went somewhere tropical recently, and you've got a baby on the way. Did I miss anything?
Robert Woods: [Laughs]. It's true! It's been busy. Got the baby coming. We went to Turks and Caicos, which is where me and my wife got engaged. We went snorkeling for the first time. We were like, well, we always travel, we always go to the beach, and we've never snorkeled. So that was a cool experience, seeing all the fish, the marine life. We've been on a little tour pretty much since February. Just when the season ended. First time really getting away in a long time, so it's been cool.
I imagine after a season like that with COVID and everything else going on, getting away must have felt so nice.
RW: Yeah, and we were pretty strict all season. We stayed on lockdown, stayed quarantining, and my wife was pretty much in the house the whole year. She went to probably two games because the stadiums were closed, so by mid-season, we told each other that when it was over, we're getting away. We needed a break from the couch. Too many Netflix series.
You run out of shows to binge. You need a real experience. Speaking of, can you tell me about your partnership with Castrol and Keep America Beautiful?
RW: I recently partnered with Castrol, and we're proud to be the first NFL team on board. It's about reducing our impact on the environment in any ways we can. That may be volunteering with us on our park cleanups, or even just taking it into your own home. Recycling, using less plastic, turning off electricity when you're not using it, riding bicycles instead of driving some days. The Rams are also making purchases to contribute to sustainability, help our forests, different things to support Keep America Beautiful.
What is it about this initiative that resonated with you so much personally?
RW: We were able to get out with Keep America Beautiful (a few) weeks ago at St. Andrews park. It's a rec center in Inglewood, where some of my friends grew up. To be able to come back as an NFL player and walk these same streets with our community, pick up trash, keep it nice, it's super cool. Not only with the Rams, but for where I'm from locally.
You and Ryan Newman, who's also part of the initiative, swapped signed helmets a couple of weeks back. Very appropriate given the jersey swapping trend in the NFL and NBA. Heading into this season, who's one opponent you'd love to swap jerseys with after a game?
RW: You know what jersey I have to have? And in the past I've kind of been like, ah I don't know, I don't know about asking him. I gotta have a Tom Brady jersey. If we cross paths again, I probably wouldn't be shy next time to just go up and ask, like, 'Hey, if possible, could I have an autographed jersey?' Just because he's one of the greatest to do it. All the championships.
He's the Michael Jordan, he's the Kobe Bryant of our game. Huge, huge impact on winning, tradition. He shows a great attitude and what it takes to win in his preparation. So I would have to go with the GOAT Tom Brady.
You saw him in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. I know it wasn't the result you guys...
RW: You can't ask for a jersey after that. [Laughs].
Oh no, that'd be a major jersey swapping faux pas. Two Tom Brady questions: First, what is it like competing against him? Second, are you surprised that he's still finding success and winning Super Bowls at 43?
RW: Playing in Buffalo for four years, we got to go against him a lot. I want to say the only time we beat New England was in a Week 17 game, and they were resting Tom. He may not have even played. Actually, I think I got two wins in my four years playing against him in Buffalo.
It was pretty amazing having that experience going against him, seeing his caliber of play, obviously as a really good quarterback, but also just seeing that he's real. He's a human being. He's not a machine. Being able to have a team like the Rams that matched up so well against him and the Pats, that could go head-to-head with Goliath, it was an amazing experience. That was kind of my take on it. We had a team built to beat him. Obviously, they won. It was a competitive game. A true chess match.
Do you go back to that game and watch it as fuel or motivation?
RW: I watched it many times the year after, but I don't watch it now. It's instilled in me. I know what it takes to get there, what it feels like to get there. Now, I need to win it. I tell my young teammates, 'Look man, you've got to experience this feeling.' And that was just after me going, not even winning. So I know we gotta get there and win it. Finally see all the work and sacrifices, the blood, sweat, see it all pay off. In a year like last year with COVID, I'm sure winning the Super Bowl made it all the merrier.
When you saw Jared Goff was traded for Matthew Stafford, what was your initial reaction?
RW: Shock. Jared was the No. 1 pick. You think he's the face of the team, franchise quarterback, and then that happens. At the same time, it's the NFL. You know these transactions happen every year. The trades, the blockbuster deals, they come out of nowhere. We were a part of it this offseason.
Really it was a quick transition from the shock of, 'Oh man, our quarterback is getting traded, we were just in the Super Bowl, he just had great numbers, too. But we got Matthew Stafford.' Then it brings that excitement with the caliber of player he is, the way he competes — injured, not injured — just finding ways to win games. His fourth-quarter comebacks. For him to partner up with our receivers, our offense, and our brilliant mind of a coach in Sean McVay, that's super exciting for this upcoming season.
Have you been able to work out with Stafford at all yet?
RW: Not yet, but I plan on getting with him soon. We began our virtual training (recently). We'll be in the same city soon within five or 10 miles, and I know I'm gonna be working out, he's gonna be working out. So we'll link up for sure and get our timing down.
What is virtual training camp like?
RW: Not fun. [Laughs].
It doesn't sound very fun.
RW: It's hours of video chatting, hours of install. Hours of saying, 'Wait coach, go back, I can't see it.' Video delays. Watching film with the coaches, getting your position groups all on board. It is very different, but I do enjoy training on my own. This last offseason, I've been able to experience that, having a full offseason and really training and coming in ready. This kind of offseason just gives the guys a chance to show their maturity, of how they can come back ready and take the time to really do everything they can in the offseason. But really it's just a lot of Zoom meetings, a lot of workouts.
Is a coach leading the workouts or is it all done on your own?
RW: They send us all of our workouts. There's a coach giving an example of the lift. I know some teams have to record themselves working out and send it in. We have watch trackers that collect data and numbers while we work out which the team sees.
We always hear about how players love Sean McVay, obviously a brilliant football mind. What does he do differently or just understand that other coaches don't?
RW: He's creative and he's not old school. Obviously, he's big on being fundamentally sound on the football field, but he's creative with his route concepts, his play creation, getting guys the ball whether it's a screen or a running back wide zone. Creative with what he's doing with the linemen to create these holes. And then he creates these spaces and these holes against the defense in our passing game. It's super nice. We have huge windows, so he makes it easy for the quarterback and receiver to find the gaps and run with the football.
Could you give me a Sean McVayism? A funny quirk he has or a phrase he uses to motivate you guys?
RW: He's a young coach, he loves being out there with us. He participates in our practices, and when I say that, I mean he's giving us examples of what he wants the route to look like, or what he expects from our sweeps. He definitely interacts with the guys well.
He's always funny, has his jokes. He has plenty of bad jokes too, and on the Zoom meetings, he always pulls out this imaginary mic and taps it and he's like, 'Is this thing on? Is this thing on?' He makes it fun at work. It's a joy to get to work with him. He makes it entertaining. He's hip with the music, our code names for plays sometimes involve pop culture.
What's an example of one of those?
RW: We have the 'Ric Flair,' we've got 'Rihanna,' and all these things are always changing. So it's fun to come in and hear what the new play call is gonna be for the week.
Does McVay ever line up against Aaron Donald and try to take him on? I sincerely hope not.
RW: I think he knows his limits. [Laughs]. He lines up at running back sometimes, he'll line up at receiver, obviously sometimes quarterback. Defensive back is the best one, when he tries to cover us. He's actually pretty fast too, but it's funny when he tries to cover us because obviously we're practicing hard, we're running hard, and then sometimes you'll hear him say that his hamstring or his quad is acting up, and he'll be shut down for a few weeks.
Speaking of Aaron Donald, one of the most unstoppable defensive players in the game. An absolute athletic specimen, a beast. Rag-dolling quarterbacks left and right. What would you say is the craziest or most impressive physical feat you've seen him accomplish, whether on Sunday or during practice? Or even in the weight room?
RW: I don't know about seeing him accomplish, but I would say all the work I see him put in. In the offseason, the types of workouts he does. He works out like a running back and a receiver. He's always on cones, getting his feet super fast, very quick. And then even in the offseason and in the weight room, he'll stay after and really hone his craft, get extra abs in, an extra lift. And then you realize that this is the reason why he's so great. When he comes to work on the football field on Sundays, it hits you that that was the drill he was working on. It's really exciting because you actually see him practice these things and then see it come alive in games.
As now a seasoned veteran, eight years in, who's a young wide receiver you look at and go, 'This dude has it -- he's destined to be an all-time great?'
RW: I like Jerry Jeudy a lot in Denver. I like Calvin Ridley in Atlanta. They're kind of similar and I would say, from a receiver's perspective, having so much speed and then also having the breaks to be able to snap down and run your routes — they're already elite route runners. They're gonna showcase it for a long time.
Who's the toughest defensive back you've lined up against in the NFL?
RW: Darrelle Revis. I got to see him early on in my career a lot in Buffalo. That was honestly a great way to start out my NFL career, to have him in New England and the Jets. His technique and his savviness, it taught me so much. There's no one like him right now in the NFL. The closest person to him would be Jalen Ramsey, and he brings a little bit different things to the table than Revis does. But both are elite, both are the best.
Fortunately, you don't have to play against Jalen on Sundays.
RW: It's really cool because I get to see him at practice every single day. Our training camps are very competitive, and I like that. He practices exactly how he plays. He goes hard, he doesn't like any receivers catching passes on him, he talks trash. And me, I want to catch every single ball thrown my way. So it's really, really intense at practice. Going at it with him makes us receivers always compete hard. It makes Sundays really easy because we've seen the best defensive back every day during practice.
You had one of your best statistical seasons in 2020, which is pretty amazing given that COVID was such a presence. How were you able to find so much success with all of that going on?
RW: Preparation. Mental preparation and also physical preparation. Similar to this offseason with a lot of the virtual meetings, and a lot of our workouts being on our own, last year I was able to do a lot of work that I wanted to do to help add to my game at the wide receiver position. Whether it's hills, running on beaches, running routes, running on a track. All these different things I was able to focus on a little bit longer than normal.
It was definitely a credit to that, going into the 2020 season being able to have my career high in touchdowns, being able to have just about 1,000 yards. All these different things, being able to hone in on this offense and bring the best of my game into it, will be super nice. Especially in 2021, having the same kind of offseason, I look forward to having that with a new quarterback this time.
You talked about mental strength and your mental preparation. Maintaining that, focusing on that. Tell me a little bit more about that. What did you do to mentally train and keep yourself locked in?
RW: I would say that was especially important for games. Obviously for practices, too. We were in a tent all season for our meetings, so really just getting used to that and staying focused. Guys social distancing and being spread out, talking over fans, coaches screaming.
For games, mental preparation was important because stadiums were empty. Not playing in front of fans, it was a totally different environment.
How did you fire yourself up in an empty stadium?
RW: Self talk. Really just getting fired up, getting excited for the game. Looking at your opponent and talking yourself up to them. Oftentimes, with it being so quiet, you would hear your opponents, their coaches, talking on the sidelines, telling them different techniques to try and stop us. I think that's pretty cool when you hear the other coach, and you're like, 'What? I'm about to still dog this player.'
The Rams have gotten close to reaching the mountaintop during your time with the team. Lost in the divisional round of the playoffs last year, came up short in Super Bowl LIII. With the roster you have this year, what are your expectations as a ballclub?
RW: It's going to be a very competitive season across the board. In the NFC, we have a loaded conference and the NFC West is a loaded division, so we're excited about the challenge this year of being able to go through the best in the game. We know that it's not a given to earn a spot in the playoffs.
We think we'll be dangerous though, defensively led by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, and our offense will be explosive with Stafford, adding DeSean Jackson, and getting consistent production like we always do from guys like Cooper Kupp and Cam Akers.