The passes kept coming his way, and Robert Woods welcomed the chance to showcase his talent.
During a “Monday Night Football” game at Seattle last season, Woods caught a career-best 10 passes for the Buffalo Bills in a loss to the Seahawks.
Woods was targeted 13 times, which he considered proof that he could be a No. 1 NFL receiver if given enough opportunity.
Sean McVay felt the same, especially after the Rams’ newly hired coach sat down to evaluate free agents last January and watched Woods’ performance against the Seahawks.
“Robert is a complete receiver, he does everything well, and I think that game is probably the best demonstration in terms of the opportunities he got,” McVay said Wednesday. “That game was a big part of kind of projecting.”
The Rams signed Woods to a five-year, $34-million contract, with $15 million guaranteed.
The former Gardena Serra High and USC star made that look like a solid investment: He caught 47 passes for 703 yards and four touchdowns before suffering a shoulder injury in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings.
“He’s been able to show why he’s a No. 1-type receiver,” McVay said.
Now, after sitting out three games, Woods is set to return to the lineup. He will do so Sunday at Seattle, where the Rams (9-4) will try to even the season series and extend their lead over the Seahawks (8-5) in the NFC West.
After being sidelined for the longest stretch of his five-year pro career, Woods can hardly wait to get back on the field.
“It’s more stressful than playing,” he said of observing from the sideline, “because it’s out of your control. You’re just sitting there watching.”
Woods was quarterback Jared Goff’s top target before a Minnesota player landed on top of the receiver while making a tackle.
Woods was averaging seven targets per game, including 10 and 11, respectively, in the two games before he was injured.
Goff is eager for Woods’ return.
“He does so much stuff that you can’t really see,” Goff said. “Just his feel for the game. … It will be nice to have him back, for sure.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is more than slightly familiar with Woods.
Carroll, USC’s coach from 2001 to 2009, recruited Woods. He left to coach the Seahawks before Woods arrived for his freshman season.
“He was a great kid, he was a great competitor, takes everything seriously and maximizes everything that he’s got — and was always that way as a young kid and as a college player and as a pro,” Carroll said. “He’s been a great pro and he’s exactly the kind of guy you like coaching.”
McVay has said much the same since Woods signed with the Rams.
In a receiving corps that features Sammy Watkins and rookie Cooper Kupp, Woods emerged as Goff’s favorite option during the first half of the season.
But he did not find the end zone until Week 9 victory over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
Woods took a screen pass on a third-and-33 play and turned it into a 52-yard touchdown. He also scored on a four-yard catch.
The next week, he broke free for a 94-yard touchdown pass play, and also scored on a 12-yard catch in a victory over the Houston Texans at the Coliseum.
Woods had eight catches before he was injured in the defeat at Minnesota.
McVay initially said that Woods might be sidelined for a couple of weeks, but Woods sat out Rams victories over the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, and last week’s loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.
His absence enabled Kupp and Watkins to assume larger roles — Kupp has a team-best 56 catches for 783 yards; Watkins seven touchdowns — and allowed rookie Josh Reynolds to work into the rotation.
“What it offered was an opportunity for a variety of guys to kind of step up as opposed to just really one person filling that void,” McVay said. “We have a lot of confidence in our receiving group, but getting Robert back gives us a boost and we’re a better team when Robert is on the field.”
Woods intends to pick up where he left off. He said his shoulder was sound and that he was ready to help the Rams as they pursue their first postseason appearance since 2004.
“I’m finally back,” he said, “and trying to finish it off with the team.”