The Texans signed Woods in March to a two-year, $15.25 million deal hoping he can return to the player he was with the Los Angeles Rams before suffering a season-ending knee injury two seasons ago. Even after posting a career-low 522 receiving yards and two touchdowns with the Tennessee Titans last season, Woods believes he's "most definitely" a 1,000-yard receiver still -- as long as he gets his opportunities.
"I had my fewest yards and might have just as well had my second-fewest attempts. I'm able to make the plays and do more with more," Woods told ESPN. "And I think that was the thing when I got to L.A., I saw my catches go from 50 a year to 90, to 100. And obviously, I doubled my yards and doubled the stats.
"It's just about getting the opportunity to make plays and help contribute to the team. That's what I'm hoping to do here in Houston, have opportunities to make big plays and be myself and do what I'm capable of doing."
If Woods can capitalize on his opportunities, he can become a safety net for rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud, who was taken No. 2 overall in April's draft, and provide veteran leadership for a young receiver group that has Nico Collins, rookies Nathaniel Dell and Xavier Hutchinson, who are all under 25 years old. Houston will also get John Metchie III this season after the second-round pick was diagnosed with leukemia last July and missed his rookie year.
Despite a tumultuous turn of events since tearing the ACL in his left knee, Woods still relies on his mantra that he started in L.A. in 2017 called "best in the world."
"I wouldn't even call it dark or down days, but there were always days when you constantly talk to yourself to be self-motivated," Woods said. "This is a game where it's all about confidence and believing in yourself. And having that energy when you're able to step out on the field knowing that you're capable, and have the belief that you're a dominant player, so really, it was more so talking to myself and knowing who I am and never let that get fazed."
The best-in-the-world approach rubbed off on teammates.
"It was a mindset that together we couldn’t be stopped as long as we know who we are and the work that was put in," Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who was teammates with Woods from 2018 to 2019, told ESPN. "It held us all accountable to bring that standard day in and day out regardless of what was going on.”
Before signing a five-year deal worth $39 million with the Rams in 2017, Woods was drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills in 2013 -- where he had 2,451 yards and 12 touchdowns in four seasons.
From 2017 to 2020 in L.A., Woods was ninth in receiving yards (4,070), eighth in receptions (322) and second in yards after the catch (1,777) among receivers.
Woods, 30, thinks he can recapture that form and has "a lot more in the tank."
However, Woods remembers every detail of his injury. He received a jet sweep left at full speed from quarterback Matthew Stafford against the scout team defense in practice. Once he crossed the line of scrimmage and saw a secondary defender, he juked awkwardly off his left leg and crashed to the ground.
Woods sprung back up and jogged around as the immediate pain subsided, believing he only hyperextended it.
"I thought I was being dramatic," Woods said. "A couple of minutes after, all the pain went away, and I was fine."
But by 5 p.m., an MRI had unearthed his season-ending surgery.
The injury came while Woods was on pace for another 1,000-yard season after recording 556 yards in only nine games. It would've been his third such time doing so in four seasons.
The Rams would go on to win the Super Bowl, and by March, the two sides had agreed to trade Woods to a team he desired. But instead of taking reps to build chemistry with his new quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, and the rest of the offense, Woods spent most of the offseason rehabbing.
But when Week 1 kicked off against the New York Giants, Woods "felt good right away."
However, the Titans started three quarterbacks over the course of the season as Tannehill missed five games because of injury. Rookie Malik Willis replaced Tannehill for three starts but didn't throw for over 100 yards in any of those games, and Joshua Dobbs took over for the final two weeks.
The Titans ranked 30th in passing attempts per game (26.8), and Woods finished with 88 targets (47th). His targets per route run were 20.1% (49th) compared to 25th from 2017 to 2020.
The Texans' new offensive coordinator, Bobby Slowik, runs a similar offense to Rams coach Sean McVay, however, which should give Woods some familiarity to his past successes.
"Robert has played in this offensive system before," coach DeMeco Ryans said. "He knows it, knows it just as good as some of our coaches know it. So Robert is a guy that young players should try to lean on. Young players should try to pick his brain and just learn as much as they can."