Baltimore backfield a fantasy muddle with Woodhead addition

The Ravens agreed to terms with the veteran running back Wednesday. Tyler Loechner investigates what that means for all the team's backs.

| 3 months ago
(Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

(Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

Baltimore backfield a fantasy muddle with Woodhead addition

(Update: Kenneth Dixon has been suspended for the first four games of the 2017 NFL season. As a result of this suspension, Woodhead’s fantasy stock gets a boost — even if Terrance West does re-up with the Ravens. Dixon was setting up to be Baltimore’s early-down back this year, but now that he’s slated to miss a quarter of the season, it opens up the door for Woodhead to see more snaps –f and carries — to start the year. It’s not a tremendous boon to Woodhead’s season-long outlook, as Dixon will likely step back into his presumed role one the suspension ends, but it does make Woodhead a viable fantasy starter in PPR leagues — and even a flex option in standard leagues — to open the new year.)

The Baltimore Ravens have signed running back Danny Woodhead, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Woodhead, formerly with the San Diego Chargers, tore his ACL in 2016 but is expected to be fully recovered in time for the 2017 season.

The 2016 ACL injury wasn’t Woodhead’s only lower-body injury in recent years. Woodhead also broke his leg in 2014 after playing only three games. However, in 2015, with a full 16-game slate, Woodhead was a fantasy powerhouse. He finished the year as the No. 3 overall fantasy running back in PPR leagues while serving as the Chargers’ pass-catching specialist.

At 32 years old, and returning from two major leg injuries in the past three years, we can’t expect Woodhead to be anything more than a third-down back in Baltimore. But he has proven over the years how capable he in in that role. Additionally, a third-down role in Baltimore’s offense could be fruitful.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back to pass 204 times on third down last year — the fourth-most third-down dropbacks in the league. Overall, Joe Flacco attempted 672 passes last year, second-most among all quarterbacks (Drew Brees had 673). Flacco’s low average depth of target of just 7.8 yards was 32nd-highest out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks, a stat that certainly bodes well for a player like Woodhead.

Additionally, Steve Smith has retired, leaving 102 targets on the table in Baltimore. The Ravens are expected to find a wide receiver to fill Smith’s void, but it’s safe to say we can now pencil in Woodhead for a handful of those targets.

The Ravens backfield trio of Terrance West (40 targets), Kenneth Dixon (40) and Kyle Juszczyk (42) saw a combined 122 targets last year, so Flacco certainly isn’t afraid to throw to his running backs. Who exactly Woodhead steals from — and how much he steals — is harder to figure out.

Juszcyzk has joined the 49ers, so we can rule him out of the equation. And the Ravens have placed a third-round tender on West, so it’s conceivable West could find himself on another team in 2017. If that’s the case, Woodhead’s path to targets is significantly clearer. If West remains in the mix, Woodhead will find himself in a full-on backfield-by-committee.

Dixon will be entering his second year, and he flashed three-down potential late in the season last year, though the Ravens never really gave him a full green light. It appears they are content with keeping it that way.

Deciphering the fantasy impact of this move is exceedingly difficult. By signing Woodhead, the Ravens have all but guaranteed we’re set up for another backfield-by-committee in 2017 — and backfield-by-committees are rarely fun from a fantasy standpoint.

The Woodhead signing puts a massive damper on what was looking like a potential breakout campaign for Dixon, while West will likely lose a hefty chunk of the receiving work he saw in 2016, assuming he stay in Baltimore,

Woodhead’s own fantasy value is largely tied to where West ends up. If West stays in Baltimore, it’s hard to see Woodhead doing much of anything via the ground. He’d still likely have fringe flex appeal based on his receiving ability alone in this scenario, but his path to playing time in general would be muddier.

If West leaves Baltimore, however, Woodhead would be a safe flex option in PPR formats with the potential to put up RB2 numbers, assuming his legs are healthy enough for him to play his usual allotment of snaps, and assuming the Ravens utilize Woodhead as their primary pass-catching back. In this scenario, Woodhead could even carry some appeal in standard formats because he’d also likely see 4-6 rushing attempts per game.

Tyler Loechner is a lead writer at PFF Fantasy. He has played fantasy football since 1999 and has been a part of the PFF Fantasy staff since 2010. Tyler was also previously a fantasy football featured columnist at Bleacher Report.

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