Fantasy Reaction: Danny Woodhead Signs With San Diego
Danny Woodhead has bolted to San Diego to sign a two-year contract with the Chargers. He has been one of the more underrated third-down backs in the NFL and will add an element to the Chargers’ attack that they have not had since the departure of Darren Sproles. Whether or not he can similarly assist his fantasy owners is another question entirely, as is what the effect of his departure from the New England backfield will be.
Woodhead is now set to play in an offense that will be heavily influenced by new head coach Mike McCoy. McCoy had been the offensive coordinator for the Broncos since 2009, and while there he displayed a strong ability to adapt to whatever talent he had to work with. He was able to coax the best out of Kyle Orton for two seasons, which is no small feat. He then adeptly switched gears to maximize the talents of Tim Tebow, before heading up a wildly productive offense led by a quarterback who can actually throw the ball, Peyton Manning.
Over the past four seasons, McCoy’s offenses targeted running backs in the mid-to-high teens, on a percentage basis – with the high being 18.4 percent (under Tebow) and a low of 14.4 percent coming last season. In 2012, the Patriots threw to their backs 13 percent of the time. But since they ran so many plays, it wound up being about the same in total running back targets as McCoy’s previous offenses – so similar opportunities in San Diego will likely be a wash.
The problem for Woodhead’s fantasy value is that he will compete for those targets with the recently re-signed Ronnie Brown, who caught 48 passes for the Chargers just last season. With the two of them in the fold, starter Ryan Mathews will rarely see the field on third downs and takes yet another hit to his fantasy value. Last year, 30 percent of all Chargers’ targets went to their backs, which was partly a function of their porous offensive line. Expect an equally elevated total since quarterback Philip Rivers once again figures to be running for his life, as San Diego has not yet appreciably improved their pass protection.
Although Woodhead will play a more prominent role in the San Diego offense, mainly due to the fact that they have less talented mouths to feed than his former team, it is not reasonable to expect that he will repeat his impressive ranking as the 25th highest scoring fantasy running back (24th in PPR leagues). Duplicating his 424 snaps, the 28th most in the league at his position, will be a challenge. Relying on him to be anything more than a strong bench option in either type of league will be a risky proposition – even with a shallow pool of fantasy running backs available.
The truly exciting development that stems from Woodhead being moved is that the Patriots will be relying more heavily upon the explosive Shane Vereen on passing downs. We touched on him last week as an off-the-radar target in dynasty leagues, and the projected increase in opportunities may just send him soaring up draft boards. It will most certainly elevate his ADP from the low 40s in redraft, and high 60s in dynasty leagues.
Vereen averaged 4.0 yards per carry last season in limited attempts, which was the same as Woodhead. Vereen’s 18.6 yards per reception will obviously regress a bit with more catches, but it should settle somewhere above Woodhead’s 11.4 mark. It is extremely exciting to imagine what he will be able to do with Woodhead’s 55 targets (40 receptions). The departure of target monster Wes Welker will undoubtedly leave some runoff for a pass-catching back like Vereen as well.
We just might have a true 2013 fantasy difference maker on our hands if Vereen can demonstrate to Bill Belichick that he can protect quarterback Tom Brady adequately on passing downs (and we graded his blocking relatively well in that department last season, albeit on a small sample of snaps). One gets the feeling that the more the Patriots see of Vereen, the more the rest of us will see of him on the field as well.
Consider it Danny Woodhead’s final contribution to the Patriots.