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A Short Post on PPR Sleeper Candidate Danny Woodhead

Woodhead

I’ve targeted new Chargers running back Danny Woodhead in almost every PPR draft I’ve participated in this year.

There are a few reasons I will delve into below, but he is criminally undervalued at this point. It would probably surprise you that he finished in the top-25 last year in PPR leagues as a part-time player. Woodhead is also the perfect arbitrage pick for the contrarians who are bearish on Ryan Mathews’ resurgence.

Here is how Woodhead can crack the top-30 in San Diego with a similar role that he had in New England.

Background

We all know the back story on the fan-favorite Woodhead. The undrafted free agent from Chadron State first found a home with the Jets. The Patriots wisely signed him before Week 2 of the 2010 season – the same week New York was on the schedule. If RotoViz had existed in 2008, I know someone on the staff would have highlighted Woodhead during the pre draft process based on his forty yard dash (4.33) and short shuttle times.

Most of his success the last three years with the Patriots has gone unnoticed by fantasy owners for good reason – he’s only been a part-time player. He has yet to exceed 400 snaps in his career, but has a six (2010) and a seven (2012) touchdown season in those three years. The one concern looking back at his rushing totals was his 4.0 yards per carry in 2012 was almost a full yard below his career average (5.1).

Even in a down rushing season by his standards, the RotoViz Running Back App still offers plenty of hope for 2013 with Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush (the good version) as comparable players.

Danny Woodhead PPR
Low 4.3
Median 7.4
High 9.4

Running Back Usage

So at 28 years old, we know who Danny Woodhead is at this point in his career. The Patriots wisely let him walk in free agency and replaced him with a younger version of Woodhead in Shane Vereen. But just because the Patriots let him walk doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value.

I’ve pulled some data from Pro Football Focus to show Woodhead’s usage with New England last year.

2012 Season Rush Att by Down Targets by Down
Running Backs 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Stevan Ridley 63% 60% 47% 50% 20% 27% 0% 0%
Danny Woodhead 14% 15% 32% 0% 52% 65% 86% 100%
Brandon Bolden 12% 11% 13% 0% 8% 0% 0% 0%
Shane Vereen 12% 14% 9% 50% 20% 8% 14% 0%

The numbers show us exactly what the perception of him is; he’s a third down back. He was used sparingly in the run game on first and second down, but his attempts increased on third down as expected. It is quite clear he was the most relied upon running back in the passing game on all downs, especially third down. The shocking figure is that he accounted for 86 percent of all targets to running backs on third down.

As we glance at the depth chart for San Diego last year, we see almost a mirror image of Woodhead in Ronnie Brown – at least on third downs.

2012 Season Rush Att by Down Targets by Down
Running Backs 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Ronnie Brown 8% 12% 38% 0% 25% 33% 85% N/A
Curtis Brinkley 11% 10% 8% 0% 10% 7% 8% N/A
Le’Ron McClain 4% 3% 5% 0% 8% 6% 0% N/A
Ryan Mathews 53% 53% 11% 0% 44% 41% 8% N/A
Jackie Battle 24% 22% 38% 100% 13% 13% 0% N/A

Woodhead is already pegged to be the primary third down back per Kevin Acee of the Union Tribune:

The pass blocking data backs this up also. Surprisingly, Brown was one of the worst pass blocking running backs in the league last year with players with at least 25 percent participation on the total team snaps.

Rk Name Team Pass Snaps Pass Block Snaps Pass Block % QB Sk QB Ht QB Hu Total PBE
32  Danny Woodhead NE 318 43 13.5 0 2 1 3 94.8
UR  Ryan Mathews SD 201 28 13.9 1 1 1 3 91.1
62  Ronnie Brown SD 287 69 24 0 3 7 10 89.1

And finally, here is the running back usage data for the Broncos (Mike McCoy) and the Cardinals (Ken Whisenhunt). We don’t know what the San Diego offense is going to look like exactly, but it is likely it will be some sort of mash-up of both systems.

2012 Season Rush Att by Down Targets by Down
Running Backs 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Willis McGahee 39% 36% 40% 100% 57% 36% 19% 100%
Knowshon Moreno 32% 38% 14% 0% 29% 29% 38% 0%
Lance Ball 8% 8% 26% 0% 7% 11% 29% 0%
Ronnie Hillman 21% 18% 19% 0% 7% 25% 14% 0%
2012 Season Rush Att by Down Targets by Down
Running Backs 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Ryan Williams 20% 14% 25% 0% 0% 30% 10% 0%
Beanie Wells 30% 26% 13% 100% 7% 0% 0% 0%
LaRod Stephens-Howling 32% 40% 38% 0% 57% 44% 40% 0%
William Powell 18% 20% 25% 0% 36% 26% 50% 100%

The data is a bit skewed because of the injuries to Willis McGahee, Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells. There is a clear indication that both offensive-minded coaches will utilize specialists on third down, particularly in pass situations.

Game Situations

With a few simple assumptions, we can expand Woodhead’s role this year and it won’t seem too far-fetched.

First of all, the Chargers could be in contention for the top overall pick this year. The roster is undergoing a massive overhaul under new general manager Tom Telesco and this team could be playing from behind a lot. That will put Philip Rivers and the offense in the position of having to keep up on the scoreboard or dominating garbage time. Those passing game situations are going to favor Woodhead – especially if Mathews’ struggles continue on third down.

Woodhead could set a career high in snaps played as well if the team utilizes an up tempo approach.

Conclusion

Woodhead couldn’t have landed in a better situation to maximize his talent and take advantage of his knowledge and pass blocking skills. My conservative projection for him puts him on the higher end of his Similarity Score comparables:

CARS YDS TDS TGT recs recYDS recTDS PPR FP/G
104 456 3 58 45 360 1 152.9 9.6

So is Woodhead a good bet to crack the top-30 in PPR leagues again this year?

It’s a strong likelihood, and at a price tag of RB58 according to ADP, you are unlikely to find a better value on draft day. Draft him late with confidence.

 

Bryan Fontaine is the Dynasty Senior Editor for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bryan_Fontaine.

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