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How Old is Too Old for Danny Woodhead?

Did you know that Danny Woodhead is 16 months older than Marshawn Lynch? He’s older than Maurice Jones-Drew. He’s older than Laurence Maroney.

The formerly undrafted, finally appreciated Chadron State alum turned 31 last month, and will play the 2016 season closer to his 32nd birthday than his 31st. In running back terms, he’s ancient.

Yet, according to early results from the MFL10 Best Ball ADP App, Woodhead is being drafted as RB27 near the end of the sixth round. Last season, the PPR RB27 scored 155.9 points. In 2014, it was 145 points. The average RB27 from 2009 to 2013 was about 153 points.

We’re looking at an expectation of just over 150 PPR points. Can Woodhead fight off age and return value at that price?

Production

In 2015, Woodhead set career highs in catches (80), yards from scrimmage (1,091), and TDs (9). At first glance, a 30-year-old back who just set career highs in every fantasy-scoring statistic is scary.

But in his only other full season in San Diego, 2013, Woodhead posted 76 catches, 1,034 yards from scrimmage, and eight TDs. So there’s a positive spin here. His passing game and red zone roles are very secure. I’m not sure we should be projecting severe regression in terms of per-game averages.

And, more to the point, he finished as the PPR RB3 last season and now only has to clear RB27 value.

Age is Just a Number

Looking through a list of running backs 31 and over who produced at this level isn’t as grim an exercise as you might assume. Per Pro Football Reference, 34 such backs have surpassed 150 DraftKings points1 since 2000, or more than two per season.

But when we think of the type of back that can still get it done at an advanced age, Danny Woodhead probably isn’t it. We think bigger, between-the-tackles backs. John Riggins. Marcus Allen. Jerome Bettis. Guys who could afford to lose some speed and quickness thanks to decisiveness and physicality.

Danny Woodhead is (surprisingly) listed at 200 pounds. Filtering the aforementioned search to look at backs 205 pounds or lighter, we are left with just eight player-seasons since 2000.

PlayerYearAgeWeightDK Pts
Tiki Barber200631200324.7
Kevin Faulk200832202193.2
Warrick Dunn200631180192
Warrick Dunn200833180173.6
Charlie Garner200331190168.9
Darren Sproles201431181161.6
Warrick Dunn200732180159.8
Darren Sproles201532181158.1

As you can see, Warrick Dunn and Darren Sproles come up as repeat performers, so there are just five backs that have reached this plateau.

One could whittle this list down further by noting that both Dunn and Barber saw far more carries in those seasons than Woodhead has ever seen, but I think that’s an unfair step to take. In recent seasons, light, quick receiving backs have seen a rise in popularity in terms of their usage in NFL offenses, filling a role in the passing game that fullbacks used to occupy. That Woodhead’s statistical comps are limited speaks more to the fact that he and Sproles are essentially the first two of this mold (that saw enough usage to be clearly fantasy relevant) to actually reach this age marker.2

Additionally, there are other ways to filter this list than just weight. Being a shorter back, Woodhead has a BMI of 29.5, a number that compares favorably to some backs a little heavier than the 205 threshold I set above. Here is the first list culled by BMIs at or below 30.

PlayerYearAgeBMIDK Pts
Curtis Martin20043129.3346.2
Tiki Barber20063128.7324.7
Ricky Watters20003128.7311.5
Fred Jackson20133228.4237.7
Garrison Hearst20023130236.9
James Stewart20023129.6223.4
Corey Dillon20053129.7197.4
Warrick Dunn20063126.6192
Corey Dillon20063229.7188.9
Fred Jackson20143328.4188.6
Richie Anderson20033229.5178.9
Warrick Dunn20083326.6173.6
Charlie Garner20033127.3168.9
Darren Sproles20143129.2161.6
Warrick Dunn20073226.6159.8
Darren Sproles20153229.2158.1
Sammy Morris20083129.8153.3

This new list includes names like Curtis Martin, Corey Dillon, and Fred Jackson. Both Riggins and Allen had BMIs under 30, as well.

There are still only 12 unique names in this list of 17 player-seasons since 2000, but these comps suggest a little more positivity for Woodhead’s 2016 season.

Where Does That Leave Us?

Danny Woodhead is an older back than you might realize, but it’s hard to know if that’s as terrible a sign as we might assume. I came into this post believing, after years of undervaluation from the market, Woodhead was finally overvalued (based on his age).

But I didn’t realize just how good he was last year. I didn’t realize how similar his 2013 was, and how much larger a sample supports his 2015 production. And I didn’t realize my bias in believing productive older backs needed to be bigger in size didn’t consider: a) smaller backs have only recently seen such widespread utilization, so their priors are limited; and b) BMI might paint a more optimistic picture.

Everything I examined to support this notion that Woodhead is too old turned out to suggest it might not be so clear cut. His valuation appears too low and too high at the same time, which is to say that it’s probably fair. 

It’s not often you’ll read a fantasy football article that reflects ambivalence about a player’s value, but Woodhead is a unique case. Know what you’re getting into if you invest in him this season. He could return value in spades if healthy, but he’s trying to join a pretty short list of backs his size, at his age, that have returned the type of value his ADP implies. Whether you draft him in 2016 should come down to your tolerance for the associated age and injury risks.

  1. A slightly more favorable scoring system due to the three point bonus for 100 yard games.  (back)
  2. To that point, Woodhead’s comps in the Sim Scores App include two of his own seasons, four Sproles’ seasons, three Kevin Faulk seasons, and a couple fullbacks from a decade ago. A couple other comps either didn’t have nearly the receiving profile of Woodhead or, among a few that did, saw significantly more carries. The app adjusts for these factors — and it’s worth noting Woodhead’s median N+1 projection of 10.1 PPR points would put him above the point threshold we’re discussing here — but it supports the idea of there being few historical examples of his “type” of back.  (back)

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