Danny Woodhead Is a Perfect Fit for the Baltimore Ravens

Woodhead is healthy after his ACL tear in 2016. And that could mean a huge boost for the Ravens' offense.

Adding a running back with 25 total touches the season prior is rarely a slam dunk move, but the Baltimore Ravens managed to do just that to kick off their NFL free agency period.

Woodhead's 2016 campaign was cut short after he tore his ACL in Week 2, and he ended the season with 19 carries (for 119 yards, 6.11 per carry) and 6 receptions (for 35 yards).

He was hyper-efficient on those touches, which doesn't mean much on just 25 plays, but given his track record, Woodhead should prove to be a vital addition to the Ravens' offense.

Woodhead's Efficiency

To pinpoint Woodhead's performance, we'll turn to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which shows how many points a player adds to his offense.

A quick example to visualize NEP is to consider the difference between a five-yard carry. That's almost always a boost to a player's year-end yards per carry mark, but what if it comes on 3rd-and-15 and leads to a punt? Now, what if it was on 3rd-and-3 in the red zone? A team's scoring expectations after each play are vastly different, and NEP accounts for that over a full season.

Now, we don't have a full season from Woodhead in 2016, but he did add 3.49 Rushing NEP on his 19 carries, 0.18 per tote. The average running back carry in 2016 led to a Rushing NEP of -0.02. That's negative. As in, an average rush led to a decrease in expected scoring.

Woodhead also caught 6 of 8 targets for 2.78 Reception NEP (0.46 per catch and 0.35 per target). Those were both on par with the running back average of 0.45 and 0.34 Reception NEP per catch and target, respectively.

But we need to dig deeper into Woodhead's prior seasons to see what he can do over a larger sample.

In 2015, Woodhead ran the ball 97 times for -6.38 Rushing NEP, -0.07 per carry. That's not great by any stretch, but the Chargers ranked 31st in opponent-adjusted rushing efficiency, per our metrics, that season.

Despite the woeful run game, 40 of Woodhead's 97 carries led to a positive NEP gain (a 41.24% Success Rate, meaning 41.24% of his carries had a positive NEP impact). The average Rushing Success Rate in 2015 was 39.03%.

By contrast, Melvin Gordon tallied a Rushing NEP of -34.19 on 184 carries behind the same offensive line, -0.19 per carry. His Success Rate was just 36.96%, indicating Woodhead outperformed him on the ground fairly significantly.

In all, Woodhead, in the five seasons in which he had at least 20 carries, has produced above the NFL average in Success Rate and barely fell below the average Rushing NEP per carry just twice.

Year Team Carries Rush NEP/P NFL Avg Success Rate NFL Avg
2010 NE 97 0.25 -0.04 61.86% 41.03%
2011 NE 77 0.11 -0.02 54.55% 41.82%
2012 NE 75 0.09 -0.03 50.67% 42.32%
2013 SD 106 -0.04 -0.03 48.11% 41.36%
2015 SD 97 -0.07 -0.04 41.24% 39.03%

And the best part of all of this? His true strength is as a receiver, not as a runner.

Woodhead's 81 catches paced the position in 2015, and only three other backs secured at least 60 catches that season. His Reception NEP of 58.50 was the only score above 50.00, and only Theo Riddick (49.81) had a Reception NEP above 43.00 at the position.

Just six other running backs posted Reception NEP scores above 26.00. Again, Woodhead produced nearly 60 points above expectation on his catches, the sixth-best single-season Reception NEP by a running back since 2000.

Sure, the league-leading volume helps, but Woodhead still maintained elite efficiency with a Reception NEP per catch of 0.72, which outpaced the position average of 0.49, and his 0.55 Reception NEP per target also bested the average of 0.36 in 2015.

Baltimore's Needs

In 2016, the Ravens ranked 27th offensively in Adjusted NEP per play. They were 27th in passing efficiency and 20th in rushing efficiency.

Of their 711 drop backs, 20.0% were targets to running backs, the ninth-highest rate in the league. Part of that stemmed from the system that Marc Trestman had put into place, but Trestman was fired after five games.

From Week 6 on, however, the Ravens targeted running backs on a higher rate of drop backs (23.2%) than any team other than the New Orleans Saints on the full year.

It'll take a leap of faith that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg maintains the pass-happy approach entering a full year in the role, as his 2013 and 2014 Jets ranked 18th and 28th, respectively, in running back market share.

He was also the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2006 to 2012. They ranked second and fourth in running back target market share in 2006 and 2007, respectively, but they were outside the top 10 in each year after.

Two-Headed Monster?

We can't overlook the other backs on the Ravens' roster, but Woodhead should be a fantastic complement to what they already have.

Kenneth Dixon put forth a promising rookie campaign, turning 88 carries into 13.00 Rushing NEP (0.15 per carry) on an above-average Success Rate of 47.73%. Among 56 running backs with at least 75 carries, that rate ranked fifth.

Dixon did have 30 catches on 41 targets, but he turned that into just 4.12 Reception NEP. That 0.14 Reception NEP per catch ranked 33rd among 33 backs with at least 30 catches. His 73.17% Reception Success Rate ranked 27th.

Kyle Juszczyk's departure also opens up 49 targets and 37 catches in the offense from last year.

Dixon and Woodhead can bring rushing efficiency to the offense, something sorely needed, and Woodhead's receiving prowess is almost unmatched in recent seasons.

It's hard to find fault in the match, especially considering the news that Dixon will be suspended for the first four games of the season.