Can Danny Woodhead Return to Fantasy Football Success This Year?
Navigating the middle rounds of drafts looking for productive running backs is an unenviable task for fantasy drafters.
For drafters sailing these tricky waters and deciding to punt on early running backs, hitting on your mid-to late-round running backs almost becomes a necessity.
For those who choose to buck the trend of investing early in running backs, there are capable backs in the later rounds (i.e. Round 8 to Round 10) who are more than capable of providing fantasy owners some late gems.
Enter Danny Woodhead, the Chargers' spry running back who is currently an afterthought in drafts. Possessing several negative factors weighing down his ADP, Woodhead has become a very affordable commodity with a very good chance to far exceed his current ADP in 2015.
The Dawning of a New Age
Gordon is obviously the biggest hurdle standing between Woodhead and significant playing time, but let's first take a step back and evaluate what kind of offense we've come to expect from San Diego since head coach Mike McCoy was hired in 2013. In McCoy's first season as a head coach, he employed Ken Whisenhunt as his offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt -- coming off a 5-11 season in Arizona -- came to San Diego to resurrect a passing game that was struggling.
Quarterback Philip Rivers was coming off a horrid year -- throwing for 3,606 yards with a 64.1% completion percentage and a 26:15 touchdown to interception ratio. Whisenhunt implemented his short-to-intermediate passing offense, and Rivers rebounded with a spectacular season going for 4,478 passing yards, a career-best 69.5% completion percentage, and 32 touchdowns against 11 picks.
This short to intermediate area -- passes closer than 15 yards -- was Rivers' bread and butter as he completed 290 passes out of his 378 completions in this manner. A rather surprising statistic given that Rivers is thought of as a "vertical passer," Rivers actually had the seventh-lowest Average Depth of Target (aDOT) according to Pro Football Focus at 8.1 yards. Know who was Rivers' leading receiver in this area?
That's right: Danny Woodhead.
Woodhead joined the Chargers in 2013 and clicked immediately with Rivers, hauling in 76 catches along with scoring 8 touchdowns. He was also a major factor in the red zone, leading all running backs with 21 targets, showcasing his versatility of weapon all over the field.
How did Woodhead fare looking at numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which measures a player's production relative to expectation level?
|Year||Rushing Att.||Rushing Yards||Rushing TDs||Rush NEP||Rush NEP/P||Success Rate|
|2013||106||429||2||-4.35 (23rd)||-0.04 (24th)||48.11% (6th)|
Out of the 47 running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts, Woodhead ranked 23rd in Rushing NEP but had the sixth-highest success rate -- rushes that went for a positive NEP -- out of the subset. NEP is a cumulative statistic, so with Woodhead's rushing attempts barely over 100, he fell victim to the volume game ranking near the middle of the pack.
However, primarily avoiding base defenses when playing on third down, Woodhead saw less crowded boxes leading to quality successful rushes when he was given the opportunity. His 48.11% Success Rate was incredibly impressive and not too far off 2013's leader LeGarrette Blount's 53.90% for some context.
Even more impressive was Woodhead from a receiving standpoint.
|Year||Targets||Rec.||Rec. Yards||Rec. TDs||Rec NEP||Target NEP||Rec NEP per Target||Catch Rate||Total NEP|
|2013||87||76||605||6||49.43 (2nd)||33.74 (2nd)||0.57 (2nd)||87.36% (3rd)||45.07 (5th)|
A beast out of the backfield, Woodhead was not only a king of the volume game in receiving opportunities, but he was also tops in terms of efficiency. Putting up top-tier numbers across the board, Woodhead was a bona fide receiving stud in 2013 no matter how you slice it.
2014, however, was a different story.
We last saw Woodhead going down with an ankle injury after playing only two games before he was taken out on his first carry in Week 3 against the Bills. He finished 2014 with just 38 rushing yards on 14 attempts with 34 receiving yards on 5 receptions.
In 2014, the Chargers promoted quarterbacks coach Frank Reich to offensive coordinator. Reich continued Whisenhunt's success with Rivers. Reich -- a disciple of the Whisenhunt coaching tree dating back to their Arizona days -- learned from his predecessor rather quickly and helped Rivers make history in 2014 becoming the first quarterback to pass for five-straight games with a quarterback rating over 120.0.
While the running game did struggle, Reich wasn't left with much as both Woodhead and Ryan Mathews spent much of the season injured playing in less than a combined 10 games.
With incoming rookie Melvin Gordon ready to take the center stage and a healthy Woodhead set to return, what can we expect in 2015?
Is There a Chance for Deja Vu?
Quick pop quiz.
Know where Woodhead ranked among PPR running backs in 2012 in his last year in New England?
What about in 2013 when he first arrived in San Diego?
Woodhead's skillset translated immediately in Whisenhunt's offense as he finished third among all running backs with 86 targets despite playing only 44.2% of the team's offensive snaps.
Woodhead was a top-12 back, but do you know where Mathews finished on the same team? 17th. The Chargers had two top-20 fantasy running backs on their squad, and both were able to find success in their own manner.
Could we possibly see Woodhead return to his incredulous 2013 season form? It's possible. Mathews -- San Diego's previous first-round running back pick -- played in 14 games that year while seeing a career-high 285 rushing attempts.
It's certainly feasible to see Gordon in his first year be eased into the NFL and have fewer than the 285 carries that Mathews received in 2013. After all, there have only been four rookie running backs in the last 10 years to have surpassed 285 rushing attempts according to Pro-Football-Reference.com and only three backs in the entire NFL surpassed that total last year.
Gordon will obviously be a big factor in this offense, but let's not disregard what kind of impact Danny Woodhead could have in 2015.
After news broke of the four-game suspension of Antonio Gates, even more opportunity could be present. The Chargers may rely on Woodhead heavily in the beginning of the season. With an increase in opportunity in the short-passing game as an outlet receiver for Rivers, Woodhead could become a go-to guy again rather quickly.
Entering the final year of his contract, Woodhead will also be eager to prove that he's fully recovered from his injury and that he hasn't lost a step. After adding some beef to the offensive line in offensive tackles Joe Barksdale and Orlando Franklin, San Diego will be looking to find a more balanced offense than their 2014 season where they ranked in the bottom-10 in rushing attempts per game. Woodhead should once again be able to capitalize on his tremendous Success Rate with these offensive reinforcements.
From a fantasy perspective, Gordon will be the go-to guy for the Chargers if he's able to adapt quickly to the NFL pace of things. But being that go-to guy -- along with the fact the Chargers traded up to draft the college superstar -- carries some considerable draft equity. Gordon is currently being drafted as the 13th running back according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com in 12-team PPR formats.
Considering he's basically an afterthought going as the RB37, Woodhead can be a player who fantasy owners can target in later rounds and potentially get similar results to Gordon at a fraction of the price. Woodhead has proven he's more than capable of putting up successful fantasy numbers alongside another running back in the mix.
At his current ADP, Woodhead can cohesively work in tandem with Gordon, and after offseason reports of him looking back to full health, you're getting a quality fantasy asset at a considerably suppressed price.