Even though San Diego's recent acquisition of Danny Woodhead did not produce a high degree of conversation, it did secure his spot among the 2013 fantasy football sleepers. Woodhead signed a two-year deal with the Chargers on March 15, and at a minimum, should assume a role that is comparable to the manner in which New England employed him from 2010-2012. However, his versatility is urgently needed by a Charger offense that exhibited numerous limitations in 2012. Which will provide him with an opportunity to generate the best numbers of his career.
Woodhead’s Production As A Patriot
During those last three years as a Patriot, he averaged 394 yards in rushing, and 301 yards as a receiver, while generating 14 TDs. A career best seven of those scoring plays occurred last season, when Woodhead once again demonstrated his importance to New England's attack. He was second on the team in carries (76), and rushing yards (301). Plus, he finished fifth on the team with 40 receptions, which also established a career high.
Of course, he was a component on a unit that led the NFL in total offense. Not only was he blended into a backfield mix that included Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, but he was part of a passing attack that ranked fourth overall, accumulated 4,662 yards, and was reliant upon Tom Brady to launch over 400 throws to a multitude of capable weapons. But the San Diego offense that Woodhead is joining, will encounter great difficulty manufacturing anything remotely resembling that level of success.
What To Expect From The Charger Offense
Woodhead now enters a situation in which new GM Tom Telesko, and first time HC Mike McCoy are attempting to revive a Charger offense that ranked an anemic 31st in 2012. The team was just 24th in passing, as Philip Rivers generated his lowest yardage total since 2007. Worse, San Diego was only 27th in rushing, while only managing four TDs on the ground. A number that Woodhead matched while adhering to his role in New England last season. While a revitalization of San Diego’s attack could eventually occur, you will not be witnessing an explosive Charger offense in 2013.
The roster simply does not contain nearly the arsenal of ground gaining playmakers that the franchise possessed in recent seasons. And while they might manage to enhance their productivity somewhat from last season’s output that was the NFL’s second lowest, they will not resemble the units that ranked within the top 11 in total offense from 2008 - 2011, and led the league in that category as recently as 2010.
Both the team's best receiver (Danario Alexander), and Woodhead's primary competition at RB (Ryan Mathews) have encountered multiple injuries during their collective careers, which has prohibited each player from remaining on the field. In Mathews' case, the perpetually disappointing former first round selection will remain in the backfield mix. But, his disheartening history in three seasons with the Chargers has habitually frustrated fantasy owners, and provided both Telesko and McCoy with enough evidence to search for a more dependable option at RB.
Now that they have secured Woodhead, the former Patriot’s extensive involvement will negatively impact Mathews’ value. It appears that the best case scenario for the incumbent back, is that he will remain a factor in the team’s offensive approach on first and second downs. But for that to occur, Mathews must avoid maladies that have already sidelined him for 10 contests during his tenure with the Chargers, and reduce the substandard performances that have limited him to an average of 825 yards and two TDs in his first three seasons. Conversely, not only does Woodhead have an excellent chance to seize the role of third down back, but could easily assume more significant responsibilities, given Mathews’ history.
Even though the team also resigned Ronnie Brown, he will remain somewhat in the backfield mix, after signing a one-year deal by the team. While he did collect 49 receptions and 371 yards as a receiver in 2012, Woodhead should function in the manner that Brown fulfilled last year. And the former Patriot would not have been signed, if Telesko and McCoy projected Brown into a sizable role this season.
What To Expect From Woodhead
This is not to suggest that Woodhead will emerge as the Chargers' every down back. However, considering the history of injuries and substandard production that has haunted Mathews throughout much of his first three seasons, and the fact that Woodhead will not be presented with major competition from any other Charger RBs, there is a possibility that he will collect far more touches than at previous point in his career. Another factor in his favor, is Woodhead’s proven track record of success in the no huddle offense. McCoy will likely utilize this strategy more than his predecessor Norv Turner, and that should only increase the likelihood that Woodhead will garner a sizable role in the Charger attack. The belief here is that he will garner around 150 carries as a rusher, and be targeted at least 50 times. That should enable him to exceed his career bests in rushing and receiving, with his final numbers equating to 600+ yards as a runner, and 500+ as a target for Rivers. If the Chargers enhance their offensive line as expected before the regular season commences, then Woodhead can exceed those projections.