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The Gut Check No.269 - Insanity Series: RB Danny Woodhead

Regardless of the outcome, these players are in fantasy ADP situations too crazy to take lightly. 

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is a favorite novel among the Footballguys staff. Well, at least among me, Bob Henry, and Sigmund Bloom. My favorite character in the story is Chief Bromden.  

Chief is lost. Like most lost people, his self-perception is out of whack. He is a "six-foot-eight sweeping machine, scared of his own shadow." Chief has all it takes to walk tall, but he acts small. He bought into all the reasons to allow life to beat him down and keep him there. 

In a draft with at least 12 teams, 20 rounds, and 240 picks, it's easy for some players to get lost in the shuffle. This is especially the case with the smaller players. But fantasy owners have a funny dynamic with the way they regard the 'little guy'. 

If a diminutive player has a good year, it's often considered a fluke. We'll admit he's a talent, but many of us will couch our comments with underlying skepticism about his future. 

On the other hand, if there's a template for success with one small player then it seems the only safe way for people to envision production from another is if fans can squeeze that new guy into the same template.  There are four players I'll feature in the Insanity Series that fans have high or low expectations based on one of these reasons:

  1. Shane Vereen
  2. Lance Moore
  3. Danny Amendola
  4. Danny Woodhead

The reason these four will test your sanity is that fans have an all or nothing, Wes Welker/Darren Sproles view of these players. They either have to be the 'next' or they aren't really good enough to merit a pick .

If they are perceived as the next big thing in a little package then the expectations are based on the template rather than the reality. Otherwise, fantasy owners will opt for the bigger guys due to the perception of greater potential and these players become as invisible as Chief Bromden on draft day.

Unless you've got a bit of Randall McMurphy in you. The real question is should you channel your inner prison work-farm inmate and question the ADP machinery or keep taking the pills in the paper cup that Nurse Ratched is dispensing?

Let's borrow Sigmund Bloom's couch and perform some analysis on Chargers running back Danny Woodhead. As RB48, he's in a tier where you're either going to love him or hate him. 

And it's a deep divide with a laundry list of reasons. Last year's 26th fantasy running back earned his fantasy value with just 116 touches. In contrast, Darren McFadden was the 28th-ranked back and he touched the ball 258 times in fewer games. 

Woodhead's career-best workload was 131 touches in 2010 and he was the 28th fantasy runner. For a bit more perspective, Joique Bell was the 24th-ranked fantasy back last year with 134 touches. I'm a Bell fan, but no one is expecting the Wayne State product to repeat this production in 2013 without at least one Lions runner getting hurt or beating Mikel Leshoure for the complementary role outright. 

The fact that Woodhead is undrafted, short, and white, and he's as far from the typical running back choice of fantasy owners after 1990 as George Clinton would be the choice of a Paula Deen wedding band (Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay . . . ).

On the other hand, Woodhead has fans from Chargers beat writers to high stakes fantasy champions like two-time WCOFF Overall Winner Mike Moyer. Nice endorsements, but Woodhead's ADP tier, new team, and historical lack of workload makes him a difficult sell. 

His immediate "tiermates" are the likes of Ronnie Hillman, Zac Stacy, Ryan Williams, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Shonn Greene. Of this five, only Hillman and Rodgers are the questionable options as long-term lead backs if they earn additional time. However no one questions their ability to fill in as a lead back in a committee.

The same can't be said of Woodhead. The upper portion of this tier also has more every-down appeal: Ben Tate, Bryce Brown, Bernard Pierce, Deangelo Williams, Isaiah Pead, and Johnathan Franklin.

Moreover, the upside of Michael Floyd, Jay Cutler, and Vincent Brown all seem more appealing at this point of a draft. Thrown in the fact that as much as the fantasy community is rightfully down on Ryan Mathews, the Chargers runner still has the talent to become a top-12 roto-runner and has admitted to the media that he has been average.

It all leads to one central question: Do you want a player capable of carrying the entire load? Or, do you take a runner with the skill to produce in your starting lineup wire-to-wire, but with limited upside?

This is a question that will drive you insane on draft day if you haven't done enough drafts (or mocks) to understand the makeup of your team after the first 8-12 rounds. It's one you'll need to answer before you pick Woodhead.

Here's a checklist that should help you figure out if Woodhead - or any player - is the right investment for you. 

  • What is your league scoring system?
  • What are your roster requirements?
  • What is your draft strategy/How is your draft unfolding?
  • What type of scorers do you have on your roster?

Common sense, yes, but if you've ever found yourself hiking through the woods around sunset and only whip out the flashlight well after it's dark then you realize we all sometimes forget that we have the tools we need to struggle a little less with the challenges around us. 

What is your league scoring system? 

If you're in a non-PPR league, Woodhead has limited upside. Chargers coach Mike McCoy stated just prior to training camp that the team wants Ryan Mathews to be the man. Over analyze that statement all you like, but if Mathews plays to his talent then Woodhead is little more than a bye-week option for your roster. 

At this point, the potential payoff is better to acquire the likes of Hillman, Stacy, Rodgers, Williams, Thomas, or Greene, because of the workload they should receive if they become relevant starters for their respective teams.  In contrast, Woodhead is unlikely to see more than 100 carries in San Diego.

It's also important to look at Woodhead's past rushing production with a critical eye. While he has yard per average seasons of 5.6, 4.6, and 4.0 with the Patriots, the Chargers offensive line and skill personnel will not put opposing defenses in the same type of bind as the New England's vaunted 12 personnel from years past. 

The Chargers only have one excellent tight end and this means we'll probably see more three-receiver sets in San Diego. While 11 personnel can still set up a mean draw play or screen, the quality of blocking minus that second tight end will make a difference. I'm counting on a yards per carry average on the lower end of his career resume.

It also means Woodhead should receive a little more attention from a safety capable of handling him rather than sticking a linebacker or poor-tackling nickel back over top when the Chargers split the runner from the formation as a slot receiver. Despite the fact that Mike McCoy has a pass-friendly offense, I think if Woodhead earns 70-80 receptions it means the Chargers offense is failing in its primary objectives and there are way too many long situations on second and third down. If you examine the individual parts of the offensive line then there's a likelihood it will go down just this way.

As much as I love the little guy, there is a point where a player is too small to succeed at a traditional role. It's why I think it's a mistake to believe he'll provide enough as a runner with this surrounding offensive talent to support non-ppr production as more than a low-end flex-option.

It's also important to realize that Woodhead also fails to meet the minimum speed limit to ride on the league's autobahn, so expecting a big-play component to factor into his production is also asking too much.

Darren Sproles has those skills and his career-high workload as a runner is 93 carries with the Chargers in 2009. LaMichael James has the jets to match Sproles and if Frank Gore gets hurt, count on heavy doses from the bigger back on the 49ers depth chart. But here's the thing, James is "small" like Tiki Barber, Brian Westbrook, and Ray Rice. Sproles and Woodhead are below the Warrick Dunn dimension sign to ride the lead back ride at the NFL theme park. 

Because Woodhead doesn't reach the requirements to ride this roller coaster at the NFL theme park, count on Le'Ron McClain, Ronnie Brown, and even someone from the bowels of the Chargers depth chart to earn enough carries to limit Woodhead's workload if Mathews bombs.

And it's Sproles who is the gold standard of undersized running back production. Despite the fact that Woodhead doesn't have the physical talents to match the Sproles template, he has the hands, vision, quickness, and nose for the red zone to easily reach 50 receptions in this Chargers offense and earn a combined 6-8 touchdowns - especially if Vincent Brown and Danario Alexander can set the tone early this year that they are dangerous in the redzone and provide opponents three options (with Gates) that makes Woodhead's life easier on deception plays like draws, circle, flat, and jerk routes. 

The touchdown and reception components to Woodhead's game and this Chargers system will make him an important player in San Diego's framework, a steady flex in PPR, and a hit-or-miss option in non-PPR. 

What Are Your Roster Requirements?

In a 2-RB league with no flex-play, Woodhead is only a viable option as depth in a PPR league. In non-PPR, I wouldn't touch him because his workload simply won't give him a high enough floor and compared to the ceiling of the runners leaving the board around him. 

Footballguys tracks ADP from a variety of sources and Woodhead's consensus ADP is 129 with a low range of 172 and a high range of 102. His mid-point range is 118-157 - the end of the 9th round to the top of the 13th round. 

In 2-RB leagues where there is a third-RB option with a flex, Woodhead becomes a viable option if you're looking at the bottom half of his ADP range (rounds 11-12) and if the format allows for four runners, Woodhead is now a priority in the early range (8-10), because the value of runners is weighted less on potential and more towards on-field opportunities. 

What Is Your Draft Strategy/How Is Your Draft Unfolding?

Even in a 2-RB format without a flex, there are scenarios where a back like Woodhead becomes a viable option. It all depends on the way you approach a draft to react to the way the draft unfolds. 

A good example is if you opt for a WR-heavy/RB-light, Upside Down strategy as your opening move. Taking this route means you're going to begin your selection of backs in the 5th round. Even so, there's a good chance you'll take a wide receiver between the 5th-7th round. If that's the case, you're probably looking at these mid-round runners: 

There's RB1 potential among this group, but you're probably getting a shot at one of these backs. during that three-round period. The rest are going to be from a crew of talented backs with far more volatile situations. The majority of the 14 runners below are either in pass-heavy offenses and/or offenses with at least two viable running mates in a committee:

Of the 14 backs listed, 8 are in pass-heavy offenses and 11 are competing with at least two other runners. Only Tate, Brown, Jackson, and Pierce have a clear path to feature back carries and they have to wait for an injury or sub-par play. If you only get one back from the first list and the majority of the second list is this volatile, having a back with a high floor like Woodhead becomes a viable option to you can divert the disaster of having a hole at RB2 or RB3 in your PPR lineups. 

Another scenario that is not discussed but more common than fantasy writers let on is the draft-day disaster. Not everyone has a good draft. In hindsight, only a handful do in every league. 

But embedded in the psyche of every fantasy owner is the idea that you win your draft, you win your league. It makes sense on the same level that if you begin your adulthood with a $200,000 trust fund that you're better off than the average young adult. However, you could blow it all and hit rock bottom by age 30. 

As in life, it's not where you start in fantasy football, but how you finish. Team management is the most important determining factor in leagues where there is trading, free agency, and start-sit decisions. 

So what do you do if you go strong to the hole with RBs and go one round too many and by round eight, you realize that you're consistently behind the curve on taking the players of value to your team? Do you continue to settle for leftovers and potentially build a team strong at RB and weak at WR, but there's not enough RB depth to trade for a help at WR? 

Why not adjust and go back to the well to build as much depth at running back as possible and trade for those receivers during the year? You'll cut into the free agent pool, make a strength stronger, and have a bargaining chip for the positions you need. This is where a back like Woodhead would come into play, because his low floor makes him a solid flex or even worst-case PPR RB2 if you can parlay bigger names into starters at other positions.

What Type of Scorers Do You Have On Your Roster?

Did you draft a roster with weekly boom-bust plays at wide receiver (think recent production from DeSean Jackson, Torry Smith, or Mike Wallace)? Did you draft backs with injury histories like Darren McFadden, Demarco Murray, and Ryan Williams?  A flex RB like Woodhead can help fill in the gaps these scenarios present. 

While I have yet to see a really good statistical method for projecting consistency, there's nothing wrong with the attempt to build a roster with players capable of offering this frequency of production. Woodhead, the Chargers' recent offensive woes, and a PPR format are all factors that could lend to a consistent fantasy year. 

Woodhead is not one of my favorite options in the second half of a fantasy draft, but the exercise of accounting for when, where, and how he's a viable option provides additional knowledge that can be helpful prevention of bouts of insanity on draft day.