Danny Woodhead spent four seasons in San Diego, and he occupied a place on the trainer’s table nearly as much as he spent on the field. In this release, we’ll go off the beaten path and take a creative way of assessing his possible involvement, and ultimately his fantasy value, in Baltimore.
It isn’t a reach to presume Woodhead will be reserved for clear passing downs, so we’ll focus there and largely ignore the noise around him with Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon (suspended first four games), Lorenzo Taliaferro and Javorius Allen in competition for more conventional roles on the ground.
The 32-year-old scatback played in only two games last season and three in 2014. Sandwiched in between was a career-best fantasy season for the diminuative runner. In 2015, he snared 80 balls for 755 yards and six touchdowns, adding three more on the ground. Prior to then, a 2013 line of 76-605-6 through the air was his best effort.
In 2016, under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Baltimore running backs were targeted 170 combined times, or a quarter of the throws. From 2013 to 2014, Mornhinweg’s Jets running backs were targeted an average of 17 percent of the time. Mornhinweg as Philly’s playcaller from 2006-12 brings that average more in line with last year’s figure; 21.4% of all throws during that time went to Eagles running backs.
Joe Flacco threw way more than Baltimore wanted him to last year. Comparatively, his 672 attempts dwarfed team stats from Philadelphia under Mornhinweg. Only two times the Eagles attempted more than 600 passes in a year under him, topping out at 618 in 2012. The Jets threw a mere 962 times over two whole seasons under Mornhinweg!
Making the Mornhinweg aggregate numbers congruent with Flacco’s career average of 541 attempts in healthy seasons, we’re looking at an expectation of roughly 106 total team running back targets this year. Of course, this is a crude way of doing the math, but you get the idea of the baseline. The expectation of more or less passing, in combination of Woodhead remaining healthy and having the role we expect, is the cruciate part of the examination.
Let us also imprecisely assume Woodhead’s career averages for targets per game as another baseline. In that world, he’d average 3.8 looks per contest, or 61 targets over 16 games. Assuming this to be his floor in a healthy year, his career reception percentage of 75.8 brings us to just 46 receptions. Given his age, the sheer number of running backs currently on roster, and a recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Woodhead is likely in for a modest fantasy season. (For the record, the knee is supposed to 100 percent as of late May.)
Why stop there with all of this statistical supposition, right? Over Woodhead’s career, he scored a receiving touchdown every 15.7 grabs, which translates to just shy of four this year if we round up to be nice.
Mixing in a little understanding of the personnel and what lies ahead, factor a fair 10 percent increase to make up for the lack of trustworthy weapons in Baltimore. One could argue there is a lack of a No. 2 and maybe half of a WR1 at this point. The third spot is anyone’s guess. Those looks essentially belong to tight ends and, in theory, the running backs.
Mike Wallace had 117 targets to lead the receivers, followed by Steve Smith’s 102 in 14 games. Since the leading receiver of all 32 teams last year averaged 128 targets, Baltimore falls below this mark. As for tight ends, Baltimore’s leader was targeted 121 times last season (third most in football) on a scale that averaged 77 per team leader at the position. Those numbers are also imperfect, as they don’t take into account injuries, among other factors.
Back to being kind, so since Dennis Pitta was 158 percent more involved than the average tight end, shaving a modest 20 percent off that and giving it to Woodhead, in addition to the 10 percent, is defensible. Just like at running back, the Ravens have a ton of tight ends but only a couple who are useful.
Adding all of this up comes to what we’ll deem the maximum ceiling for Woodhead of being 111 targets, which would exceed all expectations, including his own. Split the difference and we’re at a much more digestible 86 targets.
Low: 46 receptions, 393 yards, 3 TDs
Mid: 65 receptions, 555 yards, 4 TDs
High: 83 receptions, 716 yards, 5 TDs
Safely, a prediction of 65 catches, 555 yards and four scores well within reason. He’s a PPR specialist, meaning we’ll factor the scoring as 145 points, which would have registered as the 32nd back last year, or an RB3, which is squarely Woodhead’s expected fantasy value on draft day.