Danny Woodhead Had RB1 Upside at This Time Last Year - Does He Still?
Danny Woodhead finished as an RB1 in 2015 and had RB1 upside again last season. But after tearing his ACL and signing a three-year, $8.8 million deal1 with the Ravens, the now-32 Woodhead has an ADP of RB36 and RB38 in standard and PPR leagues, respectively, as well as an MFL10 ADP of RB37.
Does Woodhead still have RB1 upside in both formats? And how much is Woodhead’s age and injury history a cause for concern?
The PPR Upside Is There...
A PPR RB1 finish over the last three years required 205.4 PPR points, while the RB36 came in at 127.5 points. For standard leagues, those figures are 169.0 and 97.3 points, respectively.
One look at Ravens RB receiving stats from last year suggests a finish around RB36 should be relatively easy to obtain for Woodhead in PPR leagues.
|Ravens RB Totals||2016||16||156||118||725||6.1||4.65||2||1.3%|
Kyle Juszczyk is arguably the league’s best fullback, but it’s telling that he -- not halfbacks Terrance West or Kenneth Dixon -- led Ravens RBs in receiving last season. When the Ravens signed Woodhead, it’s obvious they wanted a reliable pass-catching back that would be more efficient than the departed Juszczyk and the West-Dixon tandem, the latter two of which also struggled in pass protection.
Despite Baltimore’s backs failure to produce in the passing game, the Ravens still targeted their RBs more than any team but the Saints last season. If we project Woodhead for an extremely conservative 50% of last year's Raven RB production, that would equal 59 catches, 363 yards, and 1 TD, which already adds up to 101 PPR points. All Woodhead would need for an RB3 finish would be another 260 rushing yards, or 16.25 per game over a full season. Throughout his career, Woodhead has generally been used in the same pass-catching role that he is expected to be used by the Ravens in this season, and in his five fully healthy seasons, he’s always been between 18.8 and 36.5 rushing yards per game, so even when factoring in some age-related decline in usage and or efficiency, 16.25 is a reasonable estimate for our purposes.
So it’s clear Woodhead is at least fairly valued, or perhaps even undervalued, in PPR when considering his likely 2017 role. Now remember, our estimate is very conservative. It also highlights the difference between Woodhead’s value in standard and PPR leagues, as the same estimate that would leave Woodhead 79% of the way to a PPR RB3 finish doesn’t even get him half of the way to a RB3 finish in standard leagues.
Considering Ravens RBs caught 7.3 passes per game last season and 7.9 the year before, Woodhead could easily match his four-year averages in San Diego of 4.5 receptions, 38.6 receiving yards, and 0.35 receiving TDs per game. The Ravens especially like to throw on third down -- they attempted the fifth-highest percentage of passes on third down (84.1%) despite having the fifth-shortest distance to go (6.87 yards). Before accounting for rushing stats, the aforementioned projection would leave Woodhead with 95 standard points -- just two points shy of our standard RB36 benchmark.
Replicating those Chargers numbers would also give Woodhead 167.4 PPR points before accounting for rushing production. He’d need 38 rushing points -- or something like 320 rushing yards (20.0 per game over a full season) and one rushing TD to post PPR RB1 numbers. Contrast that with standard leagues, where he’d almost certainly have to wildly outperform either his yardage or TD expectation to make up the roughly 75-point gap.
Of course, all the prior projection exercises assume Woodhead will play a 16-game season, which is very far from a given.
...If He's Full Healthy
Last season’s ACL tear complicates things, especially considering Woodhead’s age.
While a study done way back in 2006 found that RB production is reduced by one-third after an ACL tear, medicine has come a long way since then. Unfortunately, the sample of RBs with ACL tears since remains inconclusive. For every success story -- Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, and Knowshon Moreno in 2012, Dion Lewis last season, among others -- there is a player who has failed to fully make it back -- Kevin Smith, Rashard Mendenhall, Vick Ballard, Isaiah Pead, and perhaps now Charles, among others. Furthermore, none of the aforementioned RBs were as old as Woodhead when they tore their ACLs.
Speaking of Woodhead’s age, we know RBs tend to decline rapidly once they hit their late 20s. However, Woodhead isn’t a typical RB -- despite being 32, he only has 770 career touches, so he isn’t as likely to fall off of a cliff as a typical RB on the wrong side of 30.
However, a 2013 study by John Paulsen found that a RB who has averaged 9.0 games played or less over the last two seasons and who is over 30 is at a huge risk to miss games. Woodhead played 16 games in 2015 but only 2 last season, so his average is 9.0, which according to Paulsen’s study means Woodhead is expected play only 9.5 games this season. And missed games aren’t new to Woodhead -- in addition to the 14 he missed last season, he also missed 13 in 2014 with a broken ankle and fibula.
Woodhead's 2017 Has a Wide Range of Outcomes - Draft Accordingly
Woodhead’s range of outcomes this season are anywhere from PPR RB1 to a wasted pick. Does that make his current ADP of around RB36 -- or a low-end RB3 -- across formats fair?
In PPR leagues, I think so. But in standard leagues, I'll be searching for a back with more feature-back upside, as Woodhead’s standard ADP doesn’t provide enough of a discount for his reliance on receptions. One school of thought says Woodhead has theoretical rushing upside based on the unimpressive Terrance West being atop the depth chart and Kenneth Dixon being suspended for four games, but the Ravens may further address the position via the draft or free agency, and it’s hard to imagine the Ravens banging the diminutive Woodhead inside the tackles at this stage of his career coming off an injury, even though he is a better inside runner than he gets credit for.
It ultimately comes down to the amount of risk you are willing to take on as a fantasy owner, and also how top-heavy your league’s payout structure is. In a top-heavy PPR format where few teams make the playoffs (or in winner-take-all MFL10s), Woodhead seems especially palatable.
Personally, I would be a lot more comfortable with Woodhead as an RB4 on my (PPR) team than as an RB3. It’s well-documented that RB is the most injury-prone fantasy position, and I wouldn’t want to be one injury away from relying on a 32-year old coming off an ACL injury as my RB2.
Update 5/24/17: After the Ravens failed to add a single skill position player in the NFL Draft, Woodhead's stock has risen. The Ravens have little depth at receiver, so should be one of Joe Flacco's main targets in the passing game. For a more in-depth breakdown of the fantasy ramifications of the draft on the Ravens and the other 31 NFL teams, read my post-draft fantasy stock article.
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