There is just something about those under-appreciated and undersized players in the NFL. Current Chargers running back Danny Woodhead epitomizes that type of player and has done so since he came into the league and was introduced to fans through HBO's "Hard Knocks" when he was with the Jets back in 2010. He latched onto their final roster that season and is now on his third team in five seasons.
It's not because of a lack of production that has made it hard for him to find a long-term home, though. In each place he has been, Woodhead has made plays in the passing and running games to spark the offense. What he has done in 2013 for this Chargers offense is something to admire.
Woodhead landed in San Diego via free agency this year when he signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract after three productive years with the Patriots. With Bill Belichick and Co. opting to move forward with other young backs like Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, Woodhead became expendable. He headed to the West Coast with the franchise hoping that he would be a type of player like Darren Sproles--a guy that the Chargers have missed since they let him slide off to New Orleans.
With the Chargers' offense getting a complete makeover, Woodhead has been at the forefront of that unit's progression this season. Yes, rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen has been a Godsend and quarterback Philip Rivers is playing much better football, but Woodhead has helped to spearhead the turnaround.
In their shootout 41-38 win against the Chiefs last Sunday in Kansas City, Woodhead had a great day. He had two touchdowns--one on the ground and one receiving--and was a security blanket for Rivers all game long. Woodhead has almost as many receptions (59) as rushing attempts (70) and has seven total touchdowns (two rushing, five receiving) this season. He has been very important in the Chargers' new "move the chains philosophy" on offense, collecting 41 total first downs.
At 5'8" and 200 pounds, Woodhead gives an opposing defense matchup problems. With his small stature, he can sneak through his big offensive line and make the defense briefly lose sight of him as he picks up yardage. That is evident by his 4.6 career yards per carry average. With the Bengals being solid against the run for most of the year, this might not be their primary concern with Woodhead this week.
The Bengals defense, for all that is has done over the past half-decade, traditionally seems to have trouble with good pass-catching running backs and tight ends. San Diego boasts one of each in their lineup, so Woodhead will need to have someone shadowing him often. For how great Vontaze Burfict has played at linebacker this season, he will need some help that is a bit more fleet of foot than he is.
Cornerbacks and safeties will need to spy on him while he is in the game to ensure that he doesn't make Cincinnati pay. If fully healthy (and it sounds like he is given Monday's practice), defensive back Chris Crocker could be a candidate for coverage duties on the scatback. Crocker has morphed into a slot coverage defensive back, so he could fit the bill here.
Much like how the Leon Hall injury hurts the defense in guarding Allen this week, the injury to Taylor Mays is a bummer because he could be another player to help in the shadowing of Woodhead. Whichever route that they want to take in taking care of Woodhead it had better be the right one, or else Sunday could be a long afternoon.