We're wrapping up our breakdown of the New England running back situation with the runt of the litter, Danny Woodhead. Fans and analysts alike are all over the place in terms of Woodhead and what his role with the Patriots will be in 2012. Some seem to think he's deeply entrenched as the team's 3rd down back and primed to take over Kevin Faulk's old duties. Some think that he is going to split carries with Shane Vereen this year and see his already reduced role diminish even further. Still others consider Woodhead a "bubble" player who may not even be on the team come September.
Regardless of whether or not he'll be a Patriot in 2012, Danny Woodhead brings a unique skillset to the Patriots backfield that can definitely help this offense if given the opportunity. He had perhaps his best game of the season in the Super Bowl last year, and that has to count for something. While he's no lock to make the team, his history with the team and the abundance of backs who are as-of-yet unproven in the Patriots system gives him a pretty solid chance to make an impact this year.
Strengths: Longest tenured back currently on the roster. Low center of gravity. Very shifty with the ability to make defenders miss. Quick feet and effective in traffic. Difficult to see behind the line. Great hands and receiving abilities. Able to shift into multiple positions. Versatile as a back, receiver, and kick returner. Knows the ins and outs of pass blocking.
Weaknesses: Not an overly effective kick returner. Gets stood up between the tackles. Excellent pass-blocking technique rendered ineffective at times due to his size. Shane Vereen appears to offer a similiar skillset with more size and strength. Lacks breakaway speed.
How will the Patriots use him? While I wouldn't be overly surprised if Woodhead didn't make the final roster, I think he is just too versatile a back to let go. He didn't sneak up on the NFL last year and thus saw his production drop, but I think he has the potential to be productive under Josh McDaniels as the shotgun back who can run a draw or motion out wide. He may ultimately lose carries to Vereen and/or Addai as the season goes on and those players earn Tommy B and Belichick's trust, but at this point he is the only proven commodity that the Patriots have and will at least start the season in the backfield rotation. I can see him getting phased out/shifted to very specific plays and game plans as the season rolls on, but I expect to see a decent amount of Woodhead during the first few weeks at the very least. And I'd bet money that Woodhead will be good for at least one spectacular gadget play at some point this year.
How will his season play out? Third down/gadget back, special teamer and part-time kick returner, 20% of carries