No, he’s not a real-life Benjamin Button too, although it’s possible. We’ll await confirmation.
The Patriots like to pass the football a fair bit. You may have noticed this, and it’s a product of their quarterback being named Tom Brady. While no one was near Matthew Stafford in pass attempts during the 2012 season because the concept of running was entirely foreign to the Lions (he finished with 727 attempts), Brady was one of only three other quarterbacks to attempt at least 630 passes (he finished at 637).
That means anyone in the Patriots’ offense who gets targeted with any degree of frequency will have some fantasy value. Clearly on the high end of that right now are Danny Amendola, and the fearsome tight end duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But there’s value to be had further down both the Patriots’ depth chart, and your draft board.
It’ll lie in whoever the newest and greatest Danny Woodhead is, and barring a significant stumble that title should belong to Shane Vereen. ESPN Boston’s Mike Rodak was kind enough to speak with our boy Vereen today, and the running back talked about his offseason progress so far. Somewhere between the clichés, Rodak noted that the decision to let Woodhead walk as a free agent (he signed a two-year deal with the Chargers) may have been influenced by Bill Belichick’s confidence in Vereen, and his ability to step in and be a similar pass-catching back.
That’s likely true, which means these words from Rodak are also feeding us some fun truth:
The Patriots have added LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington to their backfield mix this offseason, but replacing Woodhead’s role in the passing game and on third down appears to be Vereen’s job to lose.
The Woodhead role in New England’s offense is a coveted one in point-per-reception leagues due to his production as a dynamic option out of the backfield. Sometimes motioning out to the slot, Woodhead easily had career highs in catches (40), targets (55), and receiving yards (446) this past season.
Looking only at those receiving numbers (he also logged 301 rushing yards on 76 carries with four touchdowns), Woodhead was among the best fantasy running backs in PPR leagues not named Darren Sproles.
The Saints running back routinely runs away with the title of best pass-catching RB, and that was true last year with his 667 yards. But Woodhead finished fifth in receiving yards among running backs, which is especially impressive when most of the other running backs ahead of or around him had much more prominent roles in their respective offenses (for example, C.J. Spiller and Ray Rice). Meanwhile, as a runner Woodhead often remained buried behind Vereen, Stevan Ridley, and sometimes even Brandon Bolden.
That also speaks to the prominence of a backfield receiving option in New England’s offense, and the likelihood of that role continuing with Vereen. Which is nice, because the Woodhead role is sometimes the only predictable element of a Belichickian backfield. Ridley is and will remain the primary runner, receiving 20-ish carries per game (at minimum). But this is an offense that sporadically gave Bolden 36 carries over a three-game stretch, and that turned into 219 yards (137 of which came in one game). Billy Belichick laughs at your feeble attempts to predict him.
Woodhead’s receiving totals led to 106 fantasy points. Vereen, meanwhile, had five catches for 83 yards and two touchdowns during the Patriots’ playoff win over Houston, and he also broke away for an 83-yard catch earlier in the year. The burst and open-field creativity is there, and so is the Woodhead-esque fantasy potential.