It's easy to look back at what a player once was and talk yourself into him drafting him with hopes he'll exude greatness once again. When it comes to Baltimore Ravens RB Danny Woodhead, the potential to reclaim past success is definitely intriguing.
Just two seasons ago with the San Diego Chargers at the ripe age of 30, Woodhead was a PPR (points per reception) monster who piled up over 100 targets en route to 80 catches for 755 yards and six touchdowns. He finished 3rd overall in PPR scoring among running backs, behind only Devonta Freeman and Adrian Peterson.
Throughout his career, Woodhead flourished when he played in all 16 games with the Chargers (a feat he only accomplished in two of four seasons with the team). In 2013, he racked up 605 yards on 76 catches and six touchdowns which ranked him 12th overall in PPR leagues.
Woodhead's been blessed with prominent quarterbacks during his time in the NFL. Woodhead played along the likes of Tom Brady (2010-2012) and Philip Rivers (2013-2016), both Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Both also helped Woodhead string together several seasons of 30+ catches, with Rivers favoring Woodhead the most after targeting the small running back over 190 times in 2013 and 2015.
Now, Woodhead is again thrust into a potentially good situation playing alongside Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Flacco in Baltimore. When it comes to his potential for opportunity with the Ravens, Woodhead fantasy owners have plenty to be excited about.
What we like about him now
Top RB Kenneth Dixon is expected to miss the first four games of the season after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Dixon accrued 41 total targets last season with the Ravens, and the coaching staff is still very high on him so don't expect Woodhead to stay the top back all season, but it does bold well for his short-term value.
A gifted receiver, Woodhead possesess a skill proven to age like fine wine. Just look at how players like Fred Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald have extended their careers despite their age due to their catching ability. At age 32, Jackson ranked 11th overall in PPR scoring in 2013 for running backs. Fitzgerald ranked 11th overall in PPR scoring in 2016 at age 33. There's no reason to believe age could limit Woodhead as a receiver in Baltimore.
The Ravens are also a very pass-oriented team, especially to the running back position. Last season, the 3-headed monster of Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon and Kyle Juszczyk combined for 125 targets. It's not out of the question that Woodhead sees 10+ targets in Week 1.
The current depth chart among receivers in Baltimore should only help Woodhead's cause to be involved in the passing game. With top target hogs Steve Smith now gone and also WR4 Kamar Aiken, the Ravens receivers consist of an aging one-trick pony in Mike Wallace, underachieving and injury-prone Breshad Perriman, and a host of lesser-known names Michael Campanaro, Vince Mayle, Chris Moore and Kenny Bell. While the draft could obviously change things, it looks like Woodhead will see a prominent passing role at least early on this season.
Woodhead's current average draft position is in the eighth round, right near players like Dion Lewis, C.J. Prosise, and Giovani Bernard. With the Bengals likely to add another running back in the draft, Lewis becoming less of a factor as the Patriots added several RBs, and Prosise playing behind Eddie Lacy, no running back in that group has a more clearly defined role than Woodhead.
Causes for concern
The biggest worry one might have about drafting Woodhead is his injury history. He's coming off his second ACL tear and is now 32 years old. While age isn't a concern when it comes to receiving ability, injuries at that age tend to heal slower and you'll have to wonder if his route running will be affected.
Woodhead is a good value for PPR leagues in the eighth round. Draft him if you have a chance. At the very least, he'll be good for four weeks before Dixon comes on and may still have a role since the Ravens planned on signing him even before the Dixon suspension.
Editor's note: This is the second installment of the Fantasy Film Projector series for 2017. The goal of the Fantasy Film Projector is to help you identify traits from college players that will translate to points for your fantasy team if you decide to draft them. It's not meant to be a predictor of NFL success since that largely depends on the team that drafts them, what their scheme is and what opportunity that player will have in the offense.
When it comes to versatility among fantasy running backs, there might not be a better candidate than Stanford prospect Christian McCaffrey. Blending vision, agility, route running, catching ability and a hint of breakaway speed, McCaffrey brings a skill set ripe with fantasy potential if he lands with the right team. Overall, he's one of the more intriguing running backs in the 2017 class.
What we know he can do
McCaffrey was one of the most dynamic college players ever at Stanford. He showed competency as a kickoff returner and even broke Barry Sanders NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yardage (3,250) in the Pac-12 Championship game. He also displayed enough speed to break off long touchdown runs in the open field.
McCaffrey's measurables at the combine this past month backed up his stats in college. Per Mockdraftable, he tested in the 97th percentile in the 3-cone-drill, showing elite agility potential. His 4.48 40-time was also above average and eased worry that he might not be able to outrun defenders at the NFL level. His only big knock is his play strength, as he managed only 10 bench press reps which makes you question his ability to roll his hips and drive forward after initial contact. To put it into context, Dalvin Cook of Florida State had 22 while Samaje Perine posted 30.
Want to dominate your March Madness bracket pool? Sign up for Numberfire.com for free.
How McCaffrey helps you in fantasy
Based on his traits, McCaffrey would fit best in a west coast offense that uses screen passes, option, and wheel routes out of the backfield. McCaffrey is smooth in and out of his break, which will be a matchup nightmare for linebackers trying to cover him in the open field.
Teams that could utilize him most effectively on paper include the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. In terms of potential for immediate playing time, the New York Giants are the top candidate since they currently have no clear No. 1 running back. Philadelphia might also be a great landing spot for immediate playing time as well since current starter Ryan Mathews has dealt with injuries consistently throughout his career.
In terms of scoring, McCaffrey should benefit your team immediately in the return game if coaches choose to use him that way. He will also be effective in points per reception leagues depending on the offense he's drafted into.
While you might not ever get to see McCaffrey as an every down back since his lack of strength may prevent him from being a strong insider runner, McCaffrey will make up for it with his catching and agility to elude defenders and gain extra yardage. Overall, he's low risk because he clearly has the ball skills required to play at the NFL level, and if he surprises every one and plays stronger than his measurables indicate, then he could be an every-down back and give you incredible value.
Previous Fantasy Film Projector installments: Jeremy McNichols
On this edition of the Fantasy Film Projector, we discuss Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols and where his skill set fits into the NFL fantasy picture as a rookie in 2017.
McNichols played 3 seasons at Boise State and recorded 55 total touchdowns combined rushing and receiving. His 2,255 all-purpose yards were the second-most in a season in Boise State history. A high volume RB, McNichols carried the ball 314 times in 2016, tied for fourth most among all NCAA FBS running backs.
At 5'9, 212 lbs, McNichols is a bit undersized but plays strong, showing the desire to bull over defenders by initiating contact first. A lot of draftniks are worried about McNichols size and lack of elite athletic ability at the pro level, but by getting caught up in that, they miss the overall scope of McNichols' ability.
The most intriguing aspect to McNichols game in terms of fantasy value is what he can do as a the receiver out of the backfield. McNichols has the cutting, vision and catching skill set reminiscent of players like Atlanta Falcons RB Devonta Freeman. His vision allows him to see lanes the after the catch and decisively move to the correct spot. He's at identifying cut back lanes which him helps elude defenders and his good balance allows him to string multiple moves together as you'll see in the video above.
Durability is one of the main concerns surrounding McNichols draft stock. He's expected to undergo surgery on his labrum this coming offseason. The former Bronco has dealt with shoulder issues throughout the past season.
How he could help you in fantasy
Overall, while McNichols doesn't possess overwhelming size at 5'9, there are plenty of running backs who have his skill set that have been great fantasy options. For example, Devonta Freeman stands 5'8, 206 lbs and has been a top 10 fantasy RB for two seasons now. Great coaches and franchises maximize talent, and McNichols has the receiving skills and vision that can be maximized in the right offensive scheme with the right coach.
If you're looking to draft him to your dynasty team, you can expect him to be selected in the mid to late rounds of the draft and if he lands in a good situation, he'll bring some good fantasy value as a backup RB that could see some increased playing time if the starter goes down.
On this episode of the Helpers pod, Will Pendleton and George Banko discuss several backfields including the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants.
Running backs adept at catching the football are often revered in fantasy football. They can turn an average fantasy scoring day into a good one, a good one into a great one, a great one into a historic one and a historic one into something you think is really, really awesome. More importantly, backs who catch the ball can alleviate the pain of a bad fantasy day on the ground, which allows the running back to become 'matchup proof.'
What is 'matchup proof?'
'Matchup proof' means a running back is startable no matter who he's playing against, and one way a receiving back becomes matchup proof is by defying game script. For example, if a running back finds his team down by 30 points in the first half and his team needs to pass more to get back into the game, he'll still accrue fantasy points because he'll likely be targeted on check down passes.
While receiving is a big factor in creating consistency among RBs, it's not the only trait a running back needs to possess. He also must be a talented inside runner, a back who can generate tough yards after contact with big defenders on runs up the gut and also possess the vision and instincts to make sharp cuts up the field. This is even more true in zone blocking schemes.
Among the traits listed above, Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson definitely fits the receiving mold, and while he hasn't shown the ability to run the ball effectively between the tackles, it's unfair to think he can't do it because he hasn't gotten a real shot at the team's 'feature back' role. He also possesses the kind of instincts and athletic ability required to make plays in the run game. In this piece, we will examine if Johnson could emerge as a breakout fantasy candidate in 2017.
Where he could be of considerable value
Going back to Johnson's receiving ability, it's very clear he's had potential in PPR leagues. Johnson was targeted 68 times in 2016, good for 5th most among all NFL running backs. He also ranked seventh in yards per reception at 9.7. Despite all this though, he only finished RB48 in PPR leagues, right around where T.J. Yeldon, Theo Riddick and Alfred Blue ended up.
While the result wasn't ideal, the potential was definitely there given Johnson's role in the offense. More importantly, we've seen smaller receiving backs have very good fantasy seasons — even in standard leagues.
One example of this is Danny Woodhead in 2015. Featured in a passing offense alongside Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers, Woodhead finished as a Top 10 fantasy back in 2015 and it was largely due to his receiving stats. Woodhead caught 80 passes for 755 yards and scored six touchdowns that season. He was also targeted over 100 times total.
Standing just 5'8, 200 lbs, Woodhead benefited from an offense that scored a lot, which allowed him to see 37 red zone targets in 2015, which far exceeded anyone else on the team.
Like Woodhead in 2015, Duke Johnson's role in the passing game was prominent in 2016. Unlike Woodhead though, Johnson didn't have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Rivers throwing him the ball. He instead dealt with a merry-go-round of QBs that consisted of a still-inept Robert Griffin III, a veteran in Josh McCown who also struggled, and a rookie in Cody Kessler who was actually the best of the bunch.
Overall, the poor situation hurt Johnson's touchdown value, as he saw only 14 red zone looks in 2016. If we're going to expect bigger things from Johnson in 2016, the Browns must improve their quarterback situation.
Hope for a bigger role
Johnson also had to deal with playing second fiddle to Isaiah Crowell, who saw 34 red zone attempts in 2016 also.
While Crowell was the team's dominant inside runner in 2016, he struggled with consistency as 518 of his 952 rushing yards came in four games, making him a liability from week to week. He was also woeful in pass protection.
Crowell also finished out the final year of his contract in 2016 and the latest talk of an extension appears unlikely. While Crow managed 7 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards on the year, it's likely the Browns will want to spend their money elsewhere since Crowell was only valuable on first and second down and didn't change the course of the Browns dismal 2016 season.
Crowell and Johnson are not too far off from each other in terms of talent either. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson and Crowell graded out about the same in running and receiving. Plus, Johnson carried the ball only 73 times in 2016, which gives him less wear-and-tear for next season and makes you wonder if he could play better if he gets more carries in the offense.
Hope for a better situation
It's likely Cleveland will improve its situation at the quarterback position in 2017. Imagine if they locked down a quarterback like, say, Jimmy Garoppolo from New England? A quarterback with better accuracy could allow Johnson a lot more opportunity to catch the ball in stride and make plays out of the backfield. This will be something to monitor heading into the offseason.
It's absolutely possible Duke Johnson could put together a 700+ yard receiving season given his talent, but he needs some help. He has the talent as a receiver and a good coaching staff that can maximize his skill set. He just needs a quality quarterback to go along with a bigger role in the offense next season. The latter variables could definitely turn in his favor in 2017. Keep an eye on how things fall together this offseason.
Without sounding too philosophical, football is a lot like life. Players have good years and bad years. Some years they seem more motivated and focused while in others they're more tranquil and distracted. Sometimes they try different approaches to the game with hopes of enhancing their abilities. Eddie Lacy doing P90X workouts in the offseason to drop weight is an example of that.
At the NFL level, even the slightest of changes to your attitude, approach to the game and overall situation can make a big difference. Identifying these changes can help you identify a value candidate in your fantasy draft.
Take the 2016 version of Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy for example. Hailed as one of the better fantasy running backs in the league during his time as a Philadelphia Eagle from 2009-2014, McCoy was a great example of how a running back can get off track due to new circumstances only to rebound in 2016.
Where he was in 2015
After getting traded to the Bills in 2015, McCoy was clearly upset about departing Philadelphia. He'd grown up in the Harrisburg, Pa. after all, a place not too far from the city of Brotherly Love.
Though the shift seemed to bother him mentally, Buffalo was another good opportunity for McCoy to produce. The Bills were expected to be one of the most run heavy teams in 2015 under new coach Rex Ryan, which they did in fact end up being. McCoy had been successful as a workhorse back before when he won the rushing title in 2013 after carrying the ball over 300 times in Chip Kelly's high-volume offense.
But despite a great situation in Buffalo, there were some reasons to steer clear of McCoy in 2015.
Cause for concern No. 1: Lack of focus
We've seen star players underperform in Buffalo before. In 2007, then-rookie Marshawn Lynch rushed for over 1,115 yards but regressed each season in Buffalo until he got traded in 2010. Losing franchises can have a detrimental effect on a running back's fantasy value.
McCoy didn't seem to. He partied in Las Vegas during the summer of 2015 and while it's easy to read into a player's behavior a bit too much, it does make you wonder if his focus was ideal at the time.
Cause for concern No. 2: Committee of backs sniping touchdowns
After acquiring McCoy, the Bills went ahead and drafted Karlos Williams in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. This move alone had a poor effect on McCoy's fantasy value. McCoy ended up seeing just 26 carries inside the red zone compared to Williams 14 and Williams made the most of his goal line work, scoring 7 touchdowns to McCoy's 3.
McCoy saw just 203 carries in 2015 and finished under 1,000 yards for the first time since his injury-plagued 2012 season. He eventually tore his MCL in Week 15 and play in just 12 games.
Cause for concern No. 3: Injury woes
McCoy tore his MCL in Week 15 of the 2015 season and only played in 12 games overall. He also battled hamstring injuries in preseason and has had a history of dealing with lower-body injuries throughout his career. Still, he remained productive with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage that year.
The result of all concerns was a good but not great season for McCoy. He finished as an RB17 overall in a down year for running backs. To illustrate, there were only two running backs with over 200 fantasy points in 2015. In 2016, there were 7. But McCoy still produced strong numbers given his health that season.
Where he was in 2016
McCoy got off to a better start in 2016. He was involved in a nightclub incident which turned out to be less of a distraction than it could've been considering the charges were dropped before the preseason. McCoy had also dropped his weight to 210 lbs in the offseason to help with his explosiveness.
Cause for success No. 1: Karlos Williams shows up out of shape
The running back responsible for taking away McCoy's touchdown value in 2015 turned into camp at 250 lbs, well over his listed weight of 230. The Bills cut him shortly after which shot up McCoy's value as the team's potential goal line back.
The only back who really posed a threat to McCoy's touchdown value in 2016 was Mike Gillislee, who did manage eight scores on the year. Still, it didn't end up hurting McCoy's value all that much because of the next paragraph.
Cause for success No. 2: A better offense
The Bills had begun to find an offensive identity under quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They averaged 24.9 points per game in 2016, good for 10th overall. More scoring means more red zone opportunities and McCoy's 26 red zone attempts were a tremendous improvement from his 26 attempts in 2015. If the Bills could ever get a healthy Sammy Watkins for a full season, there's reason to believe their offense could be even more effective in 2017.
Cause for success No. 3: Hybrid potential
McCoy's enhanced role in the offense combined with Taylor's tendency to check down to running backs led to 50 receptions for McCoy, which were his most since 2013. His 350+ receiving yards alone added 35 points to his fantasy value in standard leagues and his PPR value was also among the best for running backs.
Overall, When it comes to identifying running backs, a combination of high volume, targets and goal line touches are the recipe when it comes to opportunity. When it comes to talent, you should look at the players production from a season ago, age, health and overall mental state.
On this episode of the Helpers pod, Adam and George discuss the coaching changes in Jacksonville, why Giovani Bernard is one of the best dynasty keepers and why Joseph Addai is a sign that the Colts backfield could have fantasy value in 2017.