FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Danny Woodhead’s path to playing football of Sundays certainly wasn’t paved. Nor was there even footsteps to follow in. Yet, despite the odds, the player who the Jets first took a chance on has found success with their most hated rival, the New England Patriots.
The man that is short in stature has showed up in a big way for the Patriots, who were looking thin at running back prior the transaction on September 19, 2010. It is listed that Woodhead has 195 pounds hanging on a 5-foot-9 frame. That is rather generous, when seen in person he looks a more stout 5-foot-7.
But no matter his size, Woodhead continues to cut out his path.
Thus far, his path has included carving up opposing defenses out of the Patriots backfield. Assuming the role of the injured Kevin Faulk, he has become the third-down back, catching balls and taking draws. Through nine games, he has 344 yards rushing ( a large 5.4 yards per carry average) and 230 yards receiving with four total touchdowns.
“He has contributed for us in those phases of the game and he’s been an important member of our team all year. He’s made plays in the running game, the passing game and on special teams, so he’s done a real solid job,” Bill Belichick told WEEI.com.
Those numbers are reminiscent of what made him a back-to-back Harlon Hill trophy winner at Chadron State, given to the best player in Division II.
- 7,926 career rushing yards, (most in NCAA history at that time)
- 9,749 career all-purpose yards, (second all-time at that time as well)
- Rushed for 200+ yards in 19 games
- 109 career touchdowns
- 654 career points scored
- 2,756 rushing yards in 2006 is a single season record in NCAA history
All that, and Woodhead still couldn’t get on to a more noticeable path. He was an undrafted free agent signed by the Jets on May 2, 2008. His rookie season was spent on injured reserve, but was signed to the practice squad in 2009, before being added to the 53-man roster on October 17, 2009.
Despite making the team, he saw little playing time. He amassed 64 yards rushing and 87 yards receiving in 10 games. With the likes of LaDanian Tomlinson, Shonn Grenne, and rookie Joe McKnight (from the more prestigious University of Southern Cal) ahead of Woodhead, there was little field to be shared in 2010. There were murmurs of trying him out at receiver during training camp, but certainly at 5-9 (ahem) he would be a tough target for quarterback Mark Sanchez.
And soon enough the season had started, with the Jets hurting at the wide receiver position. After being ripped by the media for the Jets lackluster start, they needed to provide an offensive spark to get things going. But in order to do that someone had to go. And unfortunately for Woodhead, it was he who received the pink slip from the Gang Green.
The Jets ended up replacing Woodhead with wide receiver David Clowney (who is no long with the Jets) and Joe McKnight (4 attempts, 12 yards on the season).
“I don’t know if he couldn’t do it here,” Rex Ryan said when asked. [The Patriots] just run their offense a little different than we do. He’s perfect for what they do.”
Four days later, however, he received an offer from the New England Patriots. Many thought the signing was merely to extract information from the former Jet, with the two teams facing off the ensuing Sunday. But Bill Belichick had his eye on Woodhead for some time thinking he could carve out his niche in the Patriots wide-open offense.
“We certainly got a good look at him in preseason when we were starting to break down the Jets games and then at the beginning of the season when he wasn’t on their 53-man roster,” Belichick said. “He was right at the top of our short list and after we traded Laurence [Maroney].”
And since then, the rest has been downhill for the running back. In his first game with the Patriots, Woodhead saw 40-50 snaps, much the contrary to his 5-10 snaps per game with the Jets.
He has done such an impressive job this season, that the Patriots have rewarded him with a 2-year contract extension. The signing bonus ($425,000) is more than his 2010 salary ($395,000). He can earn as much as $1.1 million in 2011 and $1.3 million in 2012. Currently, he is the only Patriots running back who has locked up past this season.
“[We] thank the Jets for letting him go. We truly appreciate it,” Deion Branch, Patriots receiver, said.
Woodhead’s path, once thick with brush, has now been cleared with greener pastures. And on Monday night, he hopes to keep his path rolling downhill. Ryan nearly shares the same wish.
“I love the fact that he’s having success. I just don’t wish him success on Monday.”
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