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Danny Woodhead's role diminished in 2011.
Danny Woodhead was a Division II star at Chadron State, and the runt of the New York Jets' practice squad.
Then the 2010 season gave the shifty, 5'7" running back a chance to shine when he arrived in New England. He became the change-of-pace back that the Pats sorely missed in Kevin Faulk's absence.
That year, Woodhead had 97 carries for 547 yards and five rushing touchdowns. He was a passing threat as well, catching 34 balls for 379 yards and one receiving touchdown.
Yet 2011 was a different story. The runningback-by-committee approach reduced Woodhead's touches in the offense. With the crowded backfield of Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk, plus rookies Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, No. 39 saw his numbers shrivel in every facet of the game.
The Pats' backfield has landed on uncertain times. Green-Ellis has gone to the Cincinnati Bengals. Will Faulk retire? Will a running back be added via free agency or through the draft?
These questions, compounded with the impending emergence of youngsters Ridley and Vereen, could negatively impact Woodhead's future as a Patriot.
Ridley is going to see a spike in carries next year. The LSU product is tough at 5'11", 225 pounds, but he's got nimble feet and rushed for 441 yards on 87 attempts in his first year. With the Green-Ellis Law Firm running elsewhere, Ridley is a favorite to take the reins.
In respect to the third-down back situation, Vereen could be Woodhead's biggest threat. In limited action last season, the former Cal Bear had 57 yards and a touchdown. As a Patriots second-round selection in the 2011 NFL draft, Vereen is expected to have much more responsibility in 2012.
The culmination of all these variables could put a dent in Woodhead's job description.
He's become a fan favorite in New England, but will he outplay his younger and more highly touted counterparts come the preseason?