When running back Danny Woodhead joined the team in 2010 right before the New England Patriots took on the New York Jets, who recently cut him, people assumed it was just to get some information out of him. However, after a season-ending injury to Kevin Faulk, they needed Woodhead for much more than that.
Woodhead had a breakout season, gaining nearly 1,000 yards on offense while scoring a career-high six touchdowns. Unfortunately for him, his production has slipped significantly ever since. His yards per carry have slipped from 5.6 in 2010 to 4.5 in 2011 and all the way to 2.5 so far this season.
Woodhead made plays for the Patriots when he first came aboard, adding burst and excitement that caused his jerseys to fly off the shelves around New England. That playmaking ability seems to have left Woodhead at this point, though. It could be that defenses had such a small sample of tape on Woodhead in 2010, that he could catch them off-guard. Two years later, he's not fooling anyone.
His downturn is not completely his fault. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has insisted on running him into the teeth of the defense this season, which is obviously not what Woodhead has made his money doing. Against the Ravens' stout run defense Sunday, Woodhead had three more carries than lead back Stevan Ridley, while still managing three less yards.
What will make things very interesting for Woodhead is when 2011 second-round pick Shane Vereen is back to full health. Vereen could be an instant contender to take Woodhead's snaps on third down and in spread formations. Vereen flashed his ability in the preseason opener vs. New Orleans, and now he just has to prove he can do it when it counts.
If Vereen fails to take Woodhead's job this season, there is a name some people may have forgotten about that will factor back in when the 2013 season rolls around: Jeff Demps. The former Olympian now has a full year to put himself back in football shape to compete for a significant role on offense and special teams next season.
With Woodhead's clearly diminishing returns, 2012 will likely be his last year in a Patriots uniform, one way or another.
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