The San Diego Chargers may have rid themselves of head coach Norv Turner in an attempt to start rebuilding in the AFC West, but Friday's move to sign New England Patriots all-purpose player Danny Woodhead can't help but conjure up memories of the last San Diego team to make the playoffs.
The Chargers made Woodhead's signing official on Friday afternoon (as reported by Lindsey H. Jones of USA Today), taking yet another skill player away from the Pats in free agency on the heels of Wes Welker's new contract with the Denver Broncos.
Adam Caplan was one of the first ones to make the comparison on Twitter:
Adam Caplan @caplannfl
New Sproles for McCoy...RT @MikeReiss: Free-agent RB Danny Woodhead agrees to 2-year deal with the Chargers, per source.2013-3-15 18:08:58
Woodhead's arrival in San Diego fills a clear need for a do-it-all back that can line up in multiple positions, carry the ball out of the backfield and line up as a receiver—things Woodhead did on a weekly basis with New England the past few seasons.
After breaking onto the scene with the New York Jets in 2009, Woodhead came over to the Patriots in 2010. Since then, he's rushed for over 1,000 yards, caught 92 passes for almost another 1,000 and scored 14 total touchdowns while being whatever head coach Bill Belichick needed him to be from week to week.
Who does that sound like, San Diego fans?
If you answered Sproles, then get ready for what could be a difference maker in the San Diego offense that the team has been trying to recapture since the 2010 split that saw Sproles sign with New Orleans.
If you break down both Woodhead and Sproles' stats, the numbers are remarkably similar. And remember, Woodhead's stats with the Patriots are over the course of three seasons, while Sproles had five with the Chargers:
| Darren Sproles (w/SD) || Danny Woodhead (w/NE)|
As you can see, the numbers are very similar. Sproles makes more of a dent in the passing game than Woodhead, but again, these numbers give Sproles two more years of experience to work with. All things considered, the two men are very equal in terms of production and what they bring to the table.
Christopher Price of WEEI 93.7 in Boston came to the defense of Woodhead last week, calling him a poor man's Darren Sproles before the deal had ever been consummated to San Diego:
For a modern-day comparison, Woodhead is likely a poor-man’s Darren Sproles. Neither one of them is the first, second or third options in their respective offenses, but both have managed to carve out an important part for themselves.
The comparisons of both guys being short are certainly warranted. Both are two of the smallest players in the NFL; only Trindon Holliday of the Broncos was listed at a shorter height (5'5") than Sproles (5'6") last season.
However, that's not the only thing San Diego is banking on with respect to bringing Woodhead on board.
Both guys are excellent route runners, are surprisingly elusive between the tackles because they are hard to see behind bigger lineman and are problems for linebackers and bigger players in space.
It's one of the reasons that New England has been so successful shuffling out Woodhead, Welker and Julian Edelman over the past few seasons—those guys have the quickness to create matchup nightmares if used the proper way.
It's the same way that Turner used Sproles when he had him, and how Drew Brees and Sean Payton utitlize him now. Consider this—the Chargers were one of the best teams in the NFL from 2006-2009, and those were the prime years of Sproles' height with the team.
That 13-3 regular season that San Diego put up in 2009 was wasted in the first round, and a 2008 playoff appearance ended in a similar fashion. However, the 2007 team made it all the way to the conference final before losing to New England—a season in which Sproles burst on the scene as a return man and was integrated into the offense for the first time.
San Diego still has Rivers, Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd—the replacement for Vincent Jackson. Those were three components of what the Chargers had when they were an AFC powerhouse. They also had Sproles, whose production and role in the lineup can now be filled by Woodhead.
From opening up the running game with Ryan Mathews to getting more out of the matchups on the outside because Woodhead will be working in the slot, there's nothing not to love about San Diego's two-year contract agreement with its newest offensive weapon.
Woodhead doesn't have to be Sproles, and frankly he doesn't have as much pure speed. But the quickness component of his game should add an element of the offense to San Diego that will make Rivers a happy man as he prepares for the 2013 season.
If you're dreaming about Rivers-to-Woodhead tonight, don't be alarmed. You're probably not alone. If San Diego can get half as much production out of this guy that Tom Brady did, he'll be worth every penny he makes next season.