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Who is Danny Woodhead?

"Danny Woodhead"

When the Patriots traded veteran running back Laurence Maroney following their Week 1 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, they opened up a very big roster spot. Last week, just before their loss to the New York Jets, they filled that big roster spot, with a very little man.

The release of Maroney left many wondering who the Patriots would bring in to re-ignite their rushing attack, which, over the past couple seasons, has been mediocre at best. All questions were answered when on Sept. 18, the Pats signed 5-foot, 9-inch running back Danny Woodhead, who was released by the Jets on Sept. 14.

Danny who? Danny Woodhead. Yes, the name bears repeating. Few outside his home state of Nebraska have heard of the man who Boston Herald’s Ron Borges called a “stub” in a recent article.

In his debut with the Patriots, the stub rushed for 42 yards on three carries, including a 22-yard touchdown, which helped seal the victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Now NFL fans across country know Woodhead, especially in New England, where the young man may soon become a household name.

Now Rex Ryan, who I’m going to call “fat idiot,” and the rest of the Jets coaching staff are probably kicking themselves for letting the little man go.

Where did he come from?

Danny Woodhead grew up in the small town of North Platte, Nebraska. After an illustrious high school career, during which he broke many records, but failed to capture a state championship, Woodhead enrolled at Division II Chadron State, in Chadron, Nebraska.

After shattering several NCAA records at Chadron State, Woodhead signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2008. After suffering an injury during training camp in July, the Jets decided to place the first year running back on IR for the remainder of the season.

Woodhead returned in 2009, determined as ever to prove he belonged in the NFL. He had a very good training camp and a productive preseason, and even saw regular season action in mop-up duty during a 38-0 beat down of the Oakland Raiders.

Unfortunately his limited performances were not enough to win over Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Shottenheimer in 2010; he was released by the Jets on Sept. 14.

What has he done?

At Division II Chadron State, Woodhead set the single-season and all-time NCAA rushing records. In 2006, through 12 games, he rushed for 2,740 yards. He rushed for a total of 7,871 yards throughout his four-year collegiate career. His 9,259 all-purpose yards ranks second only to Brian Westbrook.

In 2006 and 2007, Woodhead was awarded the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.  He was a candidate for the trophy in each of his four years at Chadron.

After spending 2008 on injured reserve, Woodhead returned with a vengeance in 2009. During a preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, he rushed for 158 yards, the most yards by a back in any preseason game since 1992. He also rushed for two touchdowns in that game.

He saw his first regular season action on October 25, 2009, rushing three times for 24 yards against the Oakland Raiders.

This past weekend, Woodhead once again made the most of his limited opportunities, rushing for 42 yards on three carries against Buffalo, including a 22-yard touchdown run, the first regular season touchdown of his career.

What can we expect from him moving forward?

A lot of the discussion on Woodhead has revolved around his height. He is generously listed at 5-foot-9, and for this reason, many NFL teams didn’t give him a chance.

In my opinion however, a back’s height should have no bearing on whether or not he is successful, even at the NFL level. At 6 ft. 3, many thought Eddie George was too tall to be an NFL back, but he had a great career, rushing for over 10,000 yards over eight years And if you think Woodhead is too short, look no further than Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Listed at 5-foot-8, Rice racked up over 2,000 all-purpose yards in 2009.

So don’t tell me Woodhead isn’t the right height. He’s got the power, agility and speed; he’s got the instincts and the vision, all the truly important things.

Barring another injury, I think Bill Belichick and the Patriots can count on Woodhead to continue providing a big spark for their running game throughout the remained of the 2010-2011 season.

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