Shortly after Danny Woodhead became one of the most popular guys in New England, he proved to be one of the most well-liked guys in the NFL world with his march to the quarterfinals of the Madden cover bracket.
The running back did it all for the Patriots in 2010, and earned a contract extension through 2012 as a result. Yet, the Patriots added two running backs early in April's draft, yielding the question: How will the team utilize Woodhead in 2011?
Woodhead got his first real chance to contribute last season — the third of his pro career — and he had 97 carries for 547 yards (a franchise-record 5.6 yards per carry), 34 receptions for 379 yards (11.1 yards per catch) and six total touchdowns. He also had a team-best 98 yards from scrimmage in the playoff loss to the Jets.
Interestingly, Woodhead was also tied for fourth on the Patriots with 10 solo tackles on special teams, highlighting the variety of ways that he contributed to the team.
The shifty pint-sized back was used perfectly as a change-of-pace player to complement BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Woodhead stepped in nicely for Kevin Faulk as a third-down back, and his role expanded as the season forged on. More and more, he looked like an indispensible player for a team that picked him up off the street in Week 2.
Now, there's a little more of a question regarding the backfield depth chart. Don't expect Woodhead to be the odd man out, but it's going to be difficult for him to match his career-best totals from 2010. He'll split time with Shane Vereen – whose strength is also his elusiveness in space — and quite possibly with Faulk.
Plus, Woodhead was given plenty of carries as Green-Ellis' backup last season, but there will be more of a crowd looking for carries in 2011. With Green-Ellis, Woodhead, Vereen and Stevan Ridley, it could get a little chaotic. And if Bill Belichick continues to ride the hot hand, there could be games at a time when one or two backs rarely see the field.
This isn't to say Woodhead will fade into oblivion — his work ethic is too strong and his talent is too real for that. But the Patriots didn't spend second- and third-round draft picks on two running backs just to keep them on the bench, so it's only natural to think Woodhead's numbers will dip in his second season in New England.
Jeff Howe will answer one Patriots-related question every day through July 29.
Wednesday, July 27: Is the Patriots' offense trending toward the ground game?
Friday, July 29: Who will be the Patriots' most improved players on offense and defense?