I’m writing this because I’m surprised to see that most people over the last day or so have been talking about Danny Woodhead, not Terrance West, seeing the biggest jump in drafts after Kenneth Dixon was declared out for the season. Here’s the thing: Woodhead had a very clear role carved out on this team, and that’s being their pass-catching back. We should expect him and were expecting him in on third downs and in passing situations. Before Dixon went down for the season, that was Woodhead’s role, and that’s still Woodhead’s role now. Woodhead should see an uptick in work, but the real difference coming with this news is that West won’t have to share that early down work anymore; he should get most of the early down work, including goal line carries and some check downs, which can really add up in a Flacco-led offense.
Now, we have to be realistic and understand that the Ravens are probably looking for backs to sign as I write this who can compete and be a change of pace to West’s lackluster running; what I’m saying is that West isn’t that talented, and I’m not sure they want him to carry the full load. However, I am a huge believer in opportunity over talent when it comes to fantasy football, especially for running backs. We might think his career high 4.01 yards per carry isn’t something to rave about, but offensive assistant and well-respected coach Greg Roman said he’s very excited about West and looked forward to him “toting the rock this year.” Roman came in to help the ground game; during his years with the 49ers from 2011-2014, the 49ers had the second-most rushing yards in the NFL behind Seattle, and then proceeded to coach the Bills to be the best rushing team in 2015.
Flacco loves to throw it to his running backs; 27% of his completions were to running backs last year. That’s great for Woodhead, no doubt, but it’s also great for other running backs, even on early downs. The Ravens have had the most passing attempts over the last two years, and they also pass it on early downs, and in non-obvious passing situations where West will be on the field. West caught 34 balls last year on 45 targets last year. Dixon had 30 receptions, and Kyle Juszczyk had 37. Those will be split between Woodhead and West, and I estimate West getting about 30% of that RB target share. I would expect that overall RB share of targets to increase because of Woodhead’s presence; Flacco said that Woodhead is the best receiving back he’s played with since Ray Rice.
From 2009-2013, Rice averaged 67 receptions per year (yes, 67), and Woodhead can get close to that number. However, he won’t be on the field for all three downs like Rice was, so it’s possible he doesn’t have the opportunity that Rice did. Here’s something to note to have confidence in West on early downs: of Rice’s 302 receptions in that time frame, 260 of them came on first and second down. We can’t expect Woodhead to have a lot of the early down work; he only went over 100 carries once in a season, and that was in 2013 with the Chargers when he had 106. West had 227 total touches last year, and 118 went to Dixon, so West can possibly hit a total of 250 touches this year with Woodhead soaking up close to 100 targets. They’re both valuable in this offense as of right now. If the Ravens add another competent back, West will take a hit again, but Woodhead’s value should stay the same.
The Ravens signed Bobby Rainey to compete for a backup role, and if he’s the only guy the Ravens end up signing, we should be confident that West is the guy on early downs. If so, he deserves to be drafted somewhere in the 4th or 5th round, around the time when starting running backs are dwindling. If he’s being drafted after that, he’s a steal, assuming that there’s no one else competing for those carries besides Woodhead coming in for a few carries here and there for a change of pace. Right now, West is going in the 10th round, but we should expect that to rise significantly. Woodhead is currently being drafted in the middle of the 5th round, and if he rises even more, I think he might be drafted at his ceiling, which is something I don’t like to do. I would draft him over a guy like Carlos Hyde, who’s going around him, but I think Woodhead’s ADP might rise even more. If that’s the case, I rather wait on West, who will likely be drafted after Woodhead if the ADP doesn’t shake up as dramatically by the end of August. Woodhead also carries a bit of an injury risk, especially at his age; he missed almost all of the 2014 and 2016 seasons.
Just to note, Ian Rapaport also reported that Joe Flacco will miss 3-6 weeks this offseason, but should be back in time for the regular season. I don’t see this affecting any of the Ravens’ skill positions as long as Flacco is starting Week 1. The reason why these backs carry so much value is because of Flacco’s tendency to throw to his running backs, so keep in mind that we should monitor his health as we get closer to the regular season.