Danny Woodhead Overcame Being Undersized and Going Undrafted to Become an NFL Fan Favorite

Danny Woodhead entered the league with everything against him.

A standout running back at Chadron State College, a Division II program, Woodhead went undrafted in 2008. Standing 5 feet, 8 inches and weighing 204 pounds, Woodhead was undersized.

Woodhead earned an opportunity with the New York Jets, though, and made the most of it. This is how an undersized running back from Nebraska managed to play 10 seasons.

Danny Woodhead had a rough start to his career

Danny Woodhead twice won the Harlon Hill Trophy, an award given to the best player in NCAA Division II.

That didn’t appeal to any NFL teams come the 2008 NFL draft, neither did Woodhead’s 7,441 rushing yards or his 109 total touchdowns. Woodhead left college football as the sport’s all-time leading rusher regardless of the level.

Woodhead signed with the New York Jets, who had future movie star Thomas Jones entrenched as the starting running back, when the draft ended. Unfortunately for Woodhead, he missed his rookie year with an injury.

Woodhead debuted with the Jets in October 2009. He finished his second season with 15 carries for 64 yards and eight catches for 87 receptions.

Woodhead caught on with the New England Patriots

Although Danny Woodhead played well in 2009, the Jets cut him in September 2010.

The New England Patriots needed another running back after trading former first-round pick Laurence Maroney to Denver. Woodhead signed with the Patriots that month and debuted in a Week 4 game against the Bills.

Woodhead totaled 547 yards and five touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry in 14 games with the Patriots. He also caught 34 passes for 379 yards and a touchdown.

The diminutive running back also went viral during the 2011 NFL playoffs when NFL Network analyst Joe Theismann accidentally confused Woodhead’s last name with a sexual term.

Woodhead kept his job with the Patriots in 2011, totaling 351 yards and a touchdown in 15 games. Woodhead also recorded 110 yards in the postseason and caught a touchdown in the Patriots’ Super Bowl 46 loss to Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

Again working as a rotational running back, Woodhead ran for 301 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. He also added 40 receptions, 446 receiving yards, and three touchdowns in the passing game.

Danny Woodhead thrived despite being undersized

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10 years! Wow, God had crazy plans for a small little kid from North Platte, NE! It’s been a wild ride and feel so blessed He allowed me to do what I loved for so long. But now it’s time to say goodbye to the game I love. First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Without Him my career wouldn’t have been possible. He blessed me with the gifts and He paved the way. All I had to do was follow His plans for my life, and His plans were crazy awesome! Next, I want to thank my wife who has been by my side since freshman year of high school. She has been a rock through all the ups and downs. Sis, Willy, Mae Mae, and Hopie your daddy is going to be home a ton more and I can’t wait! Thanks to my Dad and Mom for always supporting me and showing me that God is first, then everything else will fall into place. Ben, Joel, and Anna thanks for preparing me for the NFL in our backyard games growing up. The dreaded in-laws Steve and Suzie for always being there for me. Chris Gittings (agent) you’re the best and thankful your my brother/uncle! Thank you Jets, Patriots, Chargers, and Ravens! Thanks to all my head coaches (Bob Zohner, Brad Smith, Bill O’Boyle, Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan, Bill Belichick, Mike McCoy, and John Harbaugh) who believed in me! To my rbs coaches (coach skiles, coach reiners, Jimmy Raye, A Lynn, Ivan, Ollie, Ridge, and Thomas) thanks for putting up with me. Thanks to all my teammates from high school till now. Without you guys I never would’ve become who I was as a player. To all my olinemen, you guys deserve the credit for anything that I received credit for. I thank you for helping make my career. To all the trainers, team docs, strength coaches, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, body gurus thanks for making sure I was on the field. To all the people who made my life easier at the facility (ops, pr, equipment staff, cafe workers, custodians) thanks and your work doesn’t go unnoticed. And how could i forget all my fans?! You’re the best and have always felt the love and support! I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few but know that I’m thankful for everything everyone has done on my journey.

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Danny Woodhead signed with the San Diego Chargers in 2013 and made his presence known as one of Philip Rivers‘ top receiving threats.

Filling the all-purpose back role that Darren Sproles once mastered, Woodhead scored two rushing touchdowns and added another six scores in the air on 76 catches and 605 yards.

A broken fibula limited Woodhead to three games in 2014, but he returned to catch 80 passes for 755 yards and six touchdowns in 2015. Woodhead also ran for 336 yards and three touchdowns on 98 carries.

Injury struck again when Woodhead tore his ACL in September 2016 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Woodhead totaled 56 rushing yards and caught 33 passes for 200 yards in 2017, his lone year with the Baltimore Ravens.

Woodhead retired after the season. He earned over $15 million in 10 seasons despite going undrafted and always being undersized.

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