In today’s NFL, countless players never get an opportunity because they are “too small.” Guys like Russell Wilson, Steve Smith, Emmitt Smith, and Barry Sanders have all been told at some point in their lives that they won’t succeed at the next level because of their size. Standing at 5-foot-7, the same can be said about current San Diego Chargers running back Danny Woodhead, who played college football at D2 school Chadron State because no D1 school thought he was big enough. On this Throw Back Thursday, let’s take a look at some of his accomplishments and his journey to the NFL.
Woodhead attended North Platte High School in North Platte, Nebraska from 2000 to 2003, during which time he became the all-time leading rusher in Nebraska’s Class A football with 4,891 career yards. As a senior he led the class in rushing yards with 2,037 and 31 touchdowns. Despite his impressive production, he didn’t receive a single scholarship offer from a Division 1 school.
After graduation, Woodhead attended a summer football camp at nearby Chadron State, where he decided to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and become an Eagle. In the school’s 96-year history they had never offered anyone a full ride scholarship until Danny Woodhead came along. In his freshman season, he proved that he was a worthy recipient after he led D2 in rushing yards (1,840 total), all-purpose yards (2,087), and points scored (27 TDs). He was also named the Offensive Freshman of the Year in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference for his efforts.
Woodhead would go on to set numerous D2 records. His 2,756 rushing yards in the 2006 season set a single-season D2 record. His 7,962 career rushing yard are the most in D2 history, as are his 9,480 all-purpose yards. He was only the second player in the history of college football to score more than 100 career touchdowns, and by the end of his senior season, Woodhead had scored at least one touchdown in 37 consecutive games – also a record at any division. Nominated all four years, he won the Harlon Hill Trophy (awarded to the MVP of D2 football each year) in both his junior and senior year.
Despite his impressive, borderline legendary resume, Woodhead didn’t receive an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine. During his school’s Pro Day, his 40-yard dash times of 4.33 and 4.38 seconds would have made him the second-fastest running back at the combine. These numbers didn’t seem to matter to teams, at least not as much as the other number – 5-foot-7 – as he went undrafted. He then signed as an undrafted rookie free agent with the New York Jets.
While he didn’t have a whole lot of luck with the Jets, the tables turned when the New England Patriots picked Woodhead up in 2010. Under coach Bill Belichick he went on to rush for 547 yards that season, at an average of 5.68 yards per carry to set a new Patriots record. The Patriots gave him a two-year extension, and when his contract expired he signed a new two-year deal with the San Diego Chargers, where he is still on the roster. After his 2014 season ended with a broken fibula, only time will tell if he can continue to make solid contributions in the NFL in 2015. Don’t bet against him.
If you thought Danny Woodhead’s quick cuts were impressive in the NFL, you’ll definitely want to take a look at this highlight reel from his college days at Chadron State: