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How much will the Chargers miss Danny Woodhead?

How important is Danny Woodhead to Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ offense? Very, and the team doesn’t appear to have a clear replacement for him.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Let me take you back about four years to the signing of Danny Woodhead by the (then) San Diego Chargers. Here are the first words I wrote on the matter:

I love this signing. Danny Woodhead was similar to Darren Sproles in that the New England Patriots could plug him anywhere into the offense and he would find ways to be effective. He's a solid runner, pass-catcher and pass-blocker.

It turned out that Woodhead was a better running, pass catcher, and pass blocker than Darren Sproles (although “The Lightning Bug” had the advantage of being crazy valuable on Special Teams).

Here’s why, years after Darren Sproles left for the New Orleans Saints, we were still talking about him in San Diego:

Philip Rivers per year (with Darren Sproles): 3,903 pass yds, 27 TD, 11 INT, 63.8% comp.
Philip Rivers per year (post-Sproles, pre-Woodhead): 4,115 pass yds, 26 TD, 18 INT, 63.5% comp.

That’s a lot more interceptions, presumably the result of Rivers forcing things without his most reliable check-down option.

Once the team realized that Rivers was missing his check-down buddy, they signed Woodhead and......

Philip Rivers 2013: 4,478 pass yds, 32 TD, 11 INT, 69.5% comp.

(then Woodhead missed almost all of 2014)

Philip Rivers 2015: 4,792 pass yds, 29 TD, 13 INT, 66.1% comp.

(then Woodhead missed almost all of 2016)

So, yes, Woodhead wasn’t the most reliable guy to get on the field. However, he was useful when he was there. (For what it’s worth, Rivers threw 18 INT in 2014 and 21 INT in 2016.)

This leads me to one dramatic conclusion: Philip Rivers needs a RB that can be his check-down receiver and Melvin Gordon probably ain’t it. If he doesn’t have it, you can count on his INT numbers to average out to more than 1 INT per game, which is bad.

Could Branden Oliver be that guy? Could Kenjon Barner? Maybe and maybe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Los Angeles Chargers’ front office kept their eyes open after roster cuts for a guy that fits this small, but crucial, role in their passing offense.