The Pittsburgh Steelers believed that they had struck gold in the 2012 NFL draft when they selected running-back/wide-receiver/special teams returner Chris Rainey out of Florida late on. After a disappointing initial season as a professional, however, Rainey compounded his poor displays on the field with a major one off of it. The Steelers decided to part ways with the rookie after an alleged altercation with his girlfriend a matter of weeks after the season had come to a close. Rainey came out of college with some character question marks, so the Steelers had him on a strict policy even before then.
Rainey didn’t do enough to really be missed by the Steelers’ offense, but he was expected to add a new dimension to the offense. His ability to make plays in space as well as line up as a receiver or in the backfield was supposed to make him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Of course, that never came to fruition, but the Steelers still need someone to fill that role for Todd Haley’s offense. Each of Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer enter this off-season as some form of free agents, but even then, Mendenhall is the only one with any kind of versatility in the open field or the ability to line up outside often.
The Steelers could be in the market for a feature back, but presuming that they decide to re-sign at least two of their current backs, they will also need to find someone who plays the position in a similar style to Rainey. There aren’t that many impressive backs who can fill that role. Haley drafted Dexter McCluster in Kansas City to play in his offense, but he never worked out and eventually became a full-time slot receiver. Outside of trading for McCluster and looking to develop him into that role again, the Steelers’ most likely course of action would be to sign Danny Woodhead in free agency.
Woodhead has been an impressive playmaker for the New England Patriots over the past few years. However, just like the emergence of Stevan Ridley made BenJarvus Green-Ellis expendable, Shane Vereen showed towards the end of this year that he will be able to play that part in the Patriots’ offense moving forward. With Woodhead entering free agency, it appears very unlikely that he won’t be following Green-Ellis by leaving Boston. Of course, he could take that one step further by following his former teammate to the AFC North if he signed with the Steelers.
At 27 years of age, Woodhead isn’t young, but he is experienced without the wear and tear of a typical NFL back. Filling the role he did in New England allowed him to see the field often, but only as part of a committee. Through five seasons of his career, Woodhead has just 265 carries for 1,263 rushing yards for 10 touchdowns and 100 receptions for 1,069 yards and four touchdowns. Along with those numbers, he has also only fumbled the ball twice during that time.
Standing at just 5-8 and 200 lbs, Woodhead is built like a wide receiver, but has the ability to carry the ball between the tackles. He also offers the Steelers another kick returner to keep Antonio Brown from absorbing unnecessary hits.
Being that he has only been a bit-part player for the Patriots over the years, the Steelers likely wouldn’t need to offer him much of a contract in order to sign him. Woodhead highly sought after, but only to fill similar roles across each of his suitors. Nobody is going to offer him the same kind of deal that Green-Ellis received last year to carry the load for the Cincinnati Bengals.