Beyond the Big 3: Danny Woodhead

Danny Woodhead's versatility and veteran leadership in the Patriots' young backfield are among his assets. Mitch Stringer/US Presswire

Much of the attention around pending Patriots free agent has been paid to Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer, three of the team's critical starters. But the Patriots have a number of other free agents who could hit the open market one week from today, and we'll use this space to review them and recap their 2012 season.

Player: Danny Woodhead

Position: Running back

Key 2012 stats: 76 rushes, 301 yards (4.0 avg.), 4 TDs; 40 rec., 446 yards, 3 TDs

Playing time (offense): 423 of 1,240 snaps (34.1 percent, 2nd most among Patriots RBs)

2012 season recap: When it comes to Woodhead, the best word to describe his game is reliable, as that's what he was once again for the Patriots in 2012. Perhaps the team's most complete back, Woodhead was often called upon when the team pushed the tempo on offense. He's a capable runner, receiver and pass protector, with good vision and instincts to identify pressure. He had standout games against San Francisco and the Patriots' second matchup against Buffalo, and he became the veteran presence among a young running back group. He played in every game, starting two.

Outlook: The Patriots have four young running backs who project to have roles on the 53-man roster next season: workhorse Stevan Ridley, 2011 second-round pick Shane Vereen, 2012 undrafted revelation Brandon Bolden and Jeff Demps, a speedster who could emerge as a kick returner. Of that group, Vereen's game most closely mirrors what Woodhead brings to the table, with Vereen being the superior athlete but not as polished a player as Woodhead. If the Patriots feel Vereen is ready to take on a more prominent role (he played less than 13 percent of the offensive snaps last year), Woodhead could test the open market. Ultimately, his value and leadership may be too good to pass up.

Projection: Re-signed by the Patriots; two years, $6 million. We'll use the contract that free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis signed with the Bengals last offseason as a barometer of sorts. The "Law Firm" got three years and $9 million after serving as a predominant first- and second-down back for the Patriots. Woodhead's annual average mirrors Green-Ellis' in this scenario, but the Patriots keep the deal at two years because of their stable of young backs who are still developing on the roster.