Woodhead an important piece to Patriots new rushing attack

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Woodhead an important piece to Patriots new rushing attack

FOXBORO -- With Stevan Ridley putting together back-to-back 100-plus yard rushing games, and Brandon Bolden throwing in one of his own, the Patriots ground game has gotten some good attention this season.
Danny Woodhead also deserves a share of the credit.
Sunday against Seattle, New England rushed for only 87 yards as a team. Woodhead averaged 6.3 yards on his four carries. He added 46 yards on five catches.
Though his numbers aren't gaudy, they still made an impact.
The Patriots needed 6 yards and Woodhead got 7. They needed 4 and he got 9. They needed 10, he got 12.
"Danny is obviously a very important player for us," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "Hes made a lot of critical plays, whether its catches or runs, third-down protections or blocking blitzers. Danny has filled that role and done a really nice job with it."
Could Woodhead's work in clutch situations evolve into a third-down role similar to Kevin Faulk's?
"Kevin was certainly one of the best Patriots ever and had a great career and did a lot of similar things, but I think theyre different players," McDaniels noted carefully. "Danny did definitely show up and make some important plays for us yesterday like he has all year."
His responsibilities have at least shifted in the locker room, if not by default. When BenJarvus Green-Ellis was traded to Cincinnati, Woodhead, at age 27, became New England's most senior running back. Ridley and Shane Vereen are in their sophomore seasons. Bolden is a rookie.
So it's for Woodhead to answer, not ask questions.
"It's not something that I think about too much. I like to think of myself as a young guy, still. You guys are starting to make me feel old," he laughed. "But, whatever it may be . . . if I am older, I guess I'm older."
The Patriots may ask even more of him in the coming weeks. Bolden suffered a knee injury in Sunday's loss to Seattle and has missed practice since. If he's inactive for Sunday's divisional game against the Jets, the running back corps will have to rally.
Woodhead isn't worried.
"We're a very close unit. All of us are great friends. It's a very, very, very unselfish group of guys. That's what you need in a room like that. When you get off the field, if you make a play, the other guys are the first ones to be there to congratulate you. We've got a very tight room."

Caserio: Brady's age has nothing to do with draft approach

Caserio: Brady's age has nothing to do with draft approach

FOXBORO -- The Patriots took four players in this year's draft. Four. That's the smallest draft class in team history

Instead, as Bill Belichick highlighted on Friday night, they spent multiple picks in this year's draft to pick up proven commodities. 

* Their first and third-rounders were sent to New Orleans in exchange for receiver Brandin Cooks and a fourth. 

* Their second-rounder ended up in Carolina, bringing defensive end Kony Ealy and a third to New England. 

* They lost a fourth-rounder to Deflategate and sent another away in order to pry tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth-rounder from the Colts. 

* They sent a fifth-rounder to Buffalo as compensation for signing restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee. 

* Before last season the Patriots sent a fifth to Cleveland for linebacker Barkevious Mingo. 

* Before last season's trade deadline they sent a sixth-round pick to Detroit for Kyle Van Noy and a seventh-rounder. 

"Obviously, we’ve been watching a lot of picks go by," Belichick said on Friday, "but I feel like overall our opportunity in this draft started a couple of months ago. The four players that we acquired already are also part of the draft process. Hopefully we’ve been able to improve our team, become more competitive. That’s the ultimate goal."

Even on the last day of the draft, the Patriots didn't stop trading picks for veterans when they sent No. 183 overall to Kansas City in exchange for tight end James O'Shaughnessy

But when Nick Caserio was asked on Saturday if his team's approach to the draft -- taking more established players instead of gambling on draft picks -- had anything to do with Tom Brady's age, he shot down that theory.

“That has zero to do with it,” Caserio said. “I would say really the team-building process is very fluid. How it is going to go? There’s no template. There is no book with how it is going to go. 

"There’s a lot of really good players that were in this draft that have been drafted and will help their respective teams. We understand that and understand we felt the same way. There were enough players up there that we felt good about. We take the resources that we have and we try and make the best decision for our team."

In reality, the approach of taking such a small number of draftees is probably more a reflection of the current roster than the quarterback's age. It's loaded, and it seems like there will be relatively few opportunities for rookies to make the Week 1 roster.

Patriots take just 4 players in smallest draft class in franchise history

Patriots take just 4 players in smallest draft class in franchise history

FOXBORO -- Heading into the opening of the 2017 draft on Thursday, the Patriots had just six selections -- none of which were in the first two rounds. It stood to reason that the team might get creative and find a way to make either more selections or earlier selections. When all was said and done, the opposite had occurred. 

The Patriots concluded the draft having made just four selections -- two in the third, one in the fourth and one in the sixth -- in what proved to be the smallest draft class in franchise history. 

The Pats’ selections were: 

Amongst other trades, the Pats moved the fifth-round pick they had entering the weekend to Kansas for tight end James O’Shaughnessy. They also traded a seventh-round pick to the Cowboys in order to move up in the sixth round to select McDermott. 

During the offseason, the Pats moved first, second and third-round picks in deals that netted them receiver Brandin Cooks and pass-rusher Kony Ealy. The team also surrended a fifth-round pick to the Bills for signing restricted free agent running back Mike Gillislee. 

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said after the draft that he isn't surprised that the team, which has historically placed a high value on draft picks, only picked four players. 

"Whoever we end up with, we end up with," Caserio said. "I mean, the draft, whoever we pick -- OK, there's four players there -- we acquired players as a part of trades. They're a part of it; the undrafted players are a part of it, so let's call it, I don't know, 25 to 30 new players that we've sort of added to the team. However they get here, they get here. We can't necessarily control that. We just try to take our resources and try to make the best decision for our team and get the players on the team however we can get them here. That's what we try to do."

Prior to 2017, the Pats’ smallest draft class was in 2002, when the team made six selections. That class also featured higher picks, however, as the team picked in the first round (Daniel Graham) and second (Deion Branch). Rivers’ selection at No. 83 made him the latest into a draft that the Pats had made their first selection.