Chadron State running back Danny Woodhead, the NCAA’s career rushing leader, signed a free-agent deal with the New York Jets on Sunday night, according to the player and his agent.
Agent Chris Gittings said he and Woodhead thought the Jets were a good fit after teams passed on the 5-foot-7½ running back during the draft, mostly because of his size. Woodhead ran for 7,962 yards in four seasons for the Division II school in western Nebraska.
Terms of the deal for the two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winner were not immediately disclosed, and the Jets would not confirm the signing.
“I’m more than happy with what I got,” Woodhead said.
Woodhead, who worked out in the weeks leading up to the draft in his hometown of North Platte, wasn’t invited to February’s scouting combine and wasn’t among the 27 running backs drafted. But he was impressive during his pro day in Lincoln, running a 40-yard dash that was timed between 4.33 and 4.38 seconds, recording a vertical jump of 38½ inches and bench-pressing 225 pounds 20 times.
Woodhead will be competing for a roster spot at a position that already includes Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Jesse Chatman.
The Jets have played a number of undrafted free agents in recent years, including guard Brandon Moore, punter Ben Graham, wide receiver Wallace Wright, fullback Stacy Tutt, tight end Joe Kowalewski and defensive lineman Mike DeVito.
“We’re the land of opportunity,” general manager Mike Tannenbaum said in his draft wrapup news conference Sunday night.
Gittings said it was frustrating that other small running backs were considered better draft prospects than Woodhead. Rutgers’ Ray Rice is 5-8 and was taken by Baltimore in the second round, while Georgia’s 5-9 Thomas Brown was drafted by Atlanta in the sixth. Also drafted were Michigan’s Mike Hart (listed just under 5-9) and California’s Justin Forsett (5-8).
Asked whether he thought size matters in the NFL, Woodhead said: “I don’t, but you’re also talking to a 5-7½, 200-pound running back.”