At some point, Ravens quarterback Josh Woodrum’s own agent asked him if he wanted to keep taking tryouts with NFL teams.
Of course, Woodrum said. How else was he going to make it to the NFL, where he knew he belonged?
“I always thought I was talented enough to play in the league,” Woodrum said. “All I needed was an opportunity.”
The Ravens are the latest team to give him that chance. It’s his fifth team in about 16 months, but the first to give him game action.
Woodrum has become an overnight darling in Baltimore after scoring two touchdowns and going 8-of-10 for 110 yards passing in Thursday night’s 31-7 preseason win over the Miami Dolphins.
As fans and media continue to evaluate Ryan Mallett as the team’s No. 2 quarterback, people are jumping on the Woodrum bandwagon. While he’s still a longshot to be Baltimore’s top backup, he does have one heck of a story.
Woodrum went to Liberty, a small school in Lynchburg, Va. After a redshirt year, he took over the starting job as a freshman and led the team to three consecutive Big South Conference championships, setting school records along the way.
He was one of two Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) quarterbacks invited to the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, along with North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Usually a combine invite means a player is going to be drafted. Wentz was the No. 2-overall pick.
Woodrum was told by scouts to expect to be a developmental pick somewhere between the fifth and seventh rounds. There were 15 quarterbacks drafted, but Woodrum’s name was never called.
He signed with the New York Giants, but Head Coach Ben McAdoo called him into his office at the end of rookie minicamp, after just three days with the team, and told him they were going in a different direction. Woodrum was shocked.
“I felt kind of heartbroken, honestly, because I was so mentally and emotionally ready to stay there and I got kicked out right away,” he said.
The Indianapolis Colts picked him up off waivers, and Woodrum spent Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamp with them. He was released before the start of training camp and the 2016 season kicked off with Woodrum in the unemployment line.
Woodrum worked out for the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins before he was finally signed to the Chicago Bears’ practice squad in mid-November. He was released less than a month later.
After the season ended, he signed a future/reserves contract with Buffalo and spent OTAs there before being released in late May.
Baltimore signed him on July 31, about a week into training camp, to primarily be a practice arm while Joe Flacco (back) was sidelined. The Ravens had experimented with another backup quarterback, David Olson, but let him loose to give Woodrum a shot.
The jumps from one team to another have been tough on Woodrum, who just wants to settle in somewhere long enough to make an impression.
“It’s been really emotional because you meet guys and you get attached to coaches and the organization,” Woodrum said.
“In college, you get a scholarship and you know you’re going to be there for four years. You mentally and emotionally invest in something for four years. When you’re an undrafted guy like me, it’s not like that. It’s a pure business.”
Woodrum’s entire goal was to get to the preseason with an NFL team. The Ravens were finally giving him that chance, and he’s extremely grateful and determined to show he can play.
“I always talk to my parents and close friends and say I just need an opportunity to go somewhere and get a little bit of film,” Woodrum said. “I feel like I can really play in this league.”
Woodrum got his first NFL game action last Thursday against the Redskins. His first pass in an NFL game was a 33-yard touchdown to undrafted wide receiver Tim White. Woodrum went on to go 4-for-4 for 85 yards passing and 15 yards rushing.
After Mallett put up another up-and-down performance in Miami, going 13-of-22 for 113 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, Woodrum entered the game at the start of the second half with the Ravens leading, 13-7.
That changed in a hurry. Woodrum’s second drive was a quick three-play, 54-yard march, capped off by a bootleg in which he rolled to his right around a falling Dolphins defender and raced into the end zone for a 14-yard score. He hit tight end Maxx Williams for a 40-yard catch-and-run.
On his next drive, Woodrum hit passes of 4 and 17 yards. He ended it with a 1-yard plunge on a quarterback sneak before pulling off the team’s first choreographed celebration of the year.
“I go in the huddle and I was like, ‘Who wants to spike it once I get in?’” Woodrum said. “The offensive linemen were like, ‘No, no, no. You score and we’ll explode.’ … It’s pretty awesome. I couldn’t ask for anything better than this opportunity.”
So what’s kept Woodrum going? Who has inspired him through all the heartbreaks? Yes, this story gets even better.
“That’s easy. My little brother,” Woodrum said. “He’s 21 and he has down syndrome. Every day he wakes up and is happy and in a good mood. I just want to make him proud.”
Woodrum’s brother, Chris, won two gold medals at the 2010 Special Olympics in the 50-yard backstroke and 100-yard freestyle. He also took home a silver in the 4x50 relay. Chris wrestled in the Special Olympics and also rode horses. Whenever Woodrum doesn’t feel like doing something, he thinks about his brother.
“I’m so proud of him,” Woodrum said.
Woodrum is making a lot of people in Baltimore proud. He isn’t just impressing fans who often latch onto the backup quarterback (remember Bryn Renner a year ago?) No, Woodrum is receiving higher-than-usual praise from coaches and teammates.
“Josh has poise. He can play the game,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He has talent, he can throw the ball a little bit and he’s pretty athletic when you see him run. … He finds receivers and makes plays.”
“I call him ‘The Magic Man,’” Williams said. “He somehow always finds how to make a play. Last game he played, he’s down there on the goal line trying to dive in, sliding underneath guys and not getting hit. Tonight, he’s out there making plays. I think he’s a great player.”
Williams added: “He’s a great guy, humble, cares about football, cares about us. It’s great having people around like that.”
Woodrum said he’s not thinking about his chances of making the team. If he doesn’t land on the 53-man roster, he could be kept as the practice squad scout-team quarterback. He said he’s just focusing on the next practice, the next game.
“If I do bad in practice, I know I can be gone in a minute,” Woodrum said. “Nothing in the NFL is guaranteed. Right off the bat, I learned that the hard way. It’s just a journey I have to go on. I didn’t start at the top; hopefully I can keep climbing.”