After weeks of showing up on the injury report Jay Ajayi’s season is over. It wasn’t due to the fractured back, which cost Ayai one game this season and may have limited him in others. Instead, Ajayi tore his ACL sometime during Sunday’s game against the Vikings.
Why is #Eagles RB Jay Ajayi on Injured Reserve? He tore his ACL, source said. He’s out for the season and for someone who already had major knee issues, this is another one.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 8, 2018
Let’s dig into the aftermath of the Ajayi injury for all those involved.
A disappointing season has come to a disappointing end. Ajayi’s finishes his year as the RB34(tied), with an average of 10.9 fantasy points per game. After starting the season with an RB1 performance, Ajayi followed that up with three weeks as an RB2 or worse and one did not play.
Week 1 = RB12
Week 2 = RB31
Week 3 = Did not play
Week 4 = RB27
Week = RB47
Ajayi was stuck in a committee which limited his touches and fantasy upside on a weekly basis. His highest touch count of the season came in week 4 with just 18 total touches. Rushing attempts were split between Ajayi, Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, Josh Adams, and Darren Sproles. All in all the 2018 season can be summarized as being a disappointment. The long-term effect of this injury for Ajayi is more than disappointing.
His RB15 season in 2016(excludes players who played less than 8 games) is now beginning to look like the zenith of Ajayi’s career. The 2017 season started poorly with 0 RB1 weeks and just 2 RB2 weeks with the Dolphins before Ajayi was traded to the Eagles. Using the RotoViz games split app we see that with the Eagles, Ayayi did score 1.53 more fantasy points per game than he did while with the Dolphins.
But Ajayi shared touches with Clement and LeGarrette Blount through the remainder of the 2017 regular season and during the Eagles Super Bowl run. A free agent after this season, Ajayi will be recovering from a torn ACL, while already dealing with the stigma of having a bone on bone knee condition. Wherever Ajayi lands next season he’s not going to be the lead back (at least not entering OTAs), instead he’ll likely end up in another committee. For Dynasty purposes Ajayi is a hold, there’s no way you can sell him now. I wouldn’t be opposed to buying Ajayi. Players routinely recover from ACL injuries, and I haven’t seen any actual evidence on his chronic bone on bone condition affecting Ajayi during games. Offer 2019 rookie 3rd round picks for Ajayi to see if you can get his current owners to bite.
Smallwood barely survived the preseason to make the Eagles roster and now could be the starting running back Thursday night against the Giants. Sharing the backfield with Ajayi for a majority of the season, Smallwood was the more efficient of the two players. Smallwood ranks 18th at running back with 1.17 Fantasy Points Per Opportunity where Ajayi ranks 51st with .83 FPPO. In overall fantasy scoring, Smallwood also bests Ajayi scoring 11.7 points per game compared to Ajayi’s 10.6 points per game.
Smallwood has finished as the RB55, RB10, RB33, and RB15 with limited usage. That’s an RB3 or better finish in three of four games played this season for Smallwood. Considering that Smallwood has 8 or less total touches in 3 out 4 of those games his fantasy scoring has been fairly impressive. Without Ajayi, it’s reasonable to assume that Smallwood will see an increase in his 40.3% snap share, 6.2 rushing attempts per game and 3.8 targets per game. With an expected increase in touches, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Smallwood produces as an RB2 the rest of this season. Giving up a 2nd round rookie pick, if you’re a contender, would not be the worst idea. Temper your expectations though, Smallwood is not going to suddenly get 15 carries a game, but the next player might.
Clement has missed the last two weeks dealing with a quad injury. He did suit up on Sunday but didn’t touch the field. You can expect Clement to be back in action week 7 at the latest. Once Clement is back he will be the Eagles starter. Clement flashed a bit in the 2017 regular season, but it was during the playoffs where he really established himself. His playoff run consisted of 33 rushing yards and 139 yards receiving, 100 of which came in the Super Bowl.
When Jay Ajayi was unable to play against Indianapolis early this year it was Clement, not Smallwood, who was named the starter. Clement went on to out-touch Smallwood 19-13, though Smallwood did outscore Clement. This is the split you should expect going forward in 2018.
In three games this season Clement averages 9 carries and 3.3 targets per game. Clement is averaging .88 FPPO but his 2017 rate of 1.02 (27th) is more indicative of his talent. He’s an excellent receiver, a decent blocker and a better pure runner than Smallwood. Taking over the Ajayi role, expect to see Clement approach the 15 carries per game that Ajayi averaged when healthy. I’m willing to part with an early 2nd rounder or even multiple 2nd rounders to acquire Clement.
Darren Sproles and Josh Adams
Darren Sproles hasn’t played since week 1 as he deals with an injured hamstring. He also sat out practice Monday and is unlikely to go Thursday. Pick him up anyway. Whenever Sproles returns, he’ll have a role.
Adams is a speculative add. As I’ve noted the Eagles have a committee approach at the running back position. If either Clement or Smallwood goes down, then Adams moves up one more notch on the totem pole.
Thanks for reading. Who are you targeting from the Eagles backfield? Let me know below or on Twitter @DFF_Shane.