Eagles running back Jay Ajayi was impressive in his debut against the Denver Broncos, but with two weeks to prepare including a Week 10 bye, he could have an even larger role in the offense Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
Four days after being acquired via a trade with the Miami Dolphins prior to the Oct. 31 trade deadline, Ajayi rushed for 77 yards and a touchdown on eight carries and played a factor in a run-pass option touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery back in Week 9.
With two weeks to digest the playbook, Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich says that Ajayi's ready to handle whatever the coaching staff throws at him in Sunday's game.
Related players: LeGarrette Blount
Assuming Ertz is back in Week 11 against the Dallas Cowboys, and in all likelihood he will be, that means the team will only be dressing four running backs—and it seems pretty clear that Wendell Smallwood will be the odd-man out.
Smallwood spent most of the team's win over the Broncos on the bench, as he as on the field for just six snaps -- all of which came once the game was essentially over. The three running backs ahead of him on the depth chart, LeGarrette Blount (16), Jay Ajayi (17) and Corey Clement (28) all played considerably more than Smallwood did.
Related players: Kenjon Barner
Barner played less than Smallwood but is a major part of the special teams unit, so it seems Smallwood would be inactive once Ertz returns, which could be Week 11 after the team's bye this week. Smallwood's fantasy value looked good for a while when it was thought he'd replace Darren Sproles, but now it seems there are too many other backs ahead of him on the depth chart.
Neither Doug Pederson nor running back Jay Ajayi would say whether Ajayi definitely will play Sunday when the Eagles host the Denver Broncos, but the most likely scenario seems to be that Ajayi will be active, working with a limited package of plays.
This is a huge trade with massive fantasy implications. The Dolphins have been very poor on offense (second-fewest rushing yards per game and no rushing touchdowns on the year), but expect some type of backfield split between Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. As it stands, Williams has 20 touches on the year compared to Drake's 13. Williams holds the edge in snaps, 82 to 45. As for the Eagles, the days of Ajayi getting 22 touches per week may be over with Blount and Smallwood involved. Ajayi's volume will likely take a hit, but his efficiency should increase as he'll now play in one of the best offenses in the league. Keep an eye out for our updated rest-of-season rankings, which will be released later today.
Smallwood missed the last two games because of a knee injury. Barner has only been OK in terms of a pass-catching back, so Smallwood should jump back into the role of third down back as well as splitting time on early downs with Blount and Clement. It's a crowded backfield but Smallwood's use in the passing game should give him a fantasy advantage in PPR leagues.
Friday, October 6, 2017, 6:42pm
Eagles RB Wendell Smallwood (knee, questionable) missed practice all week and is questionable for Week 5. Smallwood is not expected to play. It would be a bump for LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement.
The best chance the Eagles have on their roster of replacing Darren Sproles is second-year back Wendell Smallwood, but because of his limitations in pass protection, it is unlikely they will make him the featured back.
Related Players: LeGarrette Blount
Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich said Tuesday Smallwood would "no doubt" have an increased role, but how much remains to be seen. This will likely still be a split backfield with Blout and Smallwood, but fantasy owners are just hoping it doesn't become a 3-man RBBC again, even without Sproles for the rest of the season.
About five weeks ago, reporters were asking Wendell Smallwood if he thought he would make the Eagles’ roster.
Smallwood made it, despite a hamstring injury that dogged him through training camp and the preseason. Tuesday, reporters were asking Smallwood if he thinks he can fill in for Darren Sproles the rest of the year.
“There’s no doubt Wendell’s going to have an increased role,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Tuesday. “He’s the guy – I think all the [backs] have some third-down ability, but I think Wendell has really improved in that area. He showed a natural aptitude for it early, both from a protection standpoint and from a route-running standpoint. I’m not sure you can ever replace ‘43’ in that regard; he’s just a unique player. But I feel good about Wendell, and him stepping up.”
The hype around Smallwood started at the same time the rumors of Blount not making the team came about. Those who follow the team feel he has improved in the pass-catching area so he's the logical choice for replacing Sproles in passing downs. Keep in mind, the Eagles haven't been a sure-thing when it comes to consistently running the ball, but Smallwood's potential role in the passing game should give him value going forward.
Don’t expect any one running back to carry the load in Philadelphia this season.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said today that he won’t have one featured back as his full-time starter this year. Instead, he’ll rotate things from one game to the next, playing the players who match up best with that week’s opponent.
Pederson added four of the RBs would be active week-to-week. Most likely, Clement or Pumphrey would sit a majority of the weeks, especially Pumphrey who didn't show much of anything this summer, but was a fourth round pick. Blount and Smallwood should carry much of the early-down workload with Sproles obviously a passing-catching threat. Smallwood has also improved his pass-catching. This situation will need to sort itself out. The Eagles did use this approach last year to an extent, but it could very well mean the team is still looking for someone to step up and carry the load.
Becuase Pederson praised the veteran back’s work, and suggested that he’s not really on the bubble at all.
Via Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, Pederson was asked about Blount’s possible roster status, the Eagles coach said: “The guy’s a beast of a runner.”
Pederson also said he expects Blount to be “a big part of our offense.”
Related players: Wendell Smallwood
The Blount story has really picked up steam the last few days in Philly as the Wendell Smallwood hype also exploded in that time. Blount appeared slow on a couple of sweep runs last week and it had many wondering how much he has in the tank after 299 carries last season. Blount also fumbled after catching a pass on the Eagles' first team's most productive drive to that point of the game with Buffalo.
Despite the fact that he has opened both preseason games atop the depth chart and been given the bulk of the snaps and carries with the first-team offense, it wouldn't be surprising to see LeGarrette Blount among the Eagles' cuts despite signing as a free agent back in May.
Related players: Wendell Smallwood
This is a story that's picking up a ton of steam in Philly the last two days, perhaps all because of a couple of sweep runs in preseason Week 2 which made Blount appear extremely slow. In Blount's defense, he ran those plays due to a lack of healthy Eagles RBs, at least according to Eagles HC Doug Pederson who cited injuries to Darren Sproles and Smallwood. Also keep in mind the Eagles could be putting those plays on tape to keep defenses on their toes as Blount on the field usually signifies a run up the middle. Perhaps most important about this story is the talk of Smallwood as of late, and how his role could be vital to the Eagles in 2017, especially if Blount doesn't make the team. Until now, he's been somewhat of an afterthought. Smallwood's being called the Eagles most complete back, with those who follow the team saying he's bulked up and has improved in the passing game. For those who took Blount and could be left on the short end of the stick, Smallwood is a player to keep in mind as a replacement. However there's probably no need to overreact at this point, but having a plan in mind always helps.
LeGarrette Blount has underwhelmed this summer with nine carries for 17 yards. In Thursday’s 20-16 win over Buffalo, Blount had five carries for 8 yards and fumbled on one of his two receptions.
Coach Doug Pederson played down Blount’s lack of production. He said the Eagles have not called any design runs. They’re using training-camp concepts and trying to get evaluations of their personnel. He expects different results when there are blocking schemes and running schemes tailored to the personnel, game situation, and defense they face.
In 19 games (including the playoffs), Blount averaged 67 yards and 1.0 TD en route to 12.9 PPG and a #9 finish at his position in PPR formats. He only averaged 3.80 YPC on the year, and just 3.29 YPC over his final eight games. He should take over the Ryan Mathews role in the Philadelphia offense. Mathews saw 168 touches (13 receptions) in 13 games, or 12.9 touches per game. If Blount gets all of Mathews’ carries and plays a full season, he should see 185-195 carries and is a threat for double-digit touchdowns. (Mathews scored eight rushing touchdowns last year.) Beware of Wendell Smallwood though, as some reports this preseason say he may be involved more than last season. That could eat into Blount's projected early-down workload, especially if he continues to struggle.
Mathews had his surgically repaired neck checked out, and doctors gave him a clean bill of health.
To update this item, reports later said the team has officially released Mathews.
Mathews turns 30 in October. He had 155 carries and 661 yards last season in 13 games but did have eight TDs in that span.
"Smallwood looks explosive and physical running with the football, and smooth as a receiver out of the backfield. "Thrashing" is how Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich described the second-year back the other day, and I agree...I think we see quite a bit more Smallwood than Pumphrey, and he could wind up with the most touches out of the whole bunch before the season ends."
The Eagles backfield was already a weekly minefield last season in Doug Pederson's first season as head coach. Darren Sproles was the best finisher at RB24 in PPR, and Ryan Mathews was the best finisher in standard at RB25. No RB saw more than 168 touches last season in Philadelphia. This could turn into a three-headed running back by committee or worse.
The Eagles' running back situation is like a giant puzzle. We know the pieces but we don't know how they'll all fit together just yet.
"They're open to everything," LeGarrette Blount said. "They're not going to just specifically put me in the role of short-yardage, goal line back. That's not what they brought me here for. They have an open mind. They're going to put me in other situations. I'm excited about every part of the game."
Blount, 30, is coming off a season that saw him carry the ball 299 times for 1,161 yards and an astounding 18 touchdowns. For comparison, the Eagles' top rusher in 2016 was Ryan Mathews, who carried the ball 155 times for 661 yards and eight scores. (Mathews is still technically on the roster but is expected to be cut once fully healed.)
After Blount, the Eagles still have Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Donnell Pumphrey. All four backs seem to have different skill sets and it'll be up to head coach Doug Pederson to figure out how the puzzle fits together.
Pederson was quoted in the story saying he wanted to get all the RB touches. That's something similar to what happened last year, which isn't an ideal fantasy situation. But, Blount should get a bulk of early down work at least, while Sproles and Pumphrey, who seem to be of the same mold, get third down work and passing situation downs. Smallwood seems to be more of a backup to Blount.
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