The Philadelphia Eagles were dealt a brutal blow when the news broke they lost running back Jay Ajayi for the season to a torn ACL. The 25-year-old running back’s absence means the Eagles will likely head to some form of a running back by committee.
There’s no question the committee approach to backfields can be a massive headache for fantasy football owners, and for those attempting to replace Ajayi, it’s even worse. So ahead of the Eagles’ Week 6 matchup on Thursday Night Football with the New York Giants, we’re going to dive in and look at how to approach the position.
Wendell Smallwood is the starting point here, but not due to the fact that he’s expected to have the largest workload. Instead, he’s arguably the toughest player in the Philadelphia backfield to gauge, so we’ll attempt to break down the start-sit topic around him.
Wendell Smallwood’s Realistic Fantasy Value
As long as Darren Sproles remains out, there’s going to be a heavy dose of both Smallwood and Corey Clement. Sproles and Clement were sidelined in Week 5, but as Zack Rosenblatt of NJ.com revealed, the latter has returned to practice. At this point, it’s safe to assume Clement will play after missing two games while Sproles will almost certainly be sidelined again.
Smallwood’s value seemingly comes as a pass-catcher, but it’ll only remain remotely high while Sproles is inactive. Over the past three games, the 24-year-old back has caught nine passes for 94 yards and one touchdown. Unfortunately, Clement also has upside as a target for Carson Wentz out of the backfield, and in his last two games, he totaled eight receptions for 74 yards.
The best thing we can do to start is to look at the last game Ajayi missed, which came in Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts. As Football Outsiders shows, Clement drew 55 percent of the offensive snaps compared to 35 percent for Smallwood. The percentages may even out a bit more this week, especially since Clement is returning from injury, but it doesn’t help the call on whether to start Smallwood.
Should You Start or Sit Wendell Smallwood?
The toughest part about this situation is that the Giants have struggled against running backs. If this were a tough matchup, fantasy owners could simply avoid starting either Smallwood or Clement. But on the year, the Giants have given up 424 rushing yards and four touchdowns, as well as 30 receptions for 256 receiving yards and four additional scores.
This would be a great spot for a running back who receives the bulk of their team’s snaps, but the best way to approach Smallwood is on a case-by-case basis. If you’re in a 14-team league (either point-per-reception or standard) I’d be fine starting Smallwood, especially in the flex.
If you’re looking at him as a RB2 or flex option in 12-team leagues, I’d prefer a player with a solid matchup who has a safe workload over Smallwood. But for owners who are attempting to replace Ajayi, this may be one of their only options, so the furthest I’d go is to use him as a mid-range flex play.
Beyond Week 6, you’re going to want to come up with a plan aside from Smallwood or Clement more than likely. As soon as Sproles returns from injury, he’ll almost certainly take over the pass-catching duties for the Eagles which will crush the value of both players. But for one week, you can use Smallwood if needed, just not in leagues smaller than 12 teams.