Jay Ajayi and his troublesome knees are back in the news. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the fourth-year running back tore his ACL, leaving a gaping hole in the Philadelphia Eagles backfield. This injury creates an opportunity for running backs Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement. While both players will see an increase in snaps, fantasy football owners should target Wendell Smallwood before Corey Clement.
Eagles’ RB Jay Ajayi tore his ACL and is out for the season, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 8, 2018
Fantasy Football: Take Wendell Smallwood Over Corey Clement
What Philadelphia Needs To Replace
In order to properly assess which player is more likely to replace Ajayi, we must first identify what Ajayi did in the Eagles offense. Prior to his injury, Ajayi played in 32.4% of the offensive snaps, tied with Smallwood for most on the team among running backs. In those 120 snaps, Ajayi recorded 45 carries for 184 yards and throw touchdowns. Additionally, Ajayi recorded an additional five receptions for 20 yards in the passing game.
From these numbers, it’s clear to see that Ajayi was primarily utilized in the running game and his absence shouldn’t drastically affect the passing game. As a rusher, Ajayi was most successful running up the middle. Per sharpfootballstats.com, Ajayi averaged 5.1 yards per carry when running behind center and 4.5 yards per carry when running behind right guard. He also averaged 4.4 yards per carry on runs off left tackle.
Comparing Clement and Smallwood
As previously mentioned, Smallwood has the highest snap percentage among Eagles running backs with 32.43%. While volume obviously is a factor in fantasy football effectiveness, Clement isn’t that far behind Smallwood. On the season, Clement has seen 24.59% of snaps, which isn’t that much less than Smallwood. The Eagles clearly like both players, and both should continue to see the field regularly.
Additionally, while both players are good at carrying the ball, Smallwood has been the better runner. So far, Clement has more carries (27) than Smallwood (25), yet Smallwood has managed to put up 150 yards and a touchdown. Clement, meanwhile, has just 112 yards and a touchdown.
Additionally, Smallwood is a better receiving back than Clement. Through five games, Smallwood has 10 receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown while Clement has eight receptions for 74 yards and no touchdowns. While neither player will directly see an increase in targets due to Ajayi’s injury, it doesn’t hurt to be a good pass catcher.
Just from the base stats alone, it looks like Smallwood is more likely to be the better back moving forward. Smallwood has the higher snap percentage to go along with better rushing and receiving numbers. However, Clement doesn’t trail Smallwood by much in any category. In order to fully assess which running back is likely to take Ajayi’s snaps, let’s take a dive into the analytical world.
Analytical Breakdown: Smallwood vs Clement
Once again, the analytics show that Smallwood is more likely to succeed in Jay Ajayi’s absence. As previously mentioned, Ajayi was at his best when he was running behind center and right guard. To that effect, Smallwood averages 5.9 yards per carry on runs behind center. Smallwood also averaged 8.2 yards per attempt off left tackle, which was also one of Ajayi’s more effective run directions.
Clement, on the other hand, struggles running up the middle. On the season, Clement has recorded seven carries behind center, earning just 21 yards for an underwhelming 3.0 yards per attempt. While his 4.6 yards per carry on runs off left tackle is solid, it’s not close to Smallwood’s 8.2 yards per carry.
Last Word on Wendell Smallwood vs Corey Clement
While both players will see an increase in playing time and production, Wendell Smallwood should be the primary beneficiary. The Eagles seem to like Smallwood more to begin with, as he had a higher snap count than Clement.
Additionally, Smallwood’s standard rushing and receiving numbers are better than Clement’s. While Ajayi was never asked to be a receiving back, Smallwood’s dual-threat ability will make him all the more dangerous whenever he is on the field.
Lastly, Smallwood is a natural replacement for Ajayi. Like Ajayi, Smallwood is best at running behind center and off left tackle. While Clement is good off left tackle, he’s not as good as Smallwood and he struggles running the ball up the middle. Philadelphia can easily hand Smallwood all of Ajayi’s snaps and not need to worry about changing up their playcalling.
When looking at all the data available, there’s really only one choice. If Smallwood is still available in your fantasy league, make sure you put in a waiver claim for the third-year running back.
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