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You might think this is a devastating blow to the Eagles backfield. It's kind of, sort of not.
It might even be a blessing in disguise.
Surprisingly (and perhaps smartly), the Eagles didn't stray much from their multi-running back strategy with Ajayi. He never had more than 51 percent of the snaps with the offense this year including under 40 percent in the two games in which he scored touchdowns. As a matter of fact, over their past three games together, Ajayi and teammate Wendell Smallwood played almost the exact same number of snaps. Ajayi simply had more touches in two of them.
Smallwood is one of two Eagles running backs expected to pick up plenty of work in Ajayi's absence. The other is Corey Clement, who is expected back in Week 6 after missing a pair of games with a quad injury.
The timing is great for both guys, but particularly for Smallwood. Through four games with limited work, the third-year player out of West Virginia has proven to be not just a physical rusher but also a quality pass catcher. In addition to his gaudy 6.0-yard rushing average, Smallwood has nailed down a 9.6-yard receiving clip with at least three grabs in each of his last three games. Moreover, he's posted four 10-plus yard runs already (one less than Ajayi) and four 10-plus yard receptions (three more than Ajayi), proving to be an explosive player who can be used in a multitude of ways.
Clement is similarly effective, though he's not considered to be quite as powerful as Smallwood. In fewer games, Clement also has eight explosive plays (four rushing, four receiving, just like Smallwood) to go with a 4.1-yard rushing average and a 9.3-yard receiving average.
These guys aren't bad, and their abilities to play effectively on running plays and passing plays offer some intriguing options for the Eagles coaches. It wouldn't be a surprise in the least to see these guys split the entire running back workload until Darren Sproles comes back. That includes red-zone work, where Clement has 15 snaps over three games and Smallwood has 25 in four.
If there's an edge, it's that Smallwood has more snaps played near the goal line than Clement this year. Because of his toughness, he could be used a little more often in short-yardage/goal-line situations. It also doesn't hurt that he's been playing in the Eagles offense over the past four weeks whereas Clement has struggled with his quad injury.
Smallwood is 10 percent owned in CBS Sports leagues and is the priority add over Clement, who's already been picked up in 63 percent of leagues and thus not as available anyway. Smallwood's potential is so large that he's a better add than anyone on waivers in just about any respectable league at this point.
There's one last wrinkle to note: The Eagles have an aggressive mindset on and off the field. We saw that first-hand when they acquired Ajayi in a trade last Halloween from the Dolphins. The team could do it again this fall before the league's trade deadline.
ESPN squashed the idea of the Eagles reaching out across Pennsylvania for the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell. It would be splashy, but also expensive in terms of salary and draft picks. However, it wouldn't be totally shocking to see the Eagles acquire someone else, and the bigger the name, the more likely he would smash the values of both Smallwood and Clement.
Here's the good news: Philadelphia plays on a short week against the Giants, so there's no one coming to take the spots of Smallwood and Clement just yet. If they play well against a Giants unit that ranks 21st in Fantasy points allowed to running backs, the team might be inclined to just roll with them and not add another body to the mix.
If that's the reality, then both Smallwood and Clement should have sizable Fantasy roles for the rest of the season.
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