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With LeGarrette Blount probably on his way out of Philadelphia in 2018, Jay Ajayi becomes the clear lead dog. Over Ajayi’s past four weeks, he averaged 16 touches per game – 14 carries and 2 receptions. Corey Clement has been somewhat of a red zone specialist for the Eagles, so we haven’t seen much of Ajayi on the field for those situations. We assume that it would be Ajayi to get those 5 red zone carries that Blount had last week in the Divisional Round of the playoffs next year, but Doug Pederson has proved over the last two seasons that his backfield remains unpredictable.
Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood gave fantasy owners a headache in 2016 trying to gain some pattern recognition when it came to the Eagles backfield, but Doug Pederson didn’t allow that to happen. This year, the Eagles traded a 4th round pick for Ajayi, but haven’t used him in a workhorse role or in the red zone much. The split last week against the Falcons went like this: Clement saw 24% of snaps, Blount saw 30%, and Ajayi saw 43%. Ajayi did get some snaps in the red zone last week and saw a carry and two targets.
Since Ajayi has joined the Eagles, he had two carries within 10 yards of scoring; from the 8-yard line against the Giants for -4 yards, and against the Broncos from the 7 yard line from -3 yards. The one red zone carry Ajayi had against the Falcons last week was at the 19 yard line for no gain. We can safely assume he wasn’t the favorite for red zone work on this team, especially when it got closer to the goal line.
Even if Blount is out the door, there’s no guarantee that Ajayi will see the ~60% snap count that we like to see to feel somewhat confident in a RB. The offense with Carson Wentz back this year should put him in great positions to have great games, but I don’t think we can draft him with the expectation of him being a workhorse. There might not be an obvious guy besides Corey Clement on the roster to take field time away from Ajayi, but we didn’t expect Clement to be on the field as much as he was this year, and we didn’t expect Blount to continue to average 7.5 carries per game over the last 6 games, even with Ajayi getting more acclimated into the offense. There could be another guy they work into the rotation; that just seems like how Pederson likes to do things.
With the information we know now, I would probably feel comfortable drafting Ajayi in the mid to late third round, and that’s only because of the upside in the offense. I actually would probably try to avoid him unless I can get him a bit later because of that possibility of inconsistency. We would love to see close to 20 touches and consistent red zone work for him to be worth drafting ahead of that spot. It can definitely happen, but we need to monitor how he’s used this weekend against the Vikings, and how he’s used with the first team in the preseason.