The Eagles announced on Monday they placed Jay Ajayi on IR with a torn ACL, making him the third significant fantasy player to suffer a season-ending knee injury, joining Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon. If there’s any silver lining for Ajayi’s fantasy owners, it’s that this news broke on Monday, giving them ample time to prioritize the position on the waiver wire this week. Here’s who they should be considering:
The sensible choice: Alfred Morris, 49ers
Matt Breida is expected to miss at least a few games after suffering a high ankle sprain in the 49ers’ 28-18 loss to the Cardinals in Week 5. That leaves Morris as the prime option in the backfield, which will have him comfortably on the start radar every week that Breida is out. Morris ran for 61 yards on 18 carries and caught three passes for 30 yards against the Cardinals, handling nearly every running back touch for the 49ers once Breida was out of the game. Morris has been a key player for the 49ers, joining the team after McKinnon tore his ACL right before the season began, and running for 228 yards and a touchdown on 62 carries. He hasn’t had enough volume to be more than a low-value depth back in fantasy leagues, but that will change, at least in the short term. The lone concern for Ajayi owners is that he may not be startable for the rest of the season, depending on the severity of Breida’s ankle injury, but he’s easily the best choice so long as he’s in the starter’s chair.
The swing-for-the-fences choice: Ronald Jones, Buccaneers
If an Ajayi owner is looking for a player who could take over a backfield and own it for the rest of the season, Jones could be their guy. Peyton Barber has been terrible as the starter this season, running for 148 yards on 50 carries, while being a total non-factor in the passing game. Jones may have been a massive disappointment in the summer, but it’s time for the team to see what the second-round pick out of USC can do. He was active for his first game of the season against Chicago in Week 4, running for 29 yards on 10 carries. Those numbers may not have inspired much confidence, but he’ll have had two weeks of practice since then before the team plays the Falcons this week, and likely has received plenty of work with the first-team offense, including new-old starter Jameis Winston. At they very least, Jones can’t possibly be less effective than Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers this season. It’s worth remembering that the Buccaneers spent the 38th overall pick in the draft on Jones after he starred at USC, running for 1,550 yards and 19 touchdowns in his final season with the Trojans.
The literal replacements: Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood, Eagles
It’s unlikely the Eagles will replace Ajayi with a true workhorse back. Instead, Doug Pederson will likely prefer to keep a committee in place, led by Clement and Smallwood. Clement had been playing ahead of Smallwood before suffering a quad injury, opening the door to a larger role for Smallwood. He did the most with his opportunity, turning six touches into 71 yards and a score in the team’s Week 5 loss to the Vikings. It’s likely that performance alone earned Smallwood more run, and he should be considered a co-equal option to Clement in a post-Ajayi world. This is going to be a shared backfield, but there’s enough work to go around for both Clement and Smallwood to be fantasy-relevant. I’d put in claims for both of them, with a slight lean toward Clement, simply because the coaching staff favored him when both were healthy, and he did not play his way out of that status. In three games this season, he has 112 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, and eight catches for 74 yards.
The swing-for-the-fences-part-two choice: Marlon Mack, Colts
Mack was out again this week, missing his third game of the season because of a hamstring injury. The Colts struggled to get anything going on the ground in his absence, totaling 84 yards on 21 carries. Nyheim Hines generated 45 yards on 15 rushes, while Jordan Wilkins showed some signs of life, running for 39 yards on six totes. Still, the Colts rushing attack has been mostly punchless this season, and it’s safe to say that Mack will get a real opportunity to take over as the primary early-down back when he returns from his injury. The Colts played on Thursday in Week 5, so it’ll be 10 days between the team’s next game and the last time Mack was inactive. That could be enough time for him to get back, especially since he was practicing last week. You might want to see a prove-it game from him before starting him, and Hines is going to maintain a large role as a pass-catcher, but Mack has a better chance of completely owning early-down work than either Clement or Smallwood.