How Jay Ajayi will help Eagles get back to 2017 backfield blueprint

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Has a team ever been as banged up as the Eagles after a BYE WEEK?!

Although the injury report has gotten smaller, it seems as though the Eagles are still working through injuries both old and new.

Alshon Jeffery missed practice Wednesday and Thursday due to an ankle injury and looks to be out Sunday.

Darren Sproles missed practice Thursday with a quad injury, which has led to him being deemed out for the season.

A new name to the injury report on Wednesday was Jordan Howard, who was limited with a shoulder injury. He did return to practice Thursday and Friday, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact and it is definitely a situation worth monitoring.

With Howard ailing and Sproles out for the season, that leaves Miles Sanders and Boston Scott as the Eagles only two healthy running backs.  Given this situation, the team is bringing back an old friend Jay Ajayi following a workout on Friday. Our bossman Liam Jenkins details why he’s an intriguing option here.

But could this be a season-changing move? It could be reminiscent of his 2017 arrival, but in a different way.

2017 Arrival

The Eagles traded for Ajayi at the trade deadline in 2017, prior to week nine. Before he was added, the running backs split the following percentage of carries:

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8
LeGarrette Blount 34% 8% 29% 33% 39% 48% 38% 50%
                 
Corey Clement 0% 1% 9% 24% 34% 16% 18% 27%
                 
Wendell Smallwood 22% 19% 57% 44%     37% 19%
                 
Darren Sproles 49% 69% 7%          
                 
Kenjon Barner       0% 25% 35% 6% 6%

As you can see, the rotation was heavily three players with the occasional fourth running back getting snaps.

After Ajayi came to the team, the snaps were distributed as follows:

  Week 9 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
LeGarrette Blount 23% 47% 47% 19% 16% 25% 18% 32%
                 
Corey Clement 41% 30% 19% 37% 30% 15% 40% 19%
                 
Jay Ajayi 25% 20% 28% 41% 47% 51% 41%  
                 
Wendell Smallwood 9%             37%
                 
Kenjon Barner 3% 3% 5% 3% 7% 9% 3% 12%

When Ajayi came to the Eagles, Pederson still leaned on his 3-4 running back rotation, but the fourth running back was rarely used until week 17 when the Eagles had already locked up a bye. Prior to Ajayi coming along, the Eagles leaned on one running back 50% or more three times in eight games and two running backs over 30% five times. After the acquisition, the Eagles leaned on one running back over 50% one time, five times with two running backs over 30%, and two times with three running backs over 20%. 

The running backs were healthier and more rested during games with Ajayi in the fold. Now with his return potentially on the horizon, could he have the same effect for the 2019 Eagles?

Running back rotation as of week nine

Ajayi came to the Eagles in 2017 after eight games, so far in 2019 the Eagles have played nine.  Here is how the running backs have split the snaps so far:

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9
Jordan Howard 23% 22% 33% 53% 43% 63% 38% 73% 48%
                   
Miles Sanders 48% 43% 34% 35% 43% 29% 54% 18% 40%
                   
Darren Sproles 31% 35% 36% 11% 15% 0% 0% 0% 11%
                   
Boston Scott           6% 13% 12% 0%
                   
Corey Clement 4% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%      

Through nine games, the Eagles have relied on one running back over 50% four times, two running backs over 40% twice, two running backs with a 40/30% split twice, and a 30/30/30% split once. This is similar to how the running backs were used before Ajayi came to the Eagles in 2017.

Projections moving forward

As Ajayi got comfortable in the offense, bell-cow back LeGarrette Blount started seeing less snaps. Ajayi became the focal point, Corey Clement stayed as the number two, and Blount became RB3 with short yardage work.

Ajayi isn’t coming in here to be RB1, this team belongs to Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders for the time being. But, we could see Ajayi come in and become the “2017 Blount” for these 2019 Eagles and give both Howard and Sanders some rest as the season goes on and keep the running game explosive for the playoffs. Boston Scott could fill the “2017 Barner” role of sporadic offensive snaps and majority of kick and punt returns.   This running back rotation could give the offense a much needed boost with the receiving corps underwhelming.

Plus it wouldn’t hurt having a trio of running backs averaging over 4.4 yards per carry for their careers (Ajayi was 5.1 with the Eagles). Can you imagine how tired defenses would be?

What do you think, Eagles fans?  Would you welcome a reunion with Ajayi?

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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