The Arizona Cardinals are dealing with a running back injury crisis and are scrambling to adjust their game plan heading into Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. Veteran running back and high-volume contributor James Conner is sidelined with a rib injury and is expected to miss this game and perhaps additional time, according to league sources.
The Cardinals are also expected to be playing without backup running back Darrel Williams due to a knee injury, per sources. Plus, they’ve placed running back Jonathan Ward on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
What Will the Cardinals Do Without James Conner?
Because of those injuries, the Cardinals held a running back workout and ultimately signed Ty’Son Williams and Corey Clement to the practice squad.
Not having Conner, a 6-foot-1, 233-pound former Pittsburgh Steelers third-round draft pick who has rushed for 200 yards and one touchdown on 54 carries after rushing for 752 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, represents a blow to the Cardinals’ offense.
The Cardinals are formulating their plan for how to proceed at running back against Seattle.
A big part of that plan involves Eno Benjamin, who has rushed for 136 yards and one touchdown this season with a 4.5 average per carry and has gained 254 career yards with two touchdowns. He has 12 receptions this season for 97 yards.
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A former seventh-round draft pick from Arizona State, Benjamin is a capable shifty runner at 5-foot-9, 207 pounds.
The Seahawks, by the way, have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season, including 194 yards of total offense from the New Orleans Saints’ Alvin Kamara and a 108-yard game to Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams. They’ve allowed at least 100 yards from scrimmage to every back they’ve faced this season.
Rookie running back Keaontay Ingram, a sixth-round draft pick from USC, is expected to be active this week.
After transferring from the University of Texas, Ingram led the team with 911 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry and caught 22 passes for 156 yards in 10 games and seven starts while dealing with a rib injury last season.
In three seasons with the Longhorns, the former Mr. Texas Football finalist rushed for 1,811 yards on 339 carries with 11 touchdowns, and he caught 67 passes for 515 yards and 6 touchdowns.
(Below analysis provided by PFN Fantasy and Betting Analyst Ian Wharton)
It’s already been a difficult season for fantasy managers. While it’s not a surprise Conner has suffered a regression from his 15-touchdown season of 2021, he’s averaging only 60.6 total yards on 13.6 touches. Last year, Conner averaged 16 touches for 75 yards.
Losing touches and yards is one thing, but the drop from almost one score per game to one every five is devastating for managers. Conner is legitimately a cut candidate for deeper fantasy rosters. This rib injury only furthers questions about his roster value, and it opens the door for backup Eno Benjamin to steal snaps over the course of the rest of the season.
Arizona’s decision to re-sign Conner off a fluky season was always questionable. Their offensive line has been an issue for years, making it unlikely they’d ever sustained a successful running game regardless of the back. Conner has averaged 3.7 yards per carry over the last two years, so it’s not as if he was even a particularly good rusher in 2021.
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With Conner out for Week 6, he’s missing out on a premier matchup to finally produce. The Seattle Seahawks have the NFL’s worst run defense, giving up the second-most carries and touchdowns, most yards, and fifth-highest yards per carry. They rank 25th in run defense EPA, again reinforcing how much this unit is struggling.
Volume hasn’t been a major issue for Conner’s fantasy output as much as the lack of efficiency. Playing against Seattle could’ve theoretically fixed that problem. If Conner received the 16 carries he totaled in Week 3 or the 18 he had in Week 4, it was possible he would have an RB2 performance. Scoring would be the cherry on top instead of his main value.
If Conner loses even half his touches to Benjamin moving forward, his value is directly tied to red-zone carries. Because the Cardinals’ offense has struggled so much, Conner’s had only 16 yards on eight carries. He ranks 47th in red-zone scoring amongst running backs.
Should You Start Eno Benjamin Against the Seahawks in Week 6?
On top of being without Conner, Darrel Williams is also expected to be out this week. That makes Benjamin the clear RB1 against the Seahawks. Available in 44% of Yahoo leagues and 78% of ESPN leagues, there’s time to add a potential impact Flex option to your roster right now. But don’t expect that to continue.
Benjamin has played sparingly in the NFL, carrying the ball 64 times for 254 yards and two scores since joining the team in 2021. His backup will be sixth-round rookie Keaontay Ingram from USC. If Conner is out a significant amount of time and Benjamin is not impressive in his opportunity, consider grabbing Ingram off waivers.
It’s certainly possible we see Benjamin grab this job and not look back. Seattle’s defense allowed 194 total yards to Alvin Kamara and 108 yards to Jamaal Williams. Every starting tailback they’ve faced this season has reached the 100-yard mark, making Benjamin look especially attractive as a starting option.