The Arizona Cardinals are dealing with an injury crisis and are scrambling to adjust their game plan ahead of 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 possibly more time, league sources say.
The Cardinals are also expected to play without backup running back Darrel Williams due to a knee injury, sources say. Additionally, they placed running back Jonathan Ward on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
What will the Cardinals do without James Conner?
Due to these injuries, the Cardinals held running back practice and eventually 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 pick who rushed for 200 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries after rushing for 752 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, represents a blow for the Cardinals Offense.
The Cardinals formulate their plan on how to proceed against Seattle.
A big part of that plan involves Eno Benjamin, who has rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown this season averaging 4.5 per carry and has 254 career yards with two touchdowns. He has 12 receptions this season for 97 yards.
TOMORROW: Week 6 QB Power Rankings
A former seventh-round draft pick from Arizona State, Benjamin is a capable sneaky runner at 5-foot-9 and 207 pounds.
Incidentally, the Seahawks have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points by opposing running backs this season, including 194 total rushing yards from Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints and a 108-yard game against Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams. They’ve allowed at least 100 scrimmage yards to every guard they’ve faced this season.
Rookie running back Keaontay Ingram, a sixth-round 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 struggling 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 tough season for fantasy managers. While it’s no surprise Conner suffered a regression from his 15 touchdown season in 2021, he’s only averaging 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 nearly one score per game to one in every five is devastating for managers. Conner is rightfully a cut candidate for deeper fantasy rosters. That rib injury only deepens questions about the value of his roster and opens the door for substitute Eno Benjamin to steal snaps over the rest of the season.
Arizona’s decision to re-sign Conner after a turbulent season has always been questionable. Their offensive line has been a problem for years, making it unlikely that they’ve ever nailed a running game, regardless of back. Conner has averaged 3.7 yards per carry over the past two years, so it’s not like he’s even a particularly good rusher in 2021.
TOMORROW: PPR ranking week 6
With Conner out for Week 6, he’s missing a first game to finally produce. The Seattle Seahawks have the worst rush defense in the NFL, giving up the second most carries and touchdowns, most yards, and fifth most yards per carry. They rank 25th in the run defense EPA, further reinforcing just how struggling this unit is.
Volume hasn’t been a major issue for Conner’s fantastic production so much as lack of efficiency. Playing against Seattle could theoretically have solved this problem. If Conner received the 16 litters he totaled in Week 3 or the 18 he had in Week 4, it was possible he had an RB2 performance. Scoring would be the icing on the cake instead of its main value.
If Conner loses even half of his touches to Benjamin, his value is directly tied to red zone carries. Because the Cardinals offense struggled so much, Conner had just 16 yards on eight carries. He ranks 47th in the red zone among running backs.
Should you start Eno Benjamin against the Seahawks in Week 6?
In addition to 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, it’s time to add a Potential Impact Flex option to your roster now. But don’t expect this 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 replacement will be sixth-round USC rookie Keaontay Ingram. If Conner is out a lot of time and Benjamin isn’t impressive in his opportunity, consider removing Ingram from waivers.
It’s certainly possible that we’ll 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 stopper they’ve faced this season has hit the 100-yard mark, making Benjamin particularly attractive as a starting option.