NFL fantasy football Week 6 lessons: Jay Ajayi gives Dolphins running game a boost

Jay Ajayi

Arian Foster returned for the Dolphins on Sunday after a four-week absence because of a groin injury. The Dolphins entered the game 28th in the league in total rushing yards, 31st in rushing yards per game, and 18th in yards per carry. The team proceeded to have its best day on the ground this season against the Steelers, and that might have been predictable with Foster back on the field. Unpredictably, though, he had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Foster certainly isn’t the long-term answer in Miami and, after Sunday, he may not have a huge role in the short term, either. Jay Ajayi ran all over the Steelers, piling up 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Dolphins’ surprising 30–15 win. Given the team’s struggles on the ground this year, Ajayi has to be in for a heavy workload, even with Foster healthy.

Ajayi ran for 10 yards on his first carry of the day and never looked back. He was effective between the tackles and when he got to the outside, giving the Dolphins an element in their offense they’ve lacked all year. Damien Williams vultured a short-yardage touchdown from Ajayi in the first half, but the second-year player out of Boise State converted from the 1-yard line for his first score of the game. When the Steelers got within eight points with one minute left in the game, Ajayi buried them with a 62-yard touchdown run. For one day, he looked like the best offensive player on a field that also included Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

Related: Report: Roethlisberger has torn meniscus in left knee, will undergo surgery

Ajayi wasn’t blameless in Miami’s struggles with the run game over the course of its first four games, but he looked like a real weapon on Sunday. What’s more, he has built to this point—he had his first double-digit carry game of the season last week before setting career highs across the board on Sunday.

This was just the sort of game the throngs of Ajayi backers were envisioning all summer. Thanks to his performance, he should have the chance to prove that he’s Miami’s back of the future, as well as the present.

With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 6 fantasy takeaways.

And so begins the Marty Mornhinweg era

The Ravens fired offensive coordinator Marc Trestman last week, putting an end to a relatively unsuccessful tenure. Mornhinweg took over on an interim basis, but the box score from the team’s 27–23 loss to the Giants still had a lot of Trestman’s fingerprints on it.

Through Week 5, only six teams—the Chiefs, Saints, Bears, Colts, Jaguars and Redskins—had a higher pass percentage than the Ravens. Joe Flacco had 168 pass attempts with Trestman at the helm of the offense, putting the ball in the air at least 40 times each of the last four weeks. It seemed that had to take a turn, especially considering how well Terrance West ran the ball the last two weeks, but little changed in the first game with Mornhinweg running the show.

Flacco threw 48 passes on Sunday, completing 26 of them for 307 yards and 6.4 yards per attempt. He didn’t throw a touchdown or interception and wasn’t terribly efficient, completing just more than half of his passes to go along with his pedestrian YPA.

Related: Falcons, Seahawks both emerge from controversial finish looking like contenders

To be fair, the Ravens ran 74 plays on Sunday and West got 23 carries. Still, the Ravens called a pass play on 64.9% of their snaps, right in line with their season-long pass rate. It was all the more surprising considering they played with a lead for most of the game. The Ravens were up 10–0 at the end of the first quarter and took a 10–7 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Giants did flip the script in the second half, necessitating more throws from the Baltimore offense, but, again, it seemed to run counter to what was on tap after the team made a change.

Trust QBs who play against the Lions defense

The Rams’ offense has been completely hamstrung by its inability to threaten teams through the air. Case Keenum hasn’t done anything to make defenses respect the Rams’ passing game, and Todd Gurley has suffered for that. That made the team’s performance on Sunday—a 31–28 loss to Detroit—all the more unexpected, and laid bare the true colors of the Lions’ defense.

Keenum carved up the Lions, completing all but five of his pass attempts for 321 yards, 10.03 YPA and three touchdowns in what ultimately was a 31-28 Lions victory. Keenum did throw an interception late in the game, but the Lions didn’t do much to stop him, the first team this season about which we can say that. It also continued a pattern for the Lions that fantasy owners can continue to exploit.

Related: NFL Week 6 Blanket: Dak Prescott keeps on rolling; Aaron Rodgers is stuck in a slump

The Lions defense entered Week 6 ranked in the bottom half of the league in all meaningful passing stats. They had surrendered the second-most standard-league fantasy points to quarterbacks through five games. All five quarterbacks they faced put up at least 17.6 points on the Lions, a group that includes Marcus Mariota, who seems to have gotten on track the last few weeks (more on that next) but was in a bad way when he faced the Lions in Week 2, and Brian Hoyer. Keenum put up 29.54 points on the Lions on Sunday, making him the third quarterback this season to score at least 26 points when facing Detroit.

This is less of a commentary on Keenum, who will continue to be an afterthought in traditional one-quarterback leagues, and more on the Lions defense. This is a defense fantasy owners will want to attack, especially through the air, the rest of the season. They provide quarterbacks with an awfully attractive floor while also granting them one of the highest ceilings in the league. That’s good news for Kirk Cousins next week, and will put both Brock Osweiler and Sam Bradford on the streaming radar in Week 8 and 9.

 The best part of Marcus Mariota’s big game

Mariota took advantage of another one of the league’s poor passing defenses on Sunday, throwing for 284 yards, 11.83 YPA, three touchdowns and an interception against the Browns. They’re a willing patsy for most quarterbacks, providing that same safe floor and high ceiling that the Lions give every passer they play. The Browns surrendered at least 18.2 points to every quarterback they’ve faced, and Mariota became the second signal caller to put up at least 28 points against them, joining Tom Brady. Mariota’s performance through the air was encouraging, but he’ll have tougher tests ahead. What he did on the ground was even better.

We all know Mariota has the tools to be one of the best runners at the quarterback position in the league. We saw it before our own eyes during his entire time at Oregon. But last season, Mariota ran for more than 20 yards just four times, and topped 40 yards only twice. By comparison, Tyrod Taylor ran for at least 40 yards nine times last year, and has hit that mark twice this season. Through the first four games of the 2016 season, Mariota didn’t have a 40-yard rushing day to his name this season. Now he has two.

Mariota ran for 64 yards on seven rushes in Tennessee’s 28–26 win over Cleveland. Last week in a win against the Dolphins, he picked up 60 yards and a touchdown. Mariota ran for 60 or more yards just once last season. That he has now done so in consecutive games suggests that the Titans quarterback could finally be opening up what should be one of the most explosive facets of his game. Mariota has that rushing club in his bag every time he takes the field. If he’s really starting to take it out more often, he’ll enter every game with a floor that has him, at the very least, on the stream radar.

Related: In season debut as starter, Colin Kaepernick proved stoic amid heckling and defeat

No more freaking out about Odell Beckham, right?

The hand wringing over Beckham was always ridiculous, especially when it reached a fever pitch after he struggled against the Vikings, quite possibly the best defense in the league. All the bellyaching should come to an end after the stat line Beckham hung on the Ravens on Sunday.

Beckham had one of the best games of his career in Week 6, catching eight passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants 27–23 win. With the Giants trailing three points late in the third quarter, Beckham scored a 75-yard touchdown, his second trip to the end zone this season. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Giants up by three and the Ravens clinging to hope, Beckham finished them off with his second score of the game, this one from 66 yards out.

Related: Plenty of fun: Odell Beckham Jr. plays hero as career game lifts Giants to comeback win

Beckham now has 35 receptions for 581 yards and three touchdowns on the season. That puts him on a 16-game pace for 93.3 catches, 1,549.3 yards and eight touchdowns. So much for that disappointing season. Beckham is more than fine.

Spencer Ware is here to stay

Jamaal Charles made his return to action on Sunday and it went pretty well, all things considered. He ran for 33 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, and caught both of his targets for 14 yards. Considering it was his first real game action since tearing his ACL last season, that’s a successful day at the office. But he, by far, was not the running back who had the best day in the Kansas City backfield in Week 6.

Ware ran all over the Raiders totaling 131 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, and also caught a pair of passes for 32 yards. He flashed everything that made him an effective starter when Charles was out, and will keep him heavily in the Chiefs’ offense with Charles back on the field.

Sunday represented a best-case scenario for a team featuring two backs. The Chiefs had a lead over the Raiders for nearly the entire game, and ended up running the ball 40 times as a team. They’re not going to have that luxury every week, or possibly even most weeks. They also aren’t exactly overflowing with talent at the skill positions. The Chiefs need both Ware and Charles to be a big part of their offense, and we’ll almost certainly see Andy Reid scheme a gameplan that includes both backs getting significant time on the field.

The question for fantasy owners, however, is how to handle this situation. We live in an age where more and more teams deploy timeshares in the backfield and do so with both players showing up in a meaningful fantasy way. Ware and Charles can both do damage while splitting the load with one another, and the Chiefs play a style that is always going to send the production flowing to their running backs. That makes both backs capable RB2s, with RB1 ceilings, week in and week out.

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Week 6 Droppables

As always, these aren’t players you absolutely should drop, but they are disposable if you need the roster spot.

Darren Sproles: Sproles does have a guaranteed role in the Eagles offense, but he’s nowhere near a reliable fantasy option. He had four carries and a reception in their loss to Washington, and has had fewer than 10 touches in four of his five games this season.

Duke Johnson: Johnson scored his first touchdown of the season on Sunday, but he’s no more than a bit player on the ground for Cleveland. He had just four carries, the fourth time this season that he ran the ball fewer than five times. He did catch four passes for 56 yards, but a running back can’t live on receiving production alone.

Jalen Richard: Richard got just four carries and three targets in Oakland’s loss to Kansas City, while DeAndre Washington ran 10 times for 49 yards. He’s clearly running second in the Oakland backfield, and will be back to third in line when Latavius Murray returns.

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