Jay Ajayi will be the Miami Dolphins starting running back by default in 2016, but it is a role he can flourish in.
With Lamar Miller leaving via free agency and the franchise whiffing on their other targets, C.J. Anderson and Chris Johnson, its reasonable to claim the Miami Dolphins have had a rough off-season with tailbacks.
But don’t tell that to new Miami Dolphins starting running back Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi has predictably been relieved that these preceding “failures” will open the door for him to prove he is a true three-down NFL back. This is what Ajayi told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald earlier this off-season:
"“I’ve been excited since I found out Lamar was moving on and the position would be available. I’ve been pushing myself… to have a great season, trying to prepare mentally to [be] a starter… I’m ready to elevate my game to a new level…. I think I’ve been doing a great job so far.”"
Ajayi certainly has the confidence needed to be an every down back. There is strong belief he can be a starting running back in the NFL from within the organization as well.
In fact, the Dolphins selection of Kenyan Drake, a player that compliments Ajayi well, speaks to their trust in the 22-year old.
The Dolphins selected Ajayi in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft after he slipped from his second round projection due to concerns about his knee. A knee that he claims has not given him trouble since back in 2011. He hopes to dispel the concern surrounding his knee, as he’ll have a chance to do so as the lead back.
After falling to the fifth round last year, Ajayi impressed the Dolphins during training camp and into the preseason. He rushed for 91 yards on 17 attempts in the final two preseason games, before going down with broken ribs.
Last season, Ajayi did not make his season debut until week 8 and was held to 49 carries for 187 yards on the season. He posted a meager 3.8 Yards Per Carry average for the season, which does not look good at all for a lead back, at least on the surface.
While the 3.8 YPC does not look promising, in that same Jackson article, there are some interesting statistics about Ajayi’s running that should dispel a lot of concern around Ajayi for 2016.
"But ESPN’s KC Joyner, who analyzed all of Ajayi’s 49 carries, tells me that pedestrian per-carry average is misleading. Joyner said Ajayi received bad blocking on 71 percent of his carries, among the highest (or worst) in the NFL. He averaged 1.9 yards per rush on those plays with poor blocking, better than the 1.2 league average.When Ajayi got good blocking, he averaged 9.0 yards per carry, better than both Miller’s and the league’s “good blocking” average, Joyner said. With Miami’s offensive line seemingly improved, Ajayi’s per-carry average should get a boost."
As Jackson notes, the Dolphins offensive line has improved.
The Dolphins selected Laremy Tunsil in the first round of the NFL draft to join Mike Pouncey, Brandon Albert, Billy Turner, and Ja’Wuan James as the Dolphins offensive line, which is expected to go from a weakness to a potential strength.
With better blocking, the Dolphins believe Ajayi will return to the guy that averaged 5.6 YPC and scored 50 touchdowns at Boise State.
The fact he did ran better than league average with bad blocking bodes well for his future chances at success.
Another key college stat that could be a boon for Ajayi’s stock in rookie head coach Adam Gase’s offense is his 50 receptions he collected his junior year.
Gase likes to use his running backs out of the back field as receivers, as he did last season with Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford.
Ajayi had seven receptions (on 11 targets) for 90 yards last season. Remember, that was over only nine games, while he was mainly playing to give a breather to Miller.
While the questions surrounding Ajayi’s knees and the questions about his chances of being a three down back aren’t going away any time soon, the Dolphins and Ajayi will have a chance to prove everyone wrong in 2016.
If Ajayi can become the threat he and the franchise believes he can be, the Miami Dolphins could have a scary good offense in 2016- something they may need with the question marks surrounding their defense.