Dynasty Draft Profile: Jay Ajayi
February 27, 2015 | Rich Hribar
When looking at prospects, I always tend to gravitate towards players who produced at a young age and then improve as their careers go along, and Jay Ajayi is one of those guys not only from visual perspective but in the box score as well. Not only did he showcase his workhorse and scoring ability while at Boise State, but he also markedly improved as a three down asset as he carried the Bronco offense in all phases during the 2014 season.
From a physical standpoint, there are no red flags here as his well-rounded versatility on the football field showed in his combine workout. He was strong in both jumping drills as his Explosion Score (vertical combined with broad) ranks in the top 15 for backs over 220 pounds in my database. His short quickness was on display as his 1.60 second 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash was only behind David Johnson (1.58) and Buck Allen (1.58) out of the backs to run last weekend. His Burst Score (explosion score divided by 10-yard split) was the fourth highest in this class behind only Johnson, Ameer Abdullah and John Crockett.
Although not in elite company from a pure measurable stance, his agility is also plenty strong enough for a back his size and is one of his better traits as runner. Often compared to Marshawn Lynch stylistically, his closest comps from a raw physical perspective combined with production profile entering the NFL are William Green and James Starks.
The best way that I can describe Ajayi’s running style is that he has an unbroken horse mindset with dreidel-like balance. He’s often unorthodox and exaggerated as that plus agility, size and balance after contact in his arsenal make him arguably the most aesthetically entertaining running back in recent memory.
That type of ability is special and back breaking to a defense at any given moment. Here the defense has the initial structure of the play call defensed with a clean linebacker to fill the hole and Ajayi just pivots away, making that defender run into his own blocked team mate while attempting to pursue Ajayi laterally. Then he effortlessly changes direction into a hole before bursting into the second level.
Because his agility, balance and overall athleticism are so good, he often does forget that he’s a 220 pound player on the exterior and second level of the defense, and it does result in negative runs. His frequency for trying to gain yardage laterally is slightly worrisome because unlike a back like Melvin Gordon who has some similar issues, Ajayi isn’t hitting many home runs despite displaying the traits capable of producing those runs. Just five of his 50 touchdown runs (10 percent) were from 30 yards or further, the second lowest percentage in this class behind only T.J. Yeldon. Looking at this post from Football Study Hall, he also had the fewest percentage of his carries this past season go for five or more yards out of the backs ranked highest in this class.
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He needs to remain more disciplined as a runner at times, but that can be overlooked to a degree because you don’t want to neuter the creativity that makes him a unique runner in the first place and when he does stick to the script and the initial structure of the play call succeeds, you see that excellent acceleration, power and speed he possesses on display.
These traits may be reliant on Ajayi landing in a strong scheme or personnel to take immediate flight, but he also makes up for any shortcomings by his contributions as a receiver. For running backs over 220 pounds, his 50 receptions are the most in a season to close a career since 2000 and his 3.6 receptions per game during his final season were the second highest in a season to close his career since Chris Ogbannaya’s 3.8 per game in 2009 of backs under the similar umbrella of size. In 2014, he accounted for 13.3 percent of the Boise St. targets, bested by only Duke Johnson (15.6 percent) and Akeem Hunt (16.4) of backs in this draft class.
All of the rumored knee concerns surrounding Ajayi came to fruition this past weekend as he sunk into the fifth round (pick 149) as the 14th running back drafted. That’s a major blow to his projected stock, which was potentially as high as the third back off of the board, but he does still have some silver lining going on for him now in terms of his landing spot with the Dolphins. The first is obviously that while the longevity of his career depressed his draft status, he is still 100 percent healthy today, so there are no short term ramifications in terms of performance. Second, he found a home in an ascending offense under Bill Lazor, who has a heavy volume rushing ties that extend beyond his involvement with just Chip Kelly and one that would likely want to run the football more than the 399 times (22nd) they did in 2014.
Even if sharing a small role in the offense with Lamar Miller this upcoming season, he’s going to get touches as a rookie weekly. In 2014, Miller accounted for 75 percent of more of the Miami carries just four times. He’s also entering the final season of his rookie contract, eligible for free agency after the season. Miller has always been a darling of the fantasy community, but he’s also a back that has consistently been held in higher regard by fantasy football than the Miami organization has showed thus far. I don’t believe the Dolphins were looking to replace Miller, because I don’t believe they would’ve waited until 13 other running backs went off of the board before making their move, rather that Ajayi became more of a luxury pick at that point.
Damien Williams is still in the fold, but was used primarily as a receiving threat and played 30 percent of the snaps just once all season. It was an unfortunate fall for Ajayi, but he found a potentially soft landing spot that could open opportunity for him to be lead a back in 2016 if things fall the right way. Even with that silver lining, his immediate stock no longer holds its initial price point, which was in that mid to late first round are of rookie drafts. Instead, you have to account for his floor as a backup only and place him in the late second round stage of options this season.
Early 2015 Projection: 87.6 ATT/411.9 YDS/2.6 TD 23.8 TGT/17.1 REC/125.2 YDS/.3 TD