Drafting Jay Ajayi Was a Steal for the Miami Dolphins
With the 149th overall pick in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins just got a steal in Boise State running back Jay Ajayi.
Despite leading the Mountain West Conference in rush attempts, rushing touchdowns, and total touchdowns in 2014, despite being the first athlete in FBS history to rush for at least 1,800 yards and catch another 500 in the same season, and despite his exceptional combine performance that had scouts comparing him to Seattle superstar Marshawn Lynch, Jay Ajayi tumbled past 12 other tailbacks before being selected by Miami.
And it all started with a rumor.
The NFL is a strange business. The more a team likes you, the more likely they are to bash you privately in the hopes that you slide just enough to then fall to them in the draft. It happened to Warren Sapp, to Randy Moss, and to Aaron Rodgers.
So when reports appeared that an ACL injury Ajayi suffered nearly four years ago was suddenly a topic of debate, it seemed as though the same was happening to Ajayi.
But unlike the players mentioned previously, no one took a fall down draft boards the way Jay Ajayi did. Once a top-five prospect at the position, Ajayi dropped out of the top-10 at the position on the heels of these rumors.
Even after it became apparent that the reports regarding Ajayi's "problematic" knee were largely exaggerated -- if not completely made up because not only was Jay absent from those medical re-checks in Indy, but also he was never asked even to attend -- the doubt these rumors cast on Ajayi were obviously enough to scare some teams away.
Now with a chip on his shoulder, Ajayi will be ready to show the rest of the NFL the mistake they made by passing up on him for some less accomplished backs such as Florida's Matt Jones and Minnesota's David Cobb.
Every-Down Running Back Potential
Standing at 6'0" and 221 pounds, Ajayi possesses the build required to shoulder a lead back workload in the NFL. He shares a nearly identical height and weight to proven workhorses in the league including DeMarco Murray (6'1", 213 pounds), Marshawn Lynch (5'11", 215 pounds), and C.J. Anderson (5'8", 224 pounds). Jay relied on his build to flourish under a heavy workload his final year at Boise State, averaging 28 touches per game on his way to nearly 2,400 total yards and 32 total touchdowns.
And despite this larger build, Ajayi also possesses exceptional footwork and agility, thanks in large part to his soccer background. Indeed, Jay's agility compares favorably to smaller backs known for their elusiveness including Danny Woodhead, David Wilson, and Ahmad Bradshaw.
So what was it about his knee again?
But not everything about Ajayi is perfect. Despite his prowess in the receiving game, if Ajayi hopes to make use of his pass-catching abilities at the next level, then he must first vastly improve his pass-blocking skills. Beyond this, his 4.57 40-yard dash time ranks him in just the 47th percentile amongst all running backs of the past 16 years. This combined with his tendency to bounce runs to the outside and occasional moments of indecisiveness could be a recipe for disaster in the NFL.
Luckily, these weaknesses can be fixed with the proper coaching from the Dolphins' coaching staff, and Ajayi has demonstrated enough skill, growth, and promise during his four years at Boise State that -- while he won't be asked to shoulder the entire workload in Miami right away -- there is still much reason to believe that he will be able to answer the call if asked to do so.
Ajayi in Miami
If his surgically-repaired knee truly is a concern, Ajayi finds himself in an optimal situation where he can reduce some of the wear and tear of the NFL by sharing the workload with incumbent running back Lamar Miller.
But despite the fact that Ajayi is joining a team that ranked fifth in the league in rushing last season according to our Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points per play metric (read more about Net Expected Points, or NEP, in our glossary), Jay Ajayi provides more than just depth at the position.
With Bill Lazor running this offense, chances are good that the man who once worked under some of the greats in Dan Reeves, Joe Gibbs, Mike Holmgren, and Chip Kelly will find a way to use both these backs to their full potentials.
As mentioned previously, Ajayi still needs to improve on his decisiveness and will have to shake his tendencies to bounce runs to the outside if he hopes to have success in the NFL. But with Miller in town, Ajayi has the perfect mentor to learn from. Indeed, Miller's Rushing NEP of 16.66 last season ranked him as the seventh most productive tailback in the league.
As they say, "one person's loss is another person's gain." With so many teams scared off by Ajayi's "questionable" knee, the Dolphins came away with someone who can contribute to this team both right away and in the future and at the fraction of the price.