Can Jay Ajayi Be a Feature Back for the Miami Dolphins?
Miller had a wonderful 2015 season, finishing sixth in fantasy points among running backs, according to NFL.com.
Miller's use by the Miami Dolphins over his young career has been confounding. He has been forced to share the carries with players such as Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush, players ostensibly less talented than he.
In 2015, Miller was finally in place to become that feature back.
Then Joe Philbin happened.
Miller was inexplicably limited to an average of about 12 carries per game. Miller used his limited touches to become Miami's best player on offense. His departure leaves a large void for a team coming off of a lousy offensive season, one that saw them finish 20th in offensive efficiency, per our metrics.
However, the loss of Miller leaves the job open to Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi was a rookie last season. He was drafted out of Boise State in the fifth round. He did well in college but suffered an ACL tear in 2011. He suffered another setback after being drafted and was placed on injured reserve in September because of a chest injury.
His status allowed for him to return after Week 8 of the regular season, and he debuted in Week 9.
How did Ajayi stack up against his teammate Lamar Miller in the second half of 2015?
Jay Ajayi versus Lamar Miller
We can first look at their raw stats to see if there's any similarities between the two.
|Weeks 9-17||Carries||Rush Yd||Yards/Carry||Rush TD||Rec||Rec Yards||Rec TD|
First of all, there's a small sample size alert. Still, the results cover Ajayi's eight career games. They had nearly identical yards per carry marks, but Ajayi reeled in nearly 13 yards with each catch. Miller's yards per reception mark was just 6.4.
In that short time, he fared rather well in comparison to Miller. But what do the advanced numbers have to say?
Advanced Metrics and Measurements
Most NFL fans know little to nothing about The Jay Train.
According to MockDraftable, a site that records a player's measurables, Ajayi compares well to fellow 2015 draftees Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley. His agility score from MockDraftable is an 89 out of 100 when compared to other running backs. He also rated well in explosiveness.
Here at numberFire, we use a metric called Net Expected Points, or NEP for short. For more information on how NEP works, check out our glossary.
Among 80 backs with at least 45 carries in 2015, Ajayi ranked 31st in Rushing Net Expected Points per carry, which was two slots in front of Miller.
Damien Williams is another running back on the Dolphins roster but has only 52 career carries in two seasons. His Rushing NEP per carry of -0.24 has been wildly inefficiency; Ajayi's mark was -0.01 last year.
Ajayi could also benefit from the hiring of Adam Gase. He was the offensive coordinator in Chicago last season where Jeremy Langford flourished in Matt Forte's absence. Running backs Knowshon Moreno and C.J. Anderson have also done well under Gase.
Gase seems to use a primary back approach. Forte has been a primary back for years, and Gase kept it that way until Forte's injury. Langford took over as the primary back in his absence.
Even when he coached Montee Ball to a flop of a season, Ball began the season as the primary ball carrier, averaging over 16 carries per game in the first three weeks.
The Dolphins will likely sign another running back to join the backfield due to the lack of experience between Ajayi and Williams. Ajayi deserves the first crack at the starting job. However, I'm not ready to crown Ajayi as a must-draft until we learn more.
But from the little that we have seen, and the offenses that Gase has run, you have to like his chances.