There has been a lot of talk about rookie running backs over the past month, with the majority of the focus revolving around Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. Both were great college running backs, and both are going to teams where they will have plenty of opportunities to succeed in year one. That being said, unless you have one of the first few picks of your rookie draft this year, odds are you will not be walking away with one of these two studs. However, don’t fret because I am here to show you a low risk, high reward running back option who will be available outside the first round of your rookie draft: RB Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins.
Before we start talking about Ajayi’s knee and injury concerns, let’s look at what he was able to do in college:
- 2013: 1,425 rushing yards, 22 receptions, 222 receiving yards, 19 TDs
- 2014: 1,823 rushing yards, 50 receptions, 535 receiving yards, 32 TDs
Not bad for a player who was drafted in the 5th round of the NFL draft. Last year at Boise State Ajayi had more receiving yards than both Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley combined. He also had the same number of total TDs as Gordon did in 2014. Ajayi carried the ball a whopping 347 times, 4 more carries than Gordon had, all on his supposed weak knees. Medical concerns aside, Ajayi has more than proved that he can be a productive running back at the college level.
As far as the injury side goes, there are obvious concerns about his knee, but the concern is that his knees could become an issue far down the road. It is not necessarily a short term concern to many which is why the Dolphins were comfortable drafting him in the 5th round. If Ajayi can have 3-5 productive years in the NFL at the very least, it could be fantasy gold if you are able to get him with a later pick. Let’s also not forget another running back with injury concerns that the Packers drafted not long ago.
Now let’s talk about why I think Ajayi will be successful in Miami. For whatever reason, the Miami Dolphins don’t trust Lamar Miller to be their main running back. Last season Miller didn’t have a single game with 20 carries or more. In fact, out of 16 games last season there were only four games where Miller had more than 15 carries. Four! Bill Lazor (the offensive coordinator of the Dolphins) wants to run an offense with a running back by committee approach, but the problem has been that the dolphins best #2 running back up to this season has been Daniel Thomas.
Thomas, whose career rushing average is a dismal 3.6 yards per carry, has been a thorn in the Dolphin’s running game for the past four seasons. However, he still managed to average almost eight carries a game in addition to a couple pass attempts each week. Finally in 2015, out goes Thomas and in comes Ajayi. It is a safe assumption that as a rookie Ajayi will have at least 50 rushing attempts and another 25-50 targets in the passing game, and that is being conservative. In 2013, when Miller had 177 rushing attempts, Thomas was given the rock 109 times, so it is conceivable if Ajayi impresses in minicamp that he could carve out 100 carries for himself in his rookie year. It is also likely that he will be the third down back due to Millers inability to pass protect, which should provide him plenty of opportunity for check down passes and screens, something he took full advantage of in college.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is Miller’s contract is up after this season and the Dolphins already have a lot of money invested in Suh and Tannehill for 2016. Ajayi is motivated to prove all the doubters wrong and if Ajayi can prove his worth in his rookie season he could end up the #1 RB in Miami for 2016 and beyond.
“I am excited that the Dolphins took a chance on me. I’m ready to prove all the people wrong and prove the Dolphins right.” –Jay Ajayi