The Miami Dolphins struck out on every running back they attempted to acquire in the offseason. Having lost Lamar Miller to the Huston Texans the Dolphins tried to bring in C.J. Anderson only to have the Denver Broncos match their offer sheet and Chris Johnson took less money to go back to the desert with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Dolphins running back corps has been left thin however Jay Ajayi flashed moments during his rookie season in 2015 and could be a contender to lead the AFC West team as an every down back heading into 2016.
“I’m a complete back that can do everything.” Rewind to before the 2015 draft and Ajayi put forward a convincing sales pitch. Shting his ability to run the ball, catch and pick up blitzes and ever compared his playing style to a mixture of Matt Forte and Marshawn Lynch. Ajayi is a powerful back that – had the run game been used to full effect last season – could have provided the perfect balance to Miller.
The London-born back had 28 rushing touchdowns in 2014 for Boise State and also displayed great hands catching the ball out on swing routes and screens using the space well to turn short passes into big gains. With Gase calling the plays the Dolphins will be much more balanced on the offensive side of the ball and Ajayi will benefit from that.
Even in a season where running the rock often deserted Miami Miller still managed 4.5 yards per carry and rushed for a total of 872 yards – although 288 of those yards came in a two game spell against Tennessee Titans and the Texans. However the now Texan running back also had ten games where he rushed for less than 50 yards. With a more balanced approach Ajayi will surely see more touches and rushing yards.
During limited snaps the second year pro rushed for 3.8 yards per carry and displayed a change of pace and explosiveness which suggests he will be a difference maker as an every down back. team that with his size to take on goal line touches and his ability to catch the football then on paper Ajayi has all the tools. Weather the knee holds up is a different issue altogether.
Ajayi has flashed great patience, tackle breaking ability and a change of speed which can leave linebackers and safties being blown away by his combination of speed and power. Le’Veon Bell has shown that patience when looking for creases to run through is becoming much more effective that trying to bulldoze your way through offensive lines – although it served Lynch. While not at Bell’s level of anticipation Ajayi shows enough to suggest he can become a more patient runner and make use of his size and speed once at the second level.
Last season Ryan Tannehill had six games where he attempted over 40 passes and in one game – a 20-38 loss at the New York Jets – Tannehill attempted a monstrous 58 passes. To keep defenses honest running the ball must be a priority and Ajayi is a powerful north and south runner who will get between the tackles and should he get to the second level then watch out. Accelerating towards linebackers and safeties Ajayi will prove difficult to tackle in the open field. Also a former football player Ajayi has quick feet and able to change direction as quick as a hiccup – again on paper it makes sense that the 22-year-old can lead the Miami backfield.
Miami only rushed for a total of 11 rushing touchdowns as a team – the same as Adrian Peterson, DeVonta Freeman, DeAngelo Williams and Jeremy Hill managed on their own. Miller finished tied third with eight rushing scores. The common theme between the aforementioned names is their build: big, bruising north and south runners who will get goal line touches. The Falcons leaned on Freeman early in the season to help balance their attack and make Julio Jones as effective as possible – although Jones is always effective, he’s a freak of nature. Ajayi is of a similar mould and although at present the notion is greeting with much scepticism he could have a Freeman type effect on the Miami offense.
Running backs must now more than ever be able to pick up blitzes and with the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, L.A. Rams and the Jets all on their 2016 slate then Tannehill will be seeing a lot of pressure. Ajayi looked steady in pass protection in his limited snaps and his ability to identify rushers and engage them will help Tannehill no end keeping him upright and taking shots downfield to another second year pro in DeVante Parker.
With the draft just days away and several running backs tipped to be top 50 picks it remains to be seen if the Dolphins staff truly have as much faith in Ajayi as they claim they do. However, as stated before, on paper the second year back has all the tools to have a breakout season in 2016.