Jay Ajayi: Elite Running Back

Jun 16, 2017

Jay Ajayi led the NFL in Yards After Contact per Attempt in 2016

One of the most polarizing players in fantasy circles, Jay Ajayi is poised to make the leap to elite in 2017. Ironically, his most impressive games are exactly what have caused the divide between fantasy owners. His three 200-yard performances last year accounted for about half of his rushing yards for the season. Despite having just one other game over 100 yards rushing and six games with under 50, Ajayi surpassed the 1,200-yard rushing mark in his second season and firmly cemented himself as the lightning rod for the Miami Dolphins’ offense. He’ll be 24 years old when the season begins and is stepping confidently into his playing prime. Smart money is on Ajayi to take the next step into the upper echelon of backs in an offense that has vowed to run through him.

Complete a mock draft in minutes with our free Draft Simulator >>

To fully understand the hype from some surrounding Ajayi, you’ll need to look beyond the inconsistency in his numbers. How quickly some forget that the Dolphins took a chance on a deteriorating Arian Foster prior to last season, bumping Ajayi down the depth chart. Of the aforementioned six games with fewer than 50 rushing yards, four came in the first five weeks of the season, when Ajayi carried the ball just 31 total times and did not play in the season opener. He then rattled off back-to-back 200-yard efforts to solidify his role as the lead back. Although he had his fair share of disappointing games, it was enough to convince Adam Gase to center his already-running back-friendly attack around Ajayi.

Where Ajayi’s true value lies is in the deeper statistics. He led the NFL in Yards After Contact per Attempt in 2016 with 3.46, as well as Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt at 22.3%*. He was the highest-graded regular season running back on Pro Football Focus last season, despite running behind their 29th-best run-blocking team, and Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen claims he might be the most improved player on the team. Ajayi’s only real competition in the backfield comes from Damien Williams, who has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry over his career, and Kenyan Drake, who has just 33 career rushing attempts. The Dolphins should also showcase an improved passing game with a coaching staff looking to get Julius Thomas immediately involved and a receiving corps hoping to take a step forward. With a healthier offensive line, a heavier carry workload, and an increased role in the passing game all but certain, Ajayi will net elite RB1 numbers as a bell cow with a mid-second round price tag.

Nail your draft by prepping with the FantasyPros Draft Kit. Cheat Sheets, sleepers & more >>

Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Google Play | TuneIn | RSS

Mike Agrusa is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive or follow him @FauxFBNation.

What's your take? Leave a comment

Fantasy Games
FanDuel photo
Win your first contest
Or we'll credit your entry fee
DRAFT photo
Get a free best ball entry with your 1st deposit!
CBS Sports photo
Serious Fantasy Football
1David Johnson (ARI)RB
2Le'Veon Bell (PIT)RB
3Antonio Brown (PIT)WR
4Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG)WR
5Julio Jones (ATL)WR
6LeSean McCoy (BUF)RB
7Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
8A.J. Green (CIN)WR
9Mike Evans (TB)WR
10Devonta Freeman (ATL)RB
 View All Rankings 
11Jordy Nelson (GB)WR
12Jay Ajayi (MIA)RB
13Jordan Howard (CHI)RB
14DeMarco Murray (TEN)RB
15Michael Thomas (NO)WR
16Dez Bryant (DAL)WR
17Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
18T.Y. Hilton (IND)WR
19Leonard Fournette (JAC)RB
20Amari Cooper (OAK)WR
21Doug Baldwin (SEA)WR
22Rob Gronkowski (NE)TE
23Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)RB
24Isaiah Crowell (CLE)RB
25Lamar Miller (HOU)RB
26Brandin Cooks (NE)WR
27DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
28Demaryius Thomas (DEN)WR
29Marshawn Lynch (OAK)RB
30Carlos Hyde (SF)RB
1Mike Trout (LAA)CF,DH
2Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)1B
3Jose Altuve (HOU)2B
4Nolan Arenado (COL)3B
5Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
6Chris Sale (BOS)SP
7Max Scherzer (WSH)SP
8Giancarlo Stanton (MIA)RF
9Freddie Freeman (ATL)1B,3B
10Joey Votto (CIN)1B
 View All Rankings 
11Corey Kluber (CLE)SP
12Kris Bryant (CHC)1B,3B
13Manny Machado (BAL)3B,SS
14Corey Seager (LAD)SS
15George Springer (HOU)CF,RF
16Mookie Betts (BOS)RF
17Daniel Murphy (WSH)1B,2B
18Anthony Rizzo (CHC)1B,2B
19Francisco Lindor (CLE)SS
20Nelson Cruz (SEA)RF,DH
21Aaron Judge (NYY)RF,DH
22Cody Bellinger (LAD)1B,LF
23Jose Ramirez (CLE)2B,3B
24Madison Bumgarner (SF)SP
25Yu Darvish (LAD)SP
26J.D. Martinez (ARI)RF
27Robinson Cano (SEA)2B
28Edwin Encarnacion (CLE)1B,DH
29Clayton Kershaw (LAD)SP
30Zack Greinke (ARI)SP
1Russell Westbrook (OKC)PG
2James Harden (HOU)PG,SG
3Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
4Kevin Durant (GSW)SF,PF
5Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)C
6Anthony Davis (NOR)PF,C
7LeBron James (CLE)SF,PF
8Chris Paul (HOU)PG
9Kawhi Leonard (SAS)SG,SF
10DeMarcus Cousins (NOR)PF,C
 View All Rankings 
11Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)PG,SG
12Paul George (OKC)SF,PF
13Hassan Whiteside (MIA)C,PF
14Damian Lillard (POR)PG
15John Wall (WAS)PG
16Kyle Lowry (TOR)PG
17Paul Millsap (DEN)PF,C
18Jimmy Butler (MIN)SG,SF
19Draymond Green (GSW)SF,PF
20Kemba Walker (CHA)PG
21Kyrie Irving (CLE)PG,SG
22Al Horford (BOS)PF,C
23Victor Oladipo (IND)PG,SG
24Isaiah Thomas (BOS)PG
25C.J. McCollum (POR)PG,SG
26LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS)PF,C
27Brook Lopez (LAL)C
28Klay Thompson (GSW)SG,SF
29Kristaps Porzingis (NYK)PF,C
30Carmelo Anthony (NYK)SF,PF