Jay Ajayi: Elite Running Back
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.
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.