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Jay Ajayi is This Year’s RB Sleeper (Fantasy Football)

by Marc Mathyk | @Masterjune70 | Featured Writer
May 2, 2018

Jay Ajayi is one of the most polarizing running backs in the fantasy community. Some love his aggressive style of play, while others believe that he is way too overhyped. Last year was also a year of highs and lows for Ajayi. He started off the season with so much hope and expectation. In last year’s fantasy drafts, his ADP on FantasyPros was 12th overall, ranked as the seventh best running back. This was largely due to his breakout 2016 season where he rushed for 1,272 yards including a couple games in which he rushed for over 200 yards. However, last year Ajayi did not live up to expectations and many believe he took a step back. Those people will most likely stay clear of him this season. This is the perfect time to trade for him in dynasty or draft him in redraft, now that his stock is much lower.

There are four reasons why you should think about rostering Ajayi on your fantasy team. He comes at a discount, he is in Philadelphia behind a great offensive line, he is going to get more touches with LeGarrette Blount gone, and he’s on the final year of his rookie contract.

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1. Eagle Descending
Ajayi’s current ADP on MyFantasyLeague is around 64th, listed as the 22nd ranked running back, just behind Cleveland’s Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde, and just ahead of Miami’s Kenyan Drake. This is great news for fantasy owners who believe that Ajayi will make a considerable splash because he is 52 spots lower than he was last year. It is still only May, so a lot can change from now to draft day, but this spot is encouraging and should not change drastically. Although he is viewed as a low-end RB2, Ajayi has proven he can be an RB1. Talk about great value.

2. It’s Sunny in Philadelphia
Another thing to consider when debating whether or not taking Ajayi is where he’ll be playing. Overall, for the 2017 season, Ajayi’s stats are nothing special. The good thing is most fantasy owners won’t look past this fact. However, if you look at his efficiency playing for Philadelphia compared to when he was in Miami, the statistics become much more compelling.

As an Eagle, Ajayi averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Ajayi would have only been behind Alvin Kamara (6.1 YPC) in the entire league. If he kept that pace and played all 16 games with Philadelphia, he would have led the league with 1,379 yards rushing. It is amazing how much better he was, running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league, and this year he gets that for a full season. Miami might be hot and humid, but it’s sunny in Philadelphia.

3. To be perfectly Blount, more touches
He only played 14 games, not missing any time due to injury but because of experiencing two byes and resting in the final game of the season. It is also important to note that he only started one game in Philadelphia as LeGarrette Blount was the favorite there last year. Now that Blount is gone, there are 700+ yards and a few touchdowns to be had. This can only benefit Ajayi, now that Philadelphia decided to not use any of their draft picks on running backs. When Ajayi was in Miami, he averaged 19.7 carries per game compared to only 10.00 with the Eagles. Look for his 208 carries (16th in the league), 59.2%, opportunity share (13th), and his 24 red zone touches (30th) all to increase. In 2016, Ajayi carried the ball 260 times so he has proven to be a workhorse. Even with having Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey taking away touches, Ajayi is far and away the team’s most proven back. And as a side note, Ajayi has never reached his pass-catching potential in the NFL. At Boise State, he had 50 receptions in his final year proving that he isn’t just an uphill grinder but can be a three-down back.

Despite having a prolific offense, Philadelphia only had nine rushing touchdowns last year, which was 23rd in the league. Carson Wentz was on an MVP pace of reaching 40 touchdowns before tearing his ACL, thus, missing the remainder of the season. He most likely will not equal that this year and he most likely won’t run as much. He had almost 300 yards rushing in only 13 games. Expect his yardage to go down, which means more carries for the running backs. It isn’t out of Ajayi’s range of outcomes to rush for 1,300 yards with eight touchdowns, which was similar to his 2016 campaign in Miami. Now he’s on a better team, a better offense, a better O-line, with a better game script.

4. Play to Pay
As Ajayi enters his fourth year in the league, he is about to make a little under two million dollars in Philadelphia. So, in order to get paid, he needs to run like there’s no tomorrow. There’s benefit for the Eagles as well. If they play Ajayi more and he makes the most of it, then they have the option to sign him to a large contract, franchise him for a year, or franchise him and trade him like the Dolphins did with Jarvis Landry. In any case, playing Ajayi more is a win-win situation for both Ajayi and Philadelphia.

Conclusion
Many fantasy experts are already talking down Jay Ajayi in 2018, basing it on his lackluster 2017 season. The best minds in fantasy football look for the players who are coming off disappointing seasons in order to purchase them at a huge discount. What’s deceptive about Ajayi is he was actually productive and efficient in Philadelphia after he got traded mid-year. As he earned the trust of Doug Peterson and the offensive coaches, he got more touches and excelled. With the departure of Blount and playing in a contract year, Ajayi has all the opportunity and motivation to shine behind a stellar offensive line. If Philadelphia does not add any more backs from now until the start of the season, get Ajayi on your fantasy team any way you can.

Marc Mathyk is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Marc, check out his archive and follow him @Masterjune70.

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