There are some players whose talent transcends their surroundings and situation (Adrian Peterson). Unfortunately for 99% of players that is not the case. That's where the Talent, Situation and Opportunity Report comes in. The TSO Report puts an individual under the microscope and analyzes that player through three different lenses to determine their fantasy outlook:
Talent: What does the player bring to the table? Do they have any trump cards? Will an area of weakness prevent the player from reaching their potential?
Situation: Will the player be used correctly? Are they an integral part of a good offense? Do they fit the offensive scheme well? Is the arrow pointing up or down for the offense?
Opportunity: Where do they sit on the depth chart? Do they have a role carved out in their offense? Are they stuck behind an elite talent?
Name: Jay Ajayi
Weight: 221 LBS
College: Boise State
Drafted: 5th Round, 149th Overall by Miami in 2015
Experience: 2nd Season
2015 Season Stats: 49 Att, 187 Yards, 3.8 YPC, 1 TD, 7 Rec, 90 Yards, 0 TD
Jay Ajayi, last name pronounced uh-JYE-ee, is a running back entering his second NFL season and his talent far exceeds the round in which he was selected. Ajayi fell in the 2015 NFL Draft due to concerns over his right knee. Ajayi tore his ACL in 2011 and when the draft neared reports surfaced that his knee was "bone on bone" and that it might require "micro-fracture surgery" in the near future. Even though he had no problem shouldering 668 touches over his final two seasons in Boise, teams decided to stay away.
Ajayi's rookie campaign got off to a rough start as he suffered a cracked rib in the preseason finale and was put on the PUP (Physically Unable To Perform) list with a designation to return. Meaning he had to sit out the first seven weeks of the season. Ajayi made his debut in Week 9 vs Buffalo and has continued to impress Dolphins brass since.
On the field, Ajayi's 1 vs 11 mentality with the ball in his hands makes him a joy to watch. Ajayi has the skill-set of a 3-down bell cow back. He is the only player in FBS history with 1,800 rushing and 500 receiving yards in a season. For being a bigger back Ajayi displays nimble feet and the ability to accelerate and shoot through an opening. His downhill and angry running style allows him to brush off arm tackles and get the extra couple yards on each run, as he's always falling forward. One thing I noticed is that he's always very aware of where the first down markers are and will extend his arms if needed to gain the offense an extra set of downs. Although he doesn't have the hands or lateral agility and quicks of a Darren Sproles, Ajayi is an above average receiver out of the backfield. He's a natural transitioning from receiver to runner in the open field.
Ajayi has just average speed and is more of a doubles hitter, so to speak, than a home run hitter. Although he didn't fumble as a rookie Ajayi coughed up the football 12 times at Boise State and it will be something to monitor as his workload increases.
The Dolphins cupboards are stocked full of talent but they have yet to find the right chef to whip everything together and create a perfect meal. This is where new Dolphins Head Coach, Adam Gase, comes into play. Before serving as the Bears Offensive Coordinator in 2015, Gase was in Denver where he was the mastermind behind the Broncos historic offenses of 2013 and 2014. Now to be fair, a lot of that success is due to Peyton Manning but part of being a good coach is putting your players in situations to succeed. Gase crafted an offense around Peyton Manning's strengths as a player and his physical limitations coming off neck surgery. On the opposite end of the spectrum he was able to make Tim Tebow a passable (pun not intended) QB in the NFL for a season. In 2015, Jay Cutler had arguably the best year of his career, on an offense that was missing Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery for good portions of the season. This leads me to believe the best is yet to come for Ryan Tannehill, who has struggled to take the leap to becoming an upper echelon QB the past two seasons.
While Tannehill hasn't taken that aforementioned leap the Dolphins continue to try and surround him with talent to make life easier on him. The Dolphins have now spent high draft picks on Wide Receivers in three consecutive drafts: Jarvis Landry in the 2nd (2014), Davante Parker in the 1st (2015), Leonte Carroo in the 3rd (2016). Miami also traded for Kenny Stills last offseason and signed Jordan Cameron to a pricey free agent contract. Point is, Gase and Tannehill do have a lot to work with.
The Dolphins offensive line was one of the worst in the league last season at protecting Ryan Tannehill and at times Lamar Miller and Ajayi didn't have much to work with either in the run game. There were stretches last season where the opposing team's defensive line lived on the other side of the ball. Thankfully the Dolphins addressed this issue by selecting Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil with the 13th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Nobody knows yet what position along the line Tunsil will start out at but he's an elite talent that should only improve the line play.
Now, how do these offensive upgrades and the coaching change affect Jay Ajayi? Simply put, the arrow is pointing up for this offense and the better the offense, the more scoring opportunities there are. Which means more fantasy points. That's a good thing.
Luckily for Ajayi, Adam Gase isn't afraid to feed his all-purpose backs. Knowshon Moreno caught 60 balls in 2013 and ended up as a Top 5 RB. In 2014, CJ Anderson emerged from the Denver backfield and although he only started 7 games, he hauled in 34 passes and finished up as RB11. In 2015, Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford put up RB1 numbers in their starting roles. Even after missing 3 games Forte finished the season as RB8 and Langford finished as RB21. Once Forte returned from injury, Gase seemingly went to more of a Running Back By Committee (RBBC) approach.
In his three years as an offensive coordinator, Gase's teams have finished in the top half of the league in rushing attempts, yards and TDs each season. Now there are many layers to this and I won't really get into that but Gase has shown a willingness to pound the rock if that's what's working. Even then, RBs do get fed out of the backfield too.
Ajayi sits atop the Dolphins depth chart at this moment and it speaks volumes that they were willing to let Lamar Miller walk. Whether that was a smart decision, it wasn't, is another story. Sitting behind Ajayi on the depth chart are Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. Williams will be entering his 3rd season in Miami and has been mainly used as a receiver out the backfield. He's racked up 42 catches the past two seasons and was primarily used in a 3rd down role. Kenyan Drake is another supremely talented gadget back. Drake is electrifying with the ball in his hands but had trouble staying healthy at Alabama as well as having the highest fumble rate of any draft eligible back this year. Given that Miami took him in the 3rd round, ahead of better all-around backs such as Kenneth Dixon, Paul Perkins, Alex Collins etc., it means they probably have a role in mind for him. Drake would be best used as a receiver out of the backfield and as a return specialist. He's not much of a threat between the tackles.
Prior to the draft, the Dolphins did do some RB shopping in Free Agency. Miami put in an offer sheet for CJ Anderson that was eventually matched by Denver. They also brought Arian Foster and Chris Johnson in but no deals were agreed upon. The Dolphins did, however, sign former 2nd round busts, Daniel Thomas and Isaiah Pead. Hopefully, the Dolphins only view them as camp bodies.
The starting job is certainly there for the taking. Ajayi has all the tools but now it's time for him to prove it on the field. As recently as April 29th, Gase was quoted as saying “He knows he’s the starter. He’s showing me a lot of great things. I like his skill set. He’s impressed me more both days, from the first day to the second day.”
At this moment Ajayi should be seen as an RB2, with real RB1 upside if the Dolphins get rolling. However, the Dolphins RB situation is one to closely monitor as the season approaches. The Dolphins may sign someone like Arian Foster once he proves to be healthy and Ajayi will constantly need to prove that the injury bug is a thing of the past.
For the time being, I wouldn't get too infatuated with Ajayi. We'll want to see how the rest of the offseason shakes out but here is to hoping we can all hop aboard the J-Train this season and enjoy the ride.