Should Miami Ride the J-Train?

when one chapter ends, another chapter begins.”

When former Miami Dolphins running back Troy Stradford, alongside third-generation season ticket holders Danielle & Ashley Pinter, announced the Miami Dolphins 149th selection in the 2015 Draft, a cold sweat of optimism flooded over fans and analysts alike. On that day, the Dolphins selected one of the most prolific Mountain West football players of all-time.

“The Miami Dolphins select… Jay Ajayi, running back from Boise State.”

Ajayi was highly regarded as the third best overall running back in his draft class behind only Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. In 2014, Ajayi would become the only player in FBS history with 1,800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a single season. He is also tied for second place in Boise State history with 50 career rushing touchdowns.

While many considered the Boise State tailback an early second-round pick, Ajayi would unfortunately descend down the draft board after his potentially significant knee injury was deemed “bone on bone.” Ajayi had knee surgery to repair a torn ACL in 2011, but there were lingering concerns about the need for micro-fracture surgery in the future.

Jay Ajayi would go on to sign a 4-year, $2,500,813 contract with the Miami Dolphins.

“I am excited that the Dolphins took a chance on me. I’m ready to prove all the people wrong and prove the Dolphins right.”

Ajayi initially struggled in proving his worth to Miami after blocking issues and a hamstring injury put a damper on the rookie’s training camp. Things would seemingly get worse after a broken rib suffered in the final game of the preseason placed the multi-functional back on Miami’s injured reserve. It would not be until Week 9 that the Boise State Bronco would make his triumphant debut.

Although Ajayi only receive limited carries against the Buffalo Bills, the rookie dazzled with his ability to break tackles, rushing for 41 yards (8.2 YPC) on 5 carries, while showing good patience and power. Ajayi strong debut prompted the Dolphins’ to cut RB Jonas Grey only a few days later.

The 22-year old finished his 2015 campaign with 49 carries for 187 yards (3.8 YPC) and one touchdown.

While these numbers are not phenomenal, it is important to look deeper into Weeks 9-16. According to Matthew Berry, featured back Lamar Miller’s snap count significantly dropped during Weeks 10-11, after “J-Train’s” return (68.8 percent of snaps after having played 81.4 percent in the previous two weeks).

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Miller was also asked to block on 21.2 percent of those snaps. Meanwhile, Ajayi’s snap percentage jumped  from 10 percent in his debut game to 18.6 percent in his second game, and 25 percent in Week 12. Ajayi was also rarely asked to block; In weeks 11-12, of his 32 snaps, he was asked to block only three times. In Week, 15 Ajayi saw 31 snaps to Miller’s 18.

Courtesy of NFL.com
Courtesy of NFL.com
2016 Outlook.

Going into the season right now I’m the starter, and I’m excited about that role, excited to prove myself and continually showcase what I can do out on the field – Jay Ajayi

With Lamar Miller taking his talents far from South Beach this offseason, signing a 4-year, $26 million deal with the Houston Texans, and the Fins striking out on attempted free agent signings, it is likely that Jay Ajayi will be promoted to the RB1 position. Even if the Dolphins were to draft another RB, Ajayi can prosper in Miami’s new 3-Zone System with his ability to cut between the tackles and strength to break tackles once reaching the secondary. Like Adam Gase’s former running back in Chicago, Matt Forte, the Dolphins offense will also steadily rely on Ajayi’s ability to make plays in pass-catching situations like dump passes and screen plays. While the main question remains if Jay Ajayi can stay healthy carrying a load of 15-20+ touches per game, he finished his 2014 college season with 300+ total touches (28.4 per game). Time will tell if the former steal of the 2015 draft will perform in Adam Gase offensive system, but with a low cap-hit and un-tethered potential, riding the J-Train through the 2016 season seems like a smart move for the Miami Dolphins.

2016 Projection: 210 carries, 870 yards (4.14 YAP), four touchdowns.

Receiving: 50 receptions, 300 yards, two touchdowns.

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