When the Miami Dolphins made the decision to move on from Lamar Miller at the end of the 2015 season, all eyes were on Jay Ajayi. The former Boise State running back was thrust into a starting role. Even after the Dolphins would swing and miss landing free agent running backs in the offseason, Ajayi was to be their guy.
Fast forward to just before camp and the team wasn’t done making moves, eventually signing Arian Foster. With the brief setback in his young career, it would appear that he would split carries with Foster if not back him up. After the initial hurdle, Ajayi would go on to set another one in his place. After underperforming at camp, he would go on to miss week 1 in Seattle. When Foster went down with an injury the team once again would pencil Ajayi in as a starter.
His first start in New England he would go on to be out rushed by quarterback Ryan Tannehill who only rushed for 35 yards. His second game against the lowly Cleveland Browns would go no better. Ajayi would go on to total just 28 yards on 7 carries. However, it was the coaches decision to rely on the running back to get the job done. With the Dolphins moving the ball well through the air, Adam Gase made the call with 8:26 left in overtime to hand the ball off 11 yards out. This call alone changed the course of Ajayi’s season. With the 11 yard rush in overtime, the coaches faith in Ajayi was restored along with his confidence. Even though the Dolphins started 1-4, Ajayi would go on to carry the Dolphins late in games to victory on multiple occasions. 2016 would prove the Dolphins got a steal in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL draft.
2017 prediction: Jay Ajayi will match his career totals.
In 2017 the Miami Dolphins should have a younger, more agile, starting line. True, they brought back Jermon Bushrod(32) at guard, but he replaces Branden Albert as Miami’s eldest lineman. He and Kraig Urbik are the only 2 Dolphins lineman in the 30+ club. Neither lineman is guaranteed a starting spot come week 1. Of the 13 linemen currently on Miami’s roster, the average age is 26 and should be in the prime of their careers. Miami also bolstered their line with 5th round pick Isaac Asiata a guard out of Utah who may push for a starting spot. With the addition of Asiata, the Dolphins now have versatility along their line providing some much-needed depth late in the season.
Ajayi had a breakout season in 2017 behind a rebuilt offensive line. His 1,272 yards was good enough for 4th in the league. Even as surprised fans were with his productivity, one has to wonder how much more he could’ve gained had key lineman stayed healthy. Ajayi showed no signs of slowing down late in games and did most of his best rushing in the 4th quarter. If Miami can get him firing on all cylinders he should have no problem matching his career total, 1,459 yards and 9 touchdowns by season’s end.
While it might be hard for Ajayi to match his back to back to back 200-yard rushing games, he’d only have to rush for 91.2 yards per game to reach this mark. Throw in the fact the Dolphins have returned all their starting receivers to benefit Ajayi. With Stills, Landry, and Parker the offense should be able to spread the field. Add newly acquired tight ends Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano as possible targets or out in front blockers and the run game should have more wiggle room. 2017 should bring “Jay Train” into the “top running backs in the league” discussion.