Is he the next Marshawn Lynch? I don’t know.
But Jay Ajayi is a damn good football player.
We break down our second running back of the series, and yet, we haven’t touched on the two best backs in the class, according to practically everyone, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. But don’t worry, folks. They are coming, along with a handful of other exciting prospects. However, I wanted to take a long look at Ajayi, because I think he can be a massive second-day steal come April. The measurables are impressive, as well as the stats, but if you watch the tape, you see just how much he carried the Boise State offense over the years.
You know the drill by now.
Ajayi had a terrific combine. His 40-time is nothing to write home about, but his 39-inch vertical was the best among running backs, while his 20-yard shuffle (4.10), broad jump (121-inch) and 60-yard shuffle (11.10) all finished as one of the top at the position, too. And his impressive 20-yard shuffle time was better than the likes of DeMarco Murray and LaDainian Tomlinson. The agility score is simply off the chart. At 6-feet and 221 pounds, his size is very good for an NFL running back, but he also has plenty of wiggle to his game, possessing terrific footwork, which allows him to put together multiple moves at once. I love his all-around game and metrics. He can run with power, run with speed, run with acceleration, runs with base.
During his three years at Boise State, Ajayi had a very, very productive career. His yardage and touchdowns increased each season he played, and in 2014, he became the first back in FBS history to rush for at least 1,800 yards, while adding 500 yards or more through the air, which only showcases his versatility even more. His 50 career rushing touchdowns tied for second-most in the history of the school, while setting Boise State records in 2014 in both rushing yards and touchdowns. The Broncos asked him to run between the tackles, run outside, catch swing passes out of the backfield, run routes, you name it. This is one of those backs where the more I watch him, the more I like him.
So let’s watch him more.
Let’s start with perhaps my favorite aspect of any talented running back, the footwork. This above touchdown is perhaps my favorite carry I’ve watched from Ajayi thus far. He has a tremendous marriage between his mind, feet, and hips, which allows him to run with great lateral and cutting ability. He puts his foot in the ground and uses an athletic lateral jump to escape trouble here, an impressive move for a bigger back. And because he’s strong and big, the fact that he runs with such a low center of gravity, he can be very difficult to tackle at times. As a former soccer player, watching Ajayi’s hips might be the best way to tackle him, as both his hips and feet work together beautifully. His feet are always, always moving and he uses that lateral move to create separation and explode into that hole for the touchdown.
Ajayi also has both the ability and desire to always fight for extra yardage. Oh, and in case I haven’t talked enough about how versatile of a player he is, you see Jay-Train run the wildcat on this touchdown run. Despite having elite footwork and nimble running style, don’t discount Ajayi and his ability to smash the football down your throat, which is where a ton of the Marshawn Lynch comparisons come from. I think, in many ways, the comparison is fair.
However, one of the big differences between Lynch and Ajayi is the violence with which they run. We all know that Marshawn is the most vicious, angry runner in the NFL today. He initiates and invites contact, while running though defenders more times than we can count. And Lynch doesn’t mess around when he rushes. He gets all of the yards possible on each carry. Since 2011, Lynch has ranked inside the top-five in first down rushes in every single year. I love Ajayi’s game, but sometimes he’ll rely on his feet too much, rather than using his size and power. He can get too cute at times run into defenders that he should be able to avoid. And, according to Football Study Hall, only 36 percent of his carries from last year went for five yards or more, which is the lowest among the top-ranked backs in this year’s class.
-Strong lateral ability
-Can perform multiple moves at a time
-Runs with low center of gravity
-Versatile; can catch passes out of backfield or line up as WR
-Often fights for extra yardage
-Could improve as pass-blocker
-Can get too cute at times.
-Runs with less power than probably should
-Some ball security issues
Potential Landing Spots
Like TJ Yeldon, I think Ajayi is going to be an absolute steal in the later rounds of this April’s draft. He can do it all, and I see him as a candidate to be a breakout, immediate fantasy asset, similar to the likes of Alfred Morris or Jeremy Hill during their rookie campaigns. Of course, much of that depends on which team grabs him in the draft, and a few football clubs come to mind when I think of a fit with Ajayi.
New York Jets
The Jets no longer have Chris Johnson, didn’t sign CJ Spiller in free agency, and lack that explosive, versatile back. Enter Ajayi, who could be a nice compliment to Chris Ivory. Newly hired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has been known to favor the passing game during his time calling plays. In 2008 with Kansas City, the Chiefs ranked 10th in the league in passing attempts per game, while the Bills threw the football about 60 percent of the time back in the 2011 campaign. If Gailey continues to lean towards the pass, that would almost surely benefit a guy like Ajayi, who hauled in 73 balls in three seasons at Boise State.
San Diego Chargers
Landing in San Diego could potentially be the best spot for Ajayi and his fantasy value, but I’m a bit hesitant upon writing this, only because I truly see the Chargers grabbing Todd Gurley in the middle of the first round. However, if they don’t go running back there, you can bet they’ll do so in round two, as they lost Ryan Mathews and have a hole at the running back position. And San Diego hasn’t had a durable, healthy and reliable running back since LT. Mathews has one 16-game season under his belt, Danny Woodhead is coming off a broken ankle that ended his season and last year, an undrafted running back led the team in carries and yards in Branden Oliver. Ajayi, meanwhile, hasn’t missed one game since his sophomore year and has just one serious injury throughout his collegiate career. The fit makes sense to me.
At the moment, Ajayi is my number-four ranked back in this class, and if it weren’t for my obsession with Yeldon, he’d easily be third at the position. He’s the type of back that fantasy owners would love to have, if given a starting role. He catches passes, can handle a heavy workload, stays relatively healthy, you name it.
Whichever team snags him in the second round could end up with the steal of the draft.