It’s safe to say that 2016 was a breakout year for Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, but has he even come close to reaching his full potential?
After not even being active in Week 1 last season, Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi went on to rush for 1,272 yards, eight touchdowns and 27 receptions for 151 yards. While the numbers in themselves are impressive, I believe he can be significantly better in 2017.
There are two areas where he can take huge steps. Ajayi needs to improve as a pass-catcher and be far more consistent. We have heard nothing but good things about his improvement as a receiver at OTAs. Anybody who was asked about how he looked gushed about his pass-catching. Most notably ESPN’s James Walker stated:
Catching the ball out of the backfield became a major focus during Ajayi’s offseason training. He doesn’t want to come off the field on third down and he looks much smoother running routes and finishing receptions.
Consistency was an issue last year for a number of reasons and many things factor into the consistency of the rushing attack and him as an individual. While his numbers were strong overall they were unbalanced.
Ajayi topped 200 yards three times and 100 yards in only one other game. This means of his 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns, 735 yards and five touchdowns came in just four games. He failed to hit the 60-yard mark in eight games and didn’t reach 80 yards in a single game other than those four huge outings.
The first thing that he needs to solidify his role as a consistent No. 1 back is out of his control. He needs the offensive line to hold up and play well. The line wasn’t complete often last year, but they were on his huge 529-yard three-game stretch. Fortunately for him, Miami’s line has been much better against run defenders than pass-rushers in recent history.
Another factor will be versatility and durability. Last year he often came off the field on passing downs and on goal-line situations. We saw a whole lot of Damien Williams where we may see Ajayi this season. Kenyan Drake is going to be a factor regardless, but Ajayi can wrestle those snaps away from Williams.
Of course he also needs to stay healthy, which was a huge concern when he slipped in the 2015 NFL Draft. More snaps and opportunities will help him immensely. The more carries he got last year, the better he played.
The Dolphins being good and playing with the lead will help a lot too. If Miami often has the lead or is in tight games, they can feed the beast. We know head coach Adam Gase wants to pound the ball as much as he can to make things easier for his quarterback and control the pace of the game. Then again, if the Dolphins aren’t winning, none of this really matters anyway to anyone but fantasy owners.
I believe Ajayi goes off this season for 1,385 yards and 12 touchdowns. I also predict he catches about 41 passes for 320 yards. It will be interesting to see how large of a role he gets with a dynamic back like Drake waiting in the wings. Nonetheless, I think a big year is in store for the rushing attack and Ajayi specifically.