Jay Ajayi began the 2016 season in Adam Gase’s doghouse, then broke out with just under 1,200 yards in 12 starts. But those yards came in spurts, with Ajayi topping 200 yards in three games but struggling to top 50 yards in others.
Break it down and the correlation between Ajayi’s big games and the health of the Dolphins’ offensive line becomes obvious. When he got high-end blocking, he feasted. But when the yards were tougher to come by, he sometimes disappeared.
Is Ajayi for real?
The case for Ajayi
Only four running backs in NFL history have rushed for 200-plus yards three times in a season. Can’t we cut Ajayi a little slack for a few down games in between?
Yes, his best games came when the Dolphins’ offensive line was healthy, but what tailback in the NFL is unaffected when his blocking suffers? You won’t find one.
Besides, it’s not like Ajayi was only productive because the Dolphins’ offensive line opened huge holes for him. On the contrary, he led the NFL in yards after contact per attempt, according to Pro Football Focus. Ajayi has power and elusiveness in spades; he’s just young and he’s still learning how to be consistent.
Ajayi’s numbers should normalize this season, meaning we should expect fewer 200-yard games but also fewer 50-yard games. If he splits the difference, that will place him squarely among the game’s elite tailbacks.
– David P. Woods
The case against Ajayi
It takes a special talent to be labeled a “superstar.” No one can deny Ajayi was impressive in his sophomore season. A case can be made that he doesn’t possess superstar ability, however.
Ajayi ranked fourth in rushing yards last season, primarily on the back of three 200-yard performances. Take those games out of the equation and he averaged 63 yards per game in his nine other regular-season starts. Despite being handed ample carries, he failed to register even 80 rushing yards in eight of those games.
He also scored just three touchdowns after the Dolphins’ Week 8 bye week.
Now opponents have a full year’s worth of game tape to review in an attempt to shut down the runner.
Ajayi has the ability to break a game wide open, as many NFL talents do. Superstars offer more consistency, however.
Miami owns a fine starting running back, but there are stronger candidates to become the NFL’s next superstar runner.
– Michael McClymont
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Were Vic Beasley’s 15.5 sacks a fluke? (July 5)
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