NFL Draft Preview 2015: RB Jay Ajayi
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series sprints on. This week, the focus is on running backs. Today's rushing prospect is Jay Ajayi out of Boise State.
Ajayi has had a very productive career at Boise State. Last year he rushed for 1,823 yards on 5.3 yards per carry and scored 28 rushing touchdowns, bringing his career totals to just under 3,800 yards on 5.6 YPC and 50 rushing touchdowns. That's a pretty solid career. He does have a few miles on him, having been a two-sport athlete while carrying the ball 678 times and catching it 73 more. He's had a few injury issues, but he has increased his production each of the last three years and will look to rise to future challenges.
Jay Ajayi is a great overall back. He has a lot of skills that are going to make an NFL franchise very happy. Ajayi has good vision and is very smooth getting to the hole. Pretty much everything he does is smooth. He can run like it is no effort at all, pull off a litany of moves in the flow of running and put defenders on their back with ease.
Not only is he good getting a hand-off, but he also has a lot of skills catching the ball out of the back field. He caught 50 passes for 535 yards and four touchdowns last year and seems very comfortable checking out for a pass. He has good speed, running a 4.57 40-yard dash, and is able to translate that speed to in game success, accelerating away from many defenders over the course of his games.
One of Ajayi's flaws is in his pass blocking. This is a common flaw for a lot of young running backs and it makes even more sense that Ajayi struggles in this area as he has not been a back for too long (he used to play soccer as his primary sport). Because it is a common issue, NFL coaches will likely have no trouble coaching him up. However, make no mistake: Ajayi will have to improve in this area to stay ahead of the field. If you can't protect the quarterback, you will not earn the trust of your head coach, but I think Ajayi has the aptitude to get it down. He's also a fumbler, another sure-fire way to lose trust. He needs to improve in this area.
There are a couple of other red flags with Ajayi. He had an ACL tear in 2011, making durability a possible issue for a guy already playing a position that takes more punishment than any others. Ajayi was also arrested for petty theft of some sweatpants in 2011, something that may indicate a character issue that should be monitored.
I really like Ajayi. Sure, he's got some areas and tendencies that he could shore up, but there is a lot of good when I watch him play. From a running back standpoint, there's not much that you can't really imagine him doing. I really like backs that can run naturally and make smooth and effective cuts, and Ajayi fits the bill.
Many people compare him to Marshawn Lynch. I think that's a fair comparison, but I think of Ajayi as having a bit less strength and a bit more lateral movement skills. I think he runs a little bit like Ray Rice. In the end, I agree with the characterization of him being a second or third round pick. He has a lot of talent, but unfortunately for him, running backs are valued too highly in the draft.
It's really tough to project where Ajayi will end up. Pretty much any team with some space in their backfield should be willing to consider taking Ajayi. He has a lot of upside and promise, but a lot of teams have bigger holes to fill than at the running back position, which may cause him to drop.
However, if I had to guess, I'd say three of the most likely destinations for him would be Dallas, Jacksonville and San Diego. Of those locations, the best case scenario for Ajayi is obviously Dallas. He's already been quoted saying that playing for the Cowboys would be awesome. They have a great offensive line and are coming off an amazing season. It's the dream scenario for a rookie.