After having a forgettable rookie year in 2015 in which he played a backup role to Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins feature running back and pro-bowler Jay Ajayi broke out in 2016. And from what we’ve heard this off season by Dolphins coaches, he is still not satisfied and on a quest to be the league’s best running back.
Jay Ajayi is already one of the NFL’s most feared runners by defenders who are willing to attempt bringing him down. His physical running-style can only be matched by few, and his ability to run over tacklers has nicknamed him the “Jay-Train”.
But the NFL Network’s 69th best player on the Top 100 has been working on a new skill to add to his arsenal—his receiving ability.
“Being able to run better routes and being more detailed, that was like a priority for me this offseason,” said Ajayi.
The team’s lead back says he feels further along this year than he was last year in that element of his game. Ajayi has spent all offseason working on his route-running and hands in order to be an all-around back that can stay on the field for the Dolphins for all 3 downs.
As far as the details go, Ajayi elaborated that certain routes have to be broken according to specific yards and yard-lines of the play design. He is making sure he is getting out of his breaks sharply, not rounding them off, and finishing the catch.
“He’s spent a ton of time with his routes on his own and catching the ball,” head coach Adam Gase said. “The guys he was working with, whether is was Ryan [Tannehill] or the other quarterbacks or if he was working with somebody else or working out somewhere else, he really must’ve spent a lot of time because he is on every little detail.”
Ajayi struggled holding onto the ball during the 2016 preseason after fumbles and drops caused him to be demoted from the starting position for former-Texan and 4-time pro-bowler Arian Foster. But he quickly became known after two 200+ yard back to back games against the Pittsburg Steelers and Buffalo Bills in Weeks 6 and 7 of the 2016 regular season. These performances led to victories which the Dolphins desperately needed to keep their season alive after a 1-4 start, and marked the beginning of a seasonal turnaround that led to the Dolphins first playoff birth since 2008. Ajayi finished the season with another 200+ yard game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 16 and totaled 1,272 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns.
After all the success, Ajayi wasn’t exactly known for his hands—only having 27 receptions on the year for 151 yards and 5.6 Yards Per Reception average. Running back Damien Williams \ was favored when it came to Dolphins being caught in passing situations due to his hands and route-running (23 rec, 249 yards, 3 TDs, 10.8 Y/R). But Gase said Ajayi has improved and is taking the same angry approach the team sees in his running to his receiving.
“Way more comfortable catching the ball,” praised Gase. “Takes it very hard on himself. Even if he slightly bobbles the ball, you have to decompress him a little bit ‘cause you don’t want him to get as angry as he gets because he’s striving for perfection.”
Gase also added that his pro-bowl running back’s competitiveness has gotten the best of him after a drop or bobble, and has needed to ease Ajayi’s emotions.
“We’ve been talking about ‘hey, when something like that happens we need to move on to the next play. We need to clear the conscious and move on and learn from that experience’. As we’ve gone through this, he’s done a better job of even that—of trying to make sure if he has a slight hiccup somewhere, ‘hey. I’m moving onto the next thing’.”
Earlier in the offseason, it was reported Gase is planning on giving Ajayi an even bigger workload than what he had last season. Since breaking out in 2016, Ajayi has become to the backfield what Jarvis Landry is to the receiving core—a tough, physical, competitive, tone-setter and leader who strives to be the best.
Insight from Eric Roddy, Publisher of Dolphins Report: "Where I see Ajayi really stepping in and becoming that feature three-down back is not just out of the backfield in the passing game, but as a pass-blocker for Ryan Tannehill. Ajayi, though not a liability as a pass-blocker, definitely has room to improve in terms of picking up blitzes and identifying blocks in the backfield. Keeping Tannehill off the ground, especially after suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2016, will be priority number one. Ajayi's greatest strength may not be how many passes he catches in 2017, but how many sacks he prevents in the backfield."
GET HIM ON YOUR FANTASY TEAMS, PEOPLE!