The Eagles traded for Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi on Tuesday, giving up only a 2018 fourth-round draft pick for the 24-year old. Ajayi rushed for 1,272 yards last season despite not becoming the lead tailback until the sixth week. But he has struggled some this year and is averaging only 3.4 yards per rush.
Some of Ajayi’s troubles have stemmed from Miami’s inability to run block consistently. But Dolphins coach Adam Gase was recently critical of the running back, and there was a report from the Miami Herald that Ajayi was traded because of “team culture and locker room chemistry and player buy-in.”
General manager Howie Roseman said that the Eagles did all the necessary background checks. “We feel like we have a good understanding of what was going on there,” he said. As far as on the field, Ajayi clearly has talent, especially as a runner. Here’s a closer look at Ajayi and how he’s performed this season:
Ajayi rushed for 122 yards on 28 carries in the Dolphins’ season opener against the Chargers. The hole here is large, but he hit it and accelerated into the secondary.
Roseman: This is a physical, downhill running back, who can pick up yards after contact. He can make people miss.
Ajayi and the Dolphins’ run game struggled the next three weeks, but he exploded for 130 yards on 26 totes at the Falcons. Here he ran off tackle and gained 15 yards.
Roseman: You look at the Chargers game and the Falcons game and you could argue that he put the team on his back.
Ajayi has good size (6-foot, 223 pounds) and uses it to power through defenders, but he runs hard and doesn’t shy from contact. Here in the opener he bounced off a Charger and picked up eight yards.
The Eagles got to see Ajayi up close during inter-squad practices in August.
Roseman: We saw the player. We had the player here in Philadelphia on our field. And he’s one of the guys that when we came back from those practices, we said, “That’s our kind of guy.” He’s got the mentality that we’re looking for.
Even in the first game against the New York Jets, when Ajayi was held to 1.5 yards on the ground, he still ran hard, as he did here on a four-yard gain.
Ajayi isn’t just a north-to-south runner. He likes to get lateral and was often successful in Miami’s stretch run plays. Here he converted a third down and one with an outside spin move.
Roseman: When he gets out in space he’s a force to be reckoned with. With not only his power, but his feet.
But going east to west can sometimes place Ajayi in danger. He needed only a yard on this third and one against the Saints, but rather than lower his head and run straight ahead, he bumped outside and was stopped for no gain.
The Jets have a strong run defense, which was one reason why Ajayi rushed for only 67 yards on 34 carries in two meetings this season.
Ajayi injured himself on the above carry, but returned the following series. It just got worse. Having no holes to run through is one thing, but when you’re met in the backfield – as he was on this five-yard loss – picking up positive yards is nearly impossible.
Ajayi caught 50 passes for 535 yards and four touchdowns in his last season at Boise State. But he hasn’t been able to carry that level of success over into the NFL. He has 48 catches over three seasons and is averaging only 6.4 yards per catch.
Roseman: That’s one of the things going into this year that they were working on. I know when they were they were working on and getting him more involved in the passing game.
He caught a 15-yard screen on the above play, but he’s averaging only 4.8 yards a catch this season, which could partly be attributed to the struggles of the entire Dolphins offense.
But Ajayi had recently lost his job on third down, in part because he had been inconsistent in picking up blitzes.
Roseman: He’s done well. Sometimes in pass protection you don’t know the responsibilities, the assignments. That’s one of the hard things about scouting – we don’t know the play call.
It’s difficult to say if the blitzing linebacker here was his responsibility. If so it was an egregious mistake.
But Ajayi’s technique here was sound as he squared up the safety and blocked him onto his back.
Trying for the home run
Last week, Gase ripped into his offense after it failed to score against the Ravens in a 40-0 loss. He didn’t identify Ajayi by name, but it was clear who he was addressing in the below statement.
Gase: We’ve got to stop trying to hit home runs all the time. It’s on the running back. Do you job. It’s not hard to do.
Was Ajayi trying to do too much on the below play? Maybe. The play was seemingly blocked for him to run inside and the Dolphins had hat-on-hat blocking. But he bounced outside and was dropped for a loss.
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