On the surface, a fourth round draft pick for Jay Ajayi feels like highway robbery.
Here’s a guy who ran for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He’s 24 years old and under contract for $705,000 next season.
So what’s the catch?
Is this a classic case of sending your team a message? Making an example out of a guy? Did Ajayi wear out his welcome in Miami? The ex-Dolphins running back reportedly did not have a great relationship with head coach Adam Gase, who criticized his running backs after Thursday’s 40-0 loss in Baltimore. Gase said that his team has “got to stop trying to hit home runs all the time” and insinuated that some Dolphins don’t even know the full play book.:
“Offensively, it’s a joke,” Gase said. “We’ve got too many guys that don’t want to take it home with them. Until our best players actually put forth some effort, it’ll be [expletive].”
In 2017, Ajayi has 465 yards and zero touchdowns on 138 attempts. He’s on pace for about 66% of last year’s total yardage production and is finding zero red zone success.
Kyle mentioned earlier that Miami’s offense is pretty bad, and that can’t be understated.
Jay Cutler was poor and Matt Moore is worse. The Dolphins are the only team to score under 100 points this season and they rank dead last in total offense. Teams were able to stuff Ajayi with eight man fronts and sell out in rushing defense to make a one-dimensional offense become zero-dimensional. The Dolphins also spent a lot of time playing from behind, so they were chucking it in the losses against Baltimore (40-0), New Orleans (20-0), and the Jets (20-6). Somehow, they’re 4-3 and will probably be in the wild card hunt because their defense is pretty good.
Here’s Ajayi’s 2017 game log:
He had a nice day in Atlanta and also in the Tennessee win, but his 3.4 YPC average is way down from last year’s 4.9. Fantasy owners were constantly bitching because he wasn’t finding the end zone.
A lot of his runs look something like this, where blockers are being pushed into the backfield and he finds himself trying to juke or create something for himself two yards behind the line of scrimmage:
Here’s another example, where he’s barely able to squeeze through in an effort to reach the line of scrimmage:
Watch how far Anthony Steen (65) gets pushed into the backfield on this Jay Ajayi run. Who wants to guess why Ajayi is averaging 3.5 ypc? pic.twitter.com/mm1fmkrcTM
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) October 23, 2017
There’s little red zone film to dig up from this season, obviously, since Ajayi hasn’t scored. Believe or not, Miami doesn’t have a rushing touchdown at all. They have nine passing touchdowns, seven of which have been caught by Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry. Ex-Eagle Cody Parkey leads the Dolphins with 32 points scored on 8 XPs and 8 field goals.
I did find this clip of Ajayi running it from the five yard line in the Chargers game, a play where he’s stuffed by a linebacker. Does he hit the right hole here?
It really doesn’t matter, because this is LeGarrette Blount and Zach Ertz territory anyway. Ajayi can run goal line plays, but he won’t have to in this offense. He’s a guy who can burst through the line and break off a big run, unlike Blount, who has shown some flashes but usually has trouble getting upfield on those stretch/outside zone runs that the Eagles continue to call. Ajayi will be much better on those designs while Blount needs to be the de facto goal line guy.
Based on the clips above, nobody is going to have success in the red zone running behind that Miami line. And when you’re struggling, sometimes you lose your focus and try to do things that take you out of your element. I think that’s the case with Ajayi in 2017, which is probably exemplified here, where he makes something out of nothing:
The Dolphins’ offensive line is responsible for the NFL’s second-worst rushing yard total (535). Only Arizona is worse, and they’ve been hit by injuries and multiple members of the Eagle defensive line.
Miami is also tied for second-worst with a 3.2 YPC average among all runners. They have 30 negative rushes on 168 attempts. So 18% of their runs have gone backwards.
And the number you see below on the far left, “EXP,” is the combined career starts for their five linemen. They’re 14th out of 32 teams in that category, so you can’t blame it on youth.
Is the knee an issue?
ESPN’s Jeff Darlington had to go and be the asshole by dropping this after the trade went down:
Something to keep in mind about Ajayi trade: Dolphins don’t believe he has much left in his knees. Longer-term play. Something to watch for.
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) October 31, 2017
I mean, look, it’s fair, but Ajayi would still have to pass a physical before the trade is finalized, so I don’t know if there’s much of an issue here. Ajayi did have problems dating back to his Boise State days, when he tore his ACL as a freshman and had to have his right knee surgically repaired.
That was 2011.
He returned in 2012 and put up 3,796 yards and 50 touchdowns in the next three seasons, so it seemed like the ACL was no longer an issue.
But his draft stock declined amid reports that the knee was still a problem and might require future surgery. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Ajayi had a “bone-on-bone” issue in that same knee, so the concern was basically that a heavy workload would limit the longevity of his NFL career at a position where even healthy players don’t last too long to begin with. Miami didn’t seem concerned at the time and drafted him in the fifth round. Some boards had Ajayi originally going above the likes of Tevin Coleman, David Johnson, and Ameer Abdullah.
As for the rest of his medical history, Ajayi did miss some time in 2015 with a hamstring pull and broken ribs. That cut short his preseason and kept him out until November of his rookie campaign. He dislocated a shoulder in December of last year but played in the season finale against New England, so that didn’t turn out to be a long-term thing.
Regarding trade cost, the Eagles had three fourth-round picks next season, so losing one of them isn’t much at all. Trading one of them for an affordable running back who can help you win now is even better. The Eagles last five fourth-round draft picks were Mack Hollins, Donnel Pumphrey, Jaylen Watkins, Matt Barkley, and Brandon Boykin, so it’s not like they’ve been snagging game-changing talent in that round anyway.
So even if the knees end up being a problem, this is still a low-risk move with high potential. This isn’t coughing up a second-rounder in desperation to put the team over the hump.
Also, it’s worth noting that the Cowboys now have to look elsewhere if they’re thinking about grabbing a replacement for the soon-to-be suspended Zeke Elliott.