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As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on April 30,
I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths
and weaknesses of at least the top 15 offensive skill-position prospects
available in this draft.
Jay Ajayi is a solid second-round selection
with enough upside to warrant a late first-round pick.
Vitals College: Boise State
Ajayi, who was born in London to Nigerian parents, moved first
to Maryland and then to Texas during his youth, eventually settling
on football over soccer. He signed with the Broncos in 2011, but
quickly fell into the doghouse in October of that year when he
was arrested for stealing a pair of sweatpants (later sentenced
to five days in jail) and tore his right ACL over the course of
one week, prompting him to redshirt. After sitting behind D.J.
Harper on the depth chart in 2012, the Boise State coaching staff
made Ajayi earn his starting job in 2013 and he quickly burst
onto the scene by running for 1,425 yards and 18 touchdowns as
a sophomore en route to All-Mountain West Conference honors. Continuing
to take advantage of the second chance the Broncos afforded him,
Ajayi set single-season school records for rushing yards (1,823),
carries (347), all-purpose yardage (2,358), rushing touchdowns
(28) and 100-yard rushing performances (10) in 2014, becoming
the first player with 1,800 rushing yards and 500 yards receiving
in a single season.
Best Scheme Fit: His natural inclination
to bounce runs to the perimeter probably make him a better fit
for a team that runs a lot of stretch plays or outside zone runs
while his receiving chops would be a solid fit in a scheme that
heavily utilizes its running back in the passing game.
Outstanding balance and jump cut for a bigger back
(soccer background likely contributed to fluid hips and quick
Determined and aggressive runner with enough size to
take a pounding; did not miss a game despite 751 touches in
his last three years (673 over his final two seasons) at Boise.
Accelerates very quickly and can reach top speed in
a hurry; frequently spins off contact and uses it to regain
Comfortable in space and able to string together multiple
moves; showed off a bit of a stiff arm as career progressed.
Appears to be a natural as a receiver and has experience
lining up all over the field; good route-runner with superb
body control, hand-eye coordination and overall ball skills.
Too quick to bounce runs outside and seems to absorb
more punishment than he should have to on inside runs, especially
given how elusive he is for a 220-pound runner.
Consistently underwhelms at point of attack –
likely due to lack of lower-body power – and unlikely
to be a good short-yardage or goal-line option as a result,
at least early in his NFL career.
Ball security (seven of his 12 career fumbles came in
2014); allows ball-carrying arm to swing away from body too
often and has a frustrating tendency to carry the ball with
Good, but not great, top-end speed results in a fair
number of big plays, but not too many big-play touchdowns.
Doesn’t identify or sustain well in pass pro,
allows himself to get pushed back too often (improved as season
progressed in 2014).
Ajayi has the size and many of the skills necessary to become
a top-level three-down NFL back, but his current shortcomings
are also serious enough that he could struggle to be anything
more than a part-time receiving back (and even that assumes his
pass blocking gets better). As such, the Marshawn Lynch comparisons
Ajayi receives are well off the mark at the moment. With that
said, most of his flaws are correctable and rare is the opportunity
for a NFL team to get a 220-pound runner that has the ability
to play like a smaller and a bigger back in one package. Ajayi
started off the 2014 season running like a 205-pound (or smaller)
back – which is both a blessing and a curse – but
appeared to be much more disciplined as an inside rusher by the
time he closed his college career out with a win over Arizona
in the Fiesta Bowl. Assuming that is the start of a permanent
change, the former soccer player desperately needs to get with
his new strength and conditioning coach as well as his new position
coach to improve his lower-body strength and ball-carrying fundamentals,
respectively, during the offseason. There is admittedly a great
deal of uncertainty as to whether or not Ajayi can correct most
of his flaws over a summer or even as a rookie, but there isn’t
much of a question that he is different (in a good way) from most
220-pound backs. That fact alone makes him a solid second-round
selection with enough upside to warrant a late first-round pick.
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in
USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and
2011. He is also the host of USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff
fantasy football internet chat every Sunday. Doug regularly appears
as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy
Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C).
He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
E-mail Doug or follow
him on Twitter.