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Another running back that is receiving a lot of attention for the 2015 NFL Draft and dynasty/rookie drafts is Boise State’s Jay Ajayi. When you look past his colorful locks, and the blue field that hejaya plays his home games on, what do you have? extremely talented runner who is superior to the muscle hamster aka Doug Martin in every way.  I reviewed six of his games to learn more about the skills he brings to the NFL:  Ole Miss, Colorado State, Air Force, Nevada, Wyoming, and Fresno State.

RB Jay Ajayi, Boise State 6’ 0” 221 lbs.

Cons: The runner tucks the ball under the same arm (the left) and does not adjust it to his right arm when running to the right.  This may seem like a small criticism, but ball security is a major concern in the NFL.  Improving your chances for the pigskin to go out-of-bounds if it gets separated from the back’s body could be the difference in winning or losing a game.  In that same theme, Ajayi has great, soft hands, but still makes half of his receptions trapping the ball in his body.  NFL defenders love to knock the “rock” out of runner’s hands to scoop it up for themselves. 

Another concern of mine is his ability to pass block.  The back does not anchor or get low and seems off-balance when making contact with defender rushing the quarterback.  This makes him easy to dismiss on the way to the signal caller and that could limit his role to a two down back (which limits his value much like Bishop Sankey last year with the Titans).  He does not have great leg drive and can get thwarted near the goal line.

Pros:  He is a slippery back who rarely takes the full brunt of a hit, who instead finds a sliver of space, gets small, and turns on the jets.  Ajayi has quick feet, shows good vision setting up his blockers well, and is very explosive, especially in open spaces.  The runner has bouncy feet, good balance, loose hips, and moves almost as quickly laterally as he does north and south.  To gain separation from tacklers, he uses many moves:  spins, stiff-arms or simply swats defenders out-of-the-way, jump cuts, hurdles, stutter steps, and jukes (sometimes all on the same play).  He has a good burst and finds his second gear in the open field.

Ajayi is great at making the first man miss and takes good angles including finding the cut back lane.  The back is a patient runner who lets a play fully develop and makes defenses pay when he runs counters against the grain.  This sometimes causes him to get strung out when he takes too long to decide where to go with the pigskin.  He runs just as well inside as he does outside, which is rare for a back.  Ajayi played a little wildcat and might do better on a team that doesn’t use a fullback so he can improvise more.

As a receiver, Ajayi has great concentration catching the ball in traffic and shields the defenders.  He has a good catch radius and sometimes looks more like a receiver than a back in that regard.  When he gets asked to run a wheel route, the back can snag the ball in stride and race down the field.  It’s amazing how fast he can get out to the flat and give his quarterback a safe outlet.

Overall thoughts:  Although he doesn’t have the overall athleticism of Gordon or Gurley, Ajayi might have more short area explosion than either of them.  I think he would be a great replacement back for a team like Dallas or Philadelphia who have strong blocking schemes along with athletic offensive lines.  Depending on where he goes, Ajayi might be a long-term play versus a short fix much like Jamaal Charles who didn’t make a major impact in his rookie season.

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