Name: Jay Ajayi
College: Boise State
Height: 5’11 ¾
Grade: 2nd Round
Comparison: Marshawn Lynch, Rashard Mendenhall
For a back of his size, Jay Ajayi is a solid all-around athlete.
He has quick feet and is surprisingly agile in the open field, as evidenced by his 4.10 short shuttle and 7.10 three-cone times. He is able to stop on a dime and make defenders miss in the open field. Ajayi is able to accelerate through the hole quickly and with authority. He also displays above average balance, which allows him to shed would-be tacklers for extra yards.
Unfortunately, Ajayi lacks the second gear to burst through the secondary and take a long run the distance for a touchdown. Overall, Ajayi is an above average athlete, especially for a 220 pound back.
Ajayi is a physical runner, and he finishes runs with purpose. If he has the option of going out-of-bounds or lowering his shoulder along the sideline for three more yards, he will take the latter.
Fumbling was an issue for him this past season, so that is a red flag. Jay Ajayi was arrested for stealing sweatpants in 2011, but has a clean record since then.
He reportedly has a great work ethic and is well-respected in the locker room. It is also worth noting that he was also a standout soccer player and considered turning pro before turning to football.
The mental aspect of the game comes fairly easy to Ajayi. He is a patient runner, and allows his blocks to set up before attacking. He displays good vision and will typically find the open lane. He is also an above average improviser, and has shown the ability to turn a broken play into a decent gain.
He will need to improve his recognition as a blocker, as he was not asked to block too much at Boise State.
This part of Ajayi’s game is sort of weird to evaluate. Ajayi is well-built, runs with a low pad level, and is not afraid to drop his shoulder and fight for extra yards. However, he does not break as many tackles as one might expect.
For some reason, the leg drive is not always there to push the pile. Having said that, he has more strength than the average back, and his tough running style makes him a pain for defenders to tackle. Ajayi is a fairly explosive runner, as he is able to stick his foot in the dirt and burst up-field in a hurry. He also has a violent jump cut that allows him to avoid defenders and change directions quickly.
As a pure runner, there might be other backs that are better than Jay Ajayi in this class. However, his all-around skill set is what sets him apart from everyone other than Gurley and Gordon.
He is relatively inexperienced as a pass protector, but he has the size and willingness to be satisfactory in this area. Where he really excels is as a receiver out of the backfield. Ajayi is a natural pass catcher, and he is dangerous when he is able to get in the open field. He sets up defenders well when running routes and understands his role as a safety-valve for his quarterback. He is an ideal check-down option.
As a runner, he has the elusiveness, toughness, size, and strength to be a workhorse back at the next level. He had nearly 400 touches at Boise State last year, which shows he is durable and able to handle a big workload. He has a tendency to bounce a lot of runs to the outside, and can get a little too east/west at times.
For the most part, however, Ajayi has a great skill set for the NFL level.
It seems like there is a consensus top two at the running back position in this draft class: Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. Personally, I believe that Jay Ajayi has separated himself from the rest of the pack to claim the third spot. His ability to be a legitimate three-down back at the next level will be coveted by NFL teams.
Ajayi draws a lot of Marshawn Lynch comparisons, and the running styles are fairly similar. He possesses the same type of swagger that Lynch has, and is underrated in terms of receiving and quickness. He might not have quite the same power that Lynch has (and not many do), but his mentality is the same nonetheless.
Should the Dallas Cowboys pass on a running back in the first round, Jay Ajayi should be at the top of the list if he falls to number 60. He is a great fit in the Cowboys’ system because of his vision and toughness, as well as his third down capabilities.
Ajayi should be a reliable option from day one.