If Miami's signing of Arian Foster last year was intended to motivate Ajayi, mission accomplished. The second-year back did his time in a backup role, and when Foster inevitably broke down Ajayi was ready to seize the lead role for good, immediately reeling off back-to-back games with more than 200 rushing yards. Those huge performances were no fluke, as he possesses the outstanding elusiveness and balance to leave would-be tacklers flailing in the open field, along with a physical edge to his game that allows him to plow through the initial hit. Ajayi's 484 total yards after contact placed him third in the NFL behind Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson and just ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. While the fact that nearly half his production came in just three games -- he torched the Bills defense a second time for over 200 yards in Week 16, becoming the fourth back in NFL history after O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Tiki Barber to top 200 yards three times in a season -- may worry some, that volatility from week to week just leaves plenty of room for growth if he becomes more consistent. He also saw only 35 targets in the passing game, after catching 50 passes in his final season at Boise State -- another area in which Ajayi could improve on his 2016 numbers. Last year's breakout was impressive, but he may just be scratching the surface.
We don't blame anyone who wasn't impressed by Ajayi's first season. His YPC was ordinary and he only caught seven passes. Initially, the Dolphins appeared to make an investment in Ajayi in the offseason, even if it was more indirect than anything. They let Lamar Miller go and they didn't make running back a priority in the draft, though they did add Kenyan Drake from Alabama (third round). The team's addition of Arian Foster, however, gives Ajayi some serious competition, though Foster's health is a concern since he is coming off an Achilles' injury. Thus, both Drake, who had been a contender to get third-down and pass-catching work immediately, and Ajayi -- who was in line to see the bulk of the work on first and second down -- could both lose touches (and fantasy value) thanks to the presence of Foster. Coach Adam Gase went out of his way to praise Ajayi during May's minicamp, saying Ajayi had "separated himself" from the other backs, but the Foster signing suggests otherwise. While it's not uncommon to see a runner take a leap in his second season, and Ajayi has that look to him, he now faces a training camp battle with a big name running back, who has proven productive when healthy.
Ajayi had a legitimate case for being the third back taken in this year's draft after Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, but concerns about a degenerative knee condition arose at the Combine, dropping him all the way to the fifth round. Ajayi has good size and adequate speed, but it's his impressive elusiveness and agility that really stood out at Boise State, allowing him to work his way through traffic and make people miss in the open field. He also possesses a strong burst through the hole and keeps his pad level low, allowing him to regularly pick up extra yards after contact. Combined with his pass-catching ability, Ajayi profiles as a three-down back, but his regular season NFL debut won't come until midseason, given that the rookie landed on the Dolphins' short-term IR list.