The Eagles sent shockwaves through the NFL today when it was announced that the team had traded for Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi. Screams of joy could be heard from just about every corner of Philadelphia, with fans rejoicing over their newly reshaped backfield. But how does the move impact the Eagles?
The Eagles are all in on seizing the moment:
Having a seven game streak of 100+ rushing yards may not show an immediate need at running back, but with a wounded offensive line and the uncertainty over the future, adding a 24-year old running back who is coming off of a Pro-Bowl year is certainly not a bad move.
With Blount, Clement and Smallwood all behind him, the Eagles now have one of the most explosive downhill attacks in the NFL. The backfield hasn’t exactly been reliable all year long, but Pederson’s ability to balance the offense has. Inserting a running back who dominated with three 200-yard games last year only adds to the Eagles explosive arsenal as the begin to build for the postseason.
The Eagles are 7-1. Playoffs are all but guaranteed and the consensus is that this has the potential to be a truly remarkable year for the franchise, one that may only ever come around once. By sacrificing a draft pick, the Eagles have stabilized one of the most important positions on offense and injected some dominant DNA in the process. This is a team ready and raring to go all the way.
The Eagles gave up one of their fourth-round selections in exchange for Jay Ajayi…minimal compensation for a back with such incredible ability. Ajayi has been marginalized this year with 465 yards and no touchdowns so far. But when you factor in the weak offensive line, distractions all around and the quarterback controversy, it’s safe to say that behind one of the more consistent lines in the NFL, Ajayi has the potential to wreak havoc.
A fourth-round pick goes a long way for a Dolphins team desperately trying to secure their long-term future on both sides of the ball. For the Eagles, it gets them a young, proven running back. The trade is shaped in a very similar way to that of Ronald Darby’s acquirement. A young, talented playmaker who for has become available through no real mean’s of regression. It’s another strong move for Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas.
One of the big criticisms of this backfield has had nothing to do with rushing production, but more blitz pickups. Without Darren Sproles, the Eagles have struggled to keep Wentz upright and the running backs have had a tough time picking up pass rushers and chipping them on their way out of the backfield. Jay Ajayi ranks 19th out of 44 RBs in pass protection this season according to Pro Football Focus, while Blount ranks 33rd and Smallwood 11 positions below him.
Even if Ajayi is used minimally during his first few weeks in Philly, his ability to line up and keep his quarterback upright will be INVALUABLE to an offense that simply crave more of that skillset from a running back group that lacks it without Sproles.
The idea of ponying up Ajayi and Blount, or Ajayi and Clement is terrifying for Defenses. With 48 career receptions for 308 yards to his name, Ajayi Is a dominant downhill back that can sting you in the passing attack too. All of a sudden, the Eagles have a lethal backfield that’s built on teeth-gritting aggression. The zonal rushing attack has been replaced with a nasty, up-the-gut, punch it until the team surrenders. Something everyone in Philadelphia should be excited about.
Then of course, there’s the future. There’s no guarantee that the Eagles will kick the tires on LeGarrette Blount and with Wendell Smallwood’s inability to remain healthy partnered with Pumphrey’s disappointing preseason, the backfield seemed in a rut moving forward. Sure, every fan can dream of Saquon Barkley, but the likelihood is that the Eagles will be picking too late for it to be realistic.
Ajayi has two years left on his rookie contract and is due just over $1M in that time. A cheap, explosive option for the next year and half, this gives the Eagles a chance to build once again from the ball out, solve their salary cap issues and then sign Ajayi to an extension to keep him in Philadelphia.
Not only has the style and explosiveness of the backfield changed, but the future outlook is suddenly a lot brighter…although if your name ends in “Smallwood”, things may beginning to become bleak.
The running back:
Originally a fifth-round draft choice of the Dolphins in 2015 (149th overall), Ajayi has played in 31 games (19 starts) and has carried 447 times for 1,924 yards and 9 TDs.
In 2016, Ajayi earned a Pro Bowl berth after finishing fourth in the NFL with 1,272 rushing yards, marking the third-highest single-season total in Dolphins’ history. Over the course of the season, Ajayi registered three 200-yard rushing games, becoming just the fourth player in NFL history to accomplish the feat. His 200-yard games earned him three AFC Offensive Player of the Week awards and he was named Miami’s 2016 Dan Marino Most Valuable Player.
The Great Britain native has proven that behind a solid line, he can do magical things. The only knock on Ajayi seems to be the concerns over his durability. With a history of ACL tears and hamstring sprains, he’s not the most durable back on the market and an A/C joint dislocation hurt the Dolphins last year.
The good news for the Eagles however is that Ajayi wouldn’t be relied upon to carry the ball 20 times per game as he was in Miami. With Blount barreling on third down and Clement picking up the mismatch nightmares for Defenses, the backfield is built in a way that bodes well for Ajayi’s health moving forward.
Ajayi is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry this season but the Dolphins offensive front ranks 28th in run blocking according to PFF. With a much more esteemed Eagles unit paving his way, the future is incredibly bright.
Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports