One of Philadelphia’s most important acquisitions of the 2017 season was running back Jay Ajayi. Prior to the team’s clash with Denver, the Eagles poached the Brit away from the clutches of a Miami team that was seemingly on a different page and looked set to turn him loose behind the Eagles offensive front. That’s exactly what Doug Pederson did, with Ajayi picking up 408 yards on 70 carries, averaging a stunning 5.8 yards per rushing attempt and scoring one touchdown. But as he enters his contract year with one of the NFL’s most revered agents in Drew Rosenhaus behind him, it’s safe to say that securing a long-term future is on his mind. The good news is, whether that’s in Philadelphia or not, is that Ajayi is poised to make a very hefty statement in 2018.
Two years ago, Ajayi amassed 151 receiving yards for Miami. He totaled 91 yards and a touchdown after joining the Eagles midway through a season in which he had to pick up the offense, learn the playbook and filter into what was already a very congested backfield.
Ajayi really came alive towards the end of the Super Bowl winning campaign. While he led the Eagles in rushing with 53 yards in the Christmas Day win over the Oakland Raiders, it was his 17 yard touchdown reception that propelled the Eagles into some much needed momentum early on. That game also marked the second year in a row that Ajayi has picked up at least 1,000 scrimmage yards in a season highlighting just how productive the young back really is. It’s something that hasn’t slipped under Doug Pederson’s nose either.
“I think Jay has done a — came in last year and obviously proved to us that he can handle it.” The Head Coach said after OTA’s concluded. “Yeah, he’s definitely going into camp as the No. 1 guy.”
That trend didn’t end there however, as Ajayi carried that form into the postseason too. In the first two playoff games, Ajayi totaled 70 receiving yards on 6 receptions, acting as a huge catalyst for success. The reason behind it was simple. Teams saw Clement as the dynamic threat, while Ajayi was met with stacked boxes and a big red circle around him. That was all the motivation Pederson needed to punish the Falcons and Vikings by occasionally letting Ajayi slip outside on screen passes and rip through like a hot Knife through Butter.
The scary part is that as 2018 unfolds, we could see much of the same. The scheme won’t change and it’s terrifying to think how much Ajayi has already blossomed in Philadelphia. In fact, his touchdown catch against the Raiders was his first ever receiving score in the NFL. Through all of those monstrous games in Miami and all of the stunning catches he began to make, it’s almost staggering to think that it took him so long to find the end zone as a receiving option. With a full offseason under Doug Pederson and the continued evolution of his vibrant West-Coast scheme, we may only be scratching the surface of Ajayi’s potential.
What’s more, while the Eagles have lost LeGarrette Blount, they now have such a versatile backfield with the likes of Clement, Sproles and potentially someone such as Pumphrey or even Jones filtered into the mix. If a defense is preparing to face someone like Ajayi with Darren Sproles splitting the backfield, there may be no more terrifying matchup to line up against. As the field begins to open up, or the opposite happens and defenses come crashing down like a tonne of bricks to blow up the screen game, Ajayi doesn’t just bring versatility, but the ability to plough through defenses like a freight train…
Jay Ajayi has earned the highest percentage of his rush yards after contact! pic.twitter.com/urmJG42mMW
— PFF (@PFF) June 3, 2018
So how do you stop him? It’s something teams have been scratching their heads trying to find the answer to since he first entered the league in 2015. Defying character issues upon joining the City of Brotherly Love and growing into a team-first bad, Ajayi has overcome fumble issues as well as dealing with not being ‘the guy’. In 2018, Ajayi will be the focal point of a rushing attack once again, only this time he won’t be behind an offensive line that ranked 30th in the NFL as he was in 2016. In that season, he still finished the season as the league’s fifth ranked running back.
Could you imagine what he’s going to do as the featured back behind the very best that Football has to offer?
Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports