Jay Ajayi’s NFL arrival has been so loud, the ruckus could be heard clear across the pond.
Ajayi (No. 23, Boise State) is a man in demand in his native country. Enough media outlets have clamored for an interview that the NFL set up an international conference call.
And that’s just after three games. Imagine what he can do with a full 16.
Ajayi, who missed the season’s first seven games with a broken rib, has made up for lost time. He leads all Dolphins running backs in yards per carry (6.8). He is seventh among all NFL rookies in rushing yards per game (34.0), despite ranking 12th in attempts (5.0).
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Based on interim coach Dan Campbell’s comments Monday, Ajayi can expect to see that workload increase in the final six games of the regular season.
“I think that he has earned more playing time,” Campbell said. “I think that he should get a little bit more. I think he’s proven that he can carry the ball and that he can go downhill.”
Ajayi’s production, should it continue, could put the Dolphins on a decision this coming offseason. Lamar Miller is and will continue to be the team’s starter in 2015, Campbell again said this week. But what about 2016? Miller, a 1,000-yard rusher a year ago, is a free agent after this season and is set to get paid. Ajayi’s production going forward might determine how much the Dolphins would be willing to spend to keep Miller.
In truth, the Dolphins are best served having them both. Ajayi is the bruising runner the Dolphins hoped Knowshon Moreno would be before the veteran tore his ACL early in the 2014 season.
When asked about that comparison Monday, Ajayi simply shrugged.
“I feel like I’m a one-of-a-kind player,” said Ajayi, who named Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray as influences. “I don’t really like to compare myself to other people. I look up to a lot of guys in this league and try to see what they do and add it to my game. But I definitely feel like I do things a different way, and I just run with the mentality that I don’t want to be tackled.”
Rumors in the spring persisted that he had next-to-no cartilage in one of his knees, and his career would be a short and painful one. As a result, his stock plummeted. He went from a likely second-day pick to one that the Dolphins stole in Round 5.
“I haven’t had any issues with my knee since 2011, since I had surgery for my ACL, I haven’t had any problems with my knee,” Ajayi said. “We don’t talk about my knee. I just come in, I’m a regular player. I’m healthy. I’m back on the field like everyone else. My knee’s not an issue at all. Never was.”
Furthermore, Ajayi might be the healthiest player currently on the Dolphins roster. He’s certainly the freshest after his eight-week stint on short-term injured reserve.
He called the two-month break like “another training camp.” He’s in great shape, and appears a step faster than defenders.
So if health is no longer a concern, the only thing stopping Ajayi from a true breakout is his still-evolving knowledge of the Dolphins’ system. And of course, Miller’s superior spot on the depth chart.
“They haven’t really given me a role,” Ajayi said. “They just told me to play for this team.”
How he does could help shape the roster for years to come. They’ll be watching closely — in Florida and Britain.