Jay Ajayi moved from his native England to America with his family when he was 7 years old. He returned to England for the first time last month to promote the NFL.
And he could return to play in Wembley Stadium if he’s drafted by one of six teams scheduled to play in London in 2015 — the Jets, Chiefs, Lions, Dolphins, Jaguars and Bills.
Only six English-born players have been selected in the first 100 picks of the NFL Draft.
“That would be a very special occasion for me,” Ajayi said of possibly playing in England. “I know there would be an outpouring of support.”
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That’s just one of many emotional possibilities floating through Ajayi’s mind as he waits to learn his draft fate, likely during the second or third rounds Friday.
He moved to Texas as a boy, chose football over soccer, won back the trust of Boise State coaches and teammates after a legal incident as a true freshman in 2011 and rebuilt his right knee after he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament that same year.
He became one of the Broncos’ all-time greats in 2013-14, when he contributed a combined total of 3,248 rushing yards, 757 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns. He led the nation in offensive touches, tied for the lead in touchdowns (32) and ranked second in yards from scrimmage (2,358) as a junior in 2014, leading him to choose early entry into the draft.
“There’s nothing Jay can do a year from now that’s going to make his draft grade any higher,” then-running backs coach Kent Riddle said when Ajayi announced his decision. “And, honestly, coming back and doing exactly what he did this year, it’d probably go down because they’d say he’s only got so much time left.”
Ajayi plans to watch the draft with family and friends from across the country and Canada at the Ajayi home in Plano, Texas.
“It’s just going to be a very surreal moment the moment I get that phone call,” he said. “There will be a lot of emotions that come over me — just happiness and joy and excitement of getting ready to get to work and getting back to playing football. I’m excited to get back on that field and showcase to those teams why they were smart to draft me.”
Ajayi could extend the Broncos’ streak of five straight years with a player selected in the first 55 picks of the NFL Draft. But those chances seemed to decline this week when ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay released their final top-300 prospect rankings. Both placed Ajayi outside the top 80 and outside the top six tailbacks.
That continues a trend of analysts suggesting Ajayi could fall, in part because of tests done on his knee. Ajayi says he’s fully healthy.
ESPN’s Jon Gruden even questioned Ajayi’s ability to play in the pass game, which is considered one of his greatest strengths.
“I played all last season — had a great, record-setting season — all on that knee,” he said. “I couldn’t feel any better. I’m just worried about finding out who takes me and getting ready to play football.”
Georgia’s Todd Gurley (No. 10, Rams) and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (No. 15, Chargers) were drafted in the first round Thursday night, ending a two-year drought for tailbacks in the first round.
Ajayi, who trained for the NFL Scouting Combine alongside Gordon, says he considers himself the top running back in this class.
Ajayi certainly is one of the most intriguing stories, adding a little twist this week by answering media questions with a British accent that returned during his visit to England. His dad made the journey with him and they stopped by Ajayi’s childhood home.
“It was just a really special trip,” Ajayi said.