Jay Ajayi was drafted in the fifth round by the Miami Dolphins on Saturday.
Former Boise State tailback Jay Ajayi insists his surgically repaired right knee is sound, but NFL teams made it clear Friday that they have a different opinion.
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Ajayi wasn’t among the six tailbacks selected in the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft. Two others were taken in the first round Thursday.
Now Ajayi unexpectedly will awake Saturday morning in Plano, Texas, still uncertain of his football future.
An NFL source confirmed to the Idaho Statesman that concerns about Ajayi’s knee are causing his slide. He once was considered a top-five tailback in this class.
Analyst Mike Mayock of NFL Network said on the air Friday night that he talked to six or seven teams about Ajayi last week and two or three had taken him off their draft boards because of his knee. Ajayi had knee surgery in 2011 to repair severe damage that included a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Mayock lists Ajayi as the fourth-best player still available and No. 67 overall.
“One team will say, ‘He’s off the board because he’s bone on bone,’ ” Mayock said. “Other teams say, ‘That’s fine. We’ll get one contract out of him.’ ”
Ajayi, who was the nation’s busiest tailback in 2014 and the second-most productive, told the media Tuesday that his knee was fine.
His only comment Friday night was a tweet: “Man...............”
He didn’t expect a 3 1/2-year-old knee injury to haunt him this week.
“It definitely caught me by surprise,” Ajayi said Tuesday, referring to a flurry of reports about the knee leading up to the draft. “At the same time, I knew I had an injury in 2011 and I knew that it would probably be something teams would look at just because it’s something, if you have an injury, at the (NFL Scouting Combine) you have to get it checked out. I knew it was a possibility that a team would ask me about my knee. I was just surprised at how big it really got.
“I can’t control that and I can’t control what teams think. I can only control what I can do. I know how my knee feels. I know it feels healthy.”
Ajayi finished second in the nation in 2014 with 2,358 yards from scrimmage, first with 397 touches and tied for first with 32 touchdowns. He was the first player in FBS history with at least 1,800 rushing yards and at least 500 receiving yards in a season.
He also carried a heavy workload in 2013.
Former Boise State coach Chris Petersen said last August that Ajayi overcame his knee injury with “great focus and toughness.”
Ajayi was a backup in 2012 and the starter in 2013, when he finished 18th in the nation in offensive touches (271) and 17th in yards from scrimmage (1,647).
“(The injury) was severe, it really was,” Petersen said. “It was, ‘Oh, man, I wonder if this guy is even going to be able to come back from it.’ His redshirt freshman year (in 2012), he had some issues and stayed strong, kept treating it. He really battled through all that. He carried the ball (in 2013), I don’t think the most in the country, but he was up there in touches. He didn’t miss a beat. He didn’t miss a practice.”
And then in 2014 Ajayi produced the eighth-most yards from scrimmage in college football since 1956 — prompting him to leave school a year early for the NFL.
On the day that he eagerly announced his decision, no one expected him to fall behind Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon (36th overall to the Jaguars) and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (73rd to the Falcons) — let alone David Johnson of Northern Iowa (86th to the Cardinals) and Matt Jones of Florida (95th to the Redskins).
The other running backs off the board so far: Todd Gurley of Georgia (10th, Rams), Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin (15th, Chargers), Duke Johnson of Miami (77th, Browns) and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska (54th, Lions).
Hedrick, Miller await calls
Former Boise State quarterback Grant Hedrick and wide receiver Matt Miller don’t expect to get drafted Saturday but should get free-agent opportunities.
Hedrick has been rated among the top 10 quarterbacks and top 300 prospects. No Boise State quarterback has been drafted since Jim McMillan in 1975 (14th round).
“I’m not really worried about it,” Hedrick said. “I’m kind of expecting to hopefully get a call shortly after, probably with the free agents. That’s kind of the best-case scenario right now for me. Just get an opportunity — that’s all I need.”
He doesn’t plan to watch the draft back home in Independence, Ore. He normally would.
“I just feel like I might get angry or something,” he said.
Miller likely would have been more highly rated if he hadn’t sustained a season-ending ankle injury in September.
“I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating,” Miller said from his hometown of Helena, Mont. “It’s just part of the game. You’ve got to realize you’re one snap away from ending a career, having something that drastically changes the future. If it wasn’t for the injury, I’m sure things would have been a lot different. Those are the cards I was dealt. You have to play your hand. I’m so fortunate to be in the spot I am right now. I’m just excited for (Saturday) to see what’s going to happen.”
Other NFL hopefuls hoping for calls Saturday: cornerback Cleshawn Page, kicker Dan Goodale, defensive end Beau Martin, cornerback Bryan Douglas, linebacker/fullback Blake Renaud, and tight end Connor Peters of Boise State; former Eagle High quarterback Taylor Kelly of Arizona State; and defensive lineman Quayshawne Buckley of Idaho.