Former Boise State tailback Jay Ajayi said before the NFL Draft that the most important part of the weekend was the time he would spend at home in Plano, Texas, with family from all over the U.S. and Canada.
Little did he know how badly he would need their support.
A frustrating draft weekend for Ajayi finally turned to joy Saturday afternoon, when the Miami Dolphins selected him with the 13th pick in the fifth round — No. 149 overall.
It was a long fall for Ajayi, who was considered a solid second-round prospect before doubts about the soundness of his surgically repaired right knee spread through the league.
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“Every time I saw a running back go in front of me, every time I saw another round pass, it just added to that (chip on the shoulder),” Ajayi said on a podcast on the Dolphins’ website. “The draft is over and like my dad and everyone has been telling me, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. So that’s what I’m excited about.”
Lamar Miller led the Dolphins last season with 1,099 rushing yards, a 5.1-yard average and eight touchdowns. But the second-leading rusher was quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The NFL has become a multiple-tailback league, so Ajayi should have an opportunity to contribute right away.
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said he was disappointed for Ajayi that the draft didn’t go as expected but doesn’t want the slide to detract from his talent or accomplishment.
“I’ve been watching cutups from this last season, and Jay did things for us that made us so much better,” Harsin said. “He’s a fantastic player and a very good young man. ... It’s his opportunity; take advantage of it. So how could you be disappointed and get drafted? Now he’s got to go to work. He’s got to go prove himself. This might be more fire for him. That’s great, take advantage of it.”
Twelve tailbacks were selected before Ajayi, including several who were considered Ajayi’s peers. But about half the runners drafted before Ajayi were widely considered lesser talents.
With each name, Ajayi said, his will to prove the Dolphins right and everyone else wrong grew stronger.
“I was disappointed, but this only made me hungrier and added to that chip on my shoulder that I’m going to go into camp with and play with for the rest of my career,” Ajayi told Miami media.
Ajayi, who led the nation in offensive touches, tied for first in touchdowns (32) and finished second in yards from scrimmage (2,358) last season, dropped in the draft because of concerns about the knee he injured as a redshirt in 2011. He insists he’s healthy.
The Dolphins didn’t expect to get Ajayi so late.
“He’s a player we had highly rated on our board,” Assistant General Manager Eric Stokes told the media. “From a medical standpoint ... we’re very comfortable. There really wasn’t an issue for us as much.”
The Dolphins are one of six teams that will play a regular-season game in London this season, which means Ajayi should play an NFL game in his native country. His family moved from England to Texas when he was 7.
The Jets-Dolphins game is Oct. 4.
“That’s going to be one of the most surreal experiences of my life,” Ajayi said. “I’m just ready to get into camp and learn this playbook and get ready to play football, so when it comes to Week 4, I am a guy that will end up being on that field.”
And despite all that talk about his knee, he plans to be there for a while.
“I know with my knee, and the way that I make sure that I handle it, I will play for a long time,” Ajayi said, “and I’m just excited to see how my future unfolds.”