Last season, what everyone in Boise knew is what every NFL fan found out: Jay Ajayi is really good.
The fifth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2015, Ajayi had three 200-yard games, including back-to-back such performances in October. He finished with 1,272 rushing yards, good for fourth in the NFL. All but 117 came in the last 11 games.
Now, as fantasy football drafts are being held across the country, Ajayi is a hot commodity. CBS Sports ranks him as a top 20 overall player, ESPN ranks him 15th overall, and RotoWorld has him the No. 7 running back, the No. 16 player overall.
Ajayi isn’t a lock, considering there are some injury concerns dating back to the draft, and a concussion he suffered in training camp. Some are also wondering about consistency after he had some huge games, but also had some relatively quiet ones.
“I love him ... if I get Ajayi in round two, I’m very happy,” ESPN’s Mike Clay said.
Though the concussion kept Ajayi out of practice for two weeks, he returned for the team’s second preseason game Thursday, rushing twice for minus-2 yards and adding an 11-yard reception. With the addition of Jay Cutler at quarterback, that reception (in which he made former teammate Kamalei Correa miss a tackle) could be more common.
According to the Palm Beach Post, Ajayi is excited about Cutler’s usage of running backs in the passing game, dating to when he completed 176 passes to running back Matt Forte in Chicago in 2013 and 2014. Ajayi had 27 receptions last season. He showed he was plenty capable of catching passes when he had 50 his final season with Boise State.
“I pride myself on being able to do everything and be on the field for the whole game,” Ajayi said. “I believe I have that skillset (as a receiver). It’s really about developing it even more now at this level and trying to push myself to become elite.”
Next preseason game: at Eagles, 5 p.m. Thursday (NFL Network)
SHEA MCCLELLIN, LB, PATRIOTS
In February, McClellin became the eighth former Boise State player to earn a Super Bowl ring as he helped the Patriots to the victory over the Falcons. He blocked a pair of kicks, had 41 tackles and returned a fumble 69 yards to set up a score. His impressive athleticism was on display as he leapt over the line in the Super Bowl to block a kick, but the play was penalized. The move is now illegal.
“I didn’t expect it to be outlawed,” McClellin said this summer. “They said the main reason they outlawed it is that people could get injured, but no one’s ever gotten hurt doing it. So it doesn’t make sense to me.”
McClellin is currently listed as one of the Patriots’ starters at linebacker after Rob Ninkovich retired.
“Shea’s really been good,” Belichick said. “He had a lot of experience before he got here of playing on the line in college, and for a year in Chicago, then he played primarily off the line. We did both with him last year ... He’s smart, he’s athletic, he runs well, he’s got good size, he’s got experience, so he’s really a very valuable and versatile guy for us. He can do a lot of different things.”
Next preseason game: at Lions, 5 p.m. Friday
TANNER VALLEJO, LB, BILLS
A sixth-round pick of the Bills in April’s draft, Vallejo has been competing for a spot as a backup outside linebacker and special-teamer in Buffalo. He hurt his shoulder in the team’s first preseason game but played Thursday against Philadelphia, making two tackles (one for loss).
Vallejo is currently listed as Pro Bowler Lorenzo Alexander’s backup at the strongside linebacker spot. Coach Sean McDermott said he brings “speed at the position and tremendous production around the football, relentless and let’s not forget the value of special teams.” When Alexander didn’t practice in late July, Vallejo got the first-team snaps, and also saw work as the weakside backup.
“Speaking with members of the coaching staff, they’d like all LBs to be able know all the LB spots, even if they don’t play them, but have been impressed with Vallejo’s ability to pick up the scheme and his versatility to put it to use,” Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 wrote.
Next preseason game: at Ravens, 5 p.m. Saturday
This is the fifth in our series looking at former Boise State players in the NFL. Previously:
NFC East: Kellen Moore, Orlando Scandrick, Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Donte Deayon, Darian Thompson
NFC North: Charles Leno, Sam McCaskill
NFC South: Doug Martin, Jeremy McNichols, Jonathan Moxey, Travis Averill
NFC West: Rees Odhiambo, Chanceller James