One of the most polarizing players in fantasy circles, Jay Ajayi, is poised to make the leap to elite in 2017. Ironically, his most impressive games are exactly what have caused the divide between fantasy owners.
2016 Season Recap
Ajayi had one of the more remarkable seasons of any running back in 2016. He started the season on the inactive list in Week 1 because he was unhappy with his role as the backup to Arian Foster, but he finished just outside of the top 10 among fantasy running backs in standard leagues after rushing for 1,272 yards (4.9 ypc) and eight touchdowns, to go along with 27 catches for 151 yards.
Ajayi thrived when the Dolphins’ offensive line was intact, including a three-game stretch starting in Week 6 against Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the Jets in which he scored at least 18 fantasy points (standard league scoring) and produced back-to-back 200-yard games. He added a third such performance in Week 16 in the rematch with the Bills.
Even though those four games (757 rushing yards combined) accounted for nearly 60 percent of his seasonal total on the ground and five of his eight touchdowns, he did manage at least seven fantasy points in 11 of the 15 games he played. So while he did have a bit of a boom-or-bust factor, he also was productive enough that he didn’t hurt your team’s chances of winning most weeks.
Ajayi’s only real competition in the backfield comes from Damien Williams, who has averaged 3.4 yards per carry over his career, and Kenyan Drake, who has 33 total carries to his credit. Miami returns four offensive line starters and should also showcase an improved passing game with a coaching staff looking to get new tight end Julius Thomas immediately involved, as well as the presence of a receiving corps hoping to take a step forward.
But even with Thomas in the fold and the likes of Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills at receiver, it’s not as if Ryan Tannehill is an elite fantasy QB. The Dolphins are going to need to run the ball with Ajayi if they want to get back to the playoffs this season, so another 1,200-yard campaign with double-digit touchdowns is not out of the question.
Where to Draft
While some may be worried about Ajayi turning out to be a one-year wonder, he’s still worth drafting as a low-end RB1 in all leagues at some point in Round 2. Should he fall past the first two rounds, then immediately grab him as he could end up being one of the steals of the draft based on his expected workload and the big-play potential he’s already shown.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
And don’t forget to pick up your copy of Athlon Sports’ 2017 Fantasy Football magazine, available for purchase online and at newsstands everywhere.