NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
Coming off an impressive win over the Broncos, it is hard not to argue that the Patriots are the best team in the NFL. Of course, right now that really means nothing and by no means are the Patriots perfect. The running game production has really fallen off after the loss of Stevan Ridley to injury and while Shane Vereen is a very good pass catching change of pace back, he does not seem like an every down back. Those two will also be free agents at the end of the year leaving the Patriots with unknown commodities left at the position with Jonas Gray, James White, and Tyler Gafney. This week, I thought I would take a look at a potential target for the Patriots in the running game, Jay Ajayi.
Name: Jay Ajayi
School: Junior, Boise State University
Weight: 216 Lbs.
Ajayi is a relentless runner with good size for the position. He has really good balance for a taller running back and shows amazing agility in his lower body. Ajayi has decent speed once he gets to the second level and finishes his runs. He does not shy away from contact and is aggressive when fighting for extra yards. He has a little more wiggle in his running style than I was expecting. One of Ajayi’s best qualities is his hands. He is a real weapon as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He is a fluid runner with a long stride and shows good bend and flexibility when turning the corner and is shifty enough to avoid tackles in the open field. In the play below, you see Ajayi’s amazing balance, flexibility, and tenacious running style as he fights for extra yards.
While Ajayi does have decent speed, it does take him awhile to get up to that top speed. He also lacks acceleration and burst when he gets the ball. Ajayi has long lean legs and lacks lower body power. If Ajayi wants to be considered an every down back he will have to improve his pass protection. One other thing I noticed is that Ajayi really likes to bounce his runs outside. This leads to the question is it because of a lack of patients or lack of vision? Ajayi does not have the speed to do this and be successful in the NFL. Ajayi also has fumbling issues, and if he is even going to be on the Patriots radar, this has to be cleaned up. Finally, Ajayi has medical and off field issues, but those were both a few years ago and do not seem to be an issue at this point. In the play below, you can see Ajayi try to bounce the run outside when it looks like he had an opportunity to run the ball inside and gain at least a few yards instead of losing a couple.
I will be honest, I didn’t know much about Ajayi before studying him for this article. I had assumed by his size that he would be a more physical, between the tackles type of runner. I chose to scout him this week because I thought the Patriots may have options for Vereen’s role next year if he is not back, but no one really to replace Ridley. After watching Ajayi, I am not sure he would be a great option to replace Ridley. What I liked most about his game was his ability to catch the ball and in my opinion he is closer to that change of pace back rather than the pound it between the tackles type of runner. He is a bit of a tweener, showing some physicality once he gets to the second level, but I could see him struggling to create his own yardage in the NFL because of his lack of burst and lower body power. If he is put in the right situation, I think he could be a very successful NFL player, but unless there is a major shakeup on the Patriots roster, I am not sure if Ajayi would be the right running back for the Patriots to draft. Right now I would give Ajayi a 3rd round grade.