Rushing totals seem to dwindle every year, but there’s one running back in the NFL who has a 200-yard rushing game and averages over 5.6 yards per carry (must have 40 attempts to qualify).
Nope, it’s not Adrian Peterson, Todd Gurley, David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell. It’s not even LeSean McCoy, C.J. Anderson or Ezekiel Elliott. If you guessed Miami Dolphins second-year running back Jay Ajayi, you would be correct, though.
The 23-year-old had a game for the ages Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ajayi rushed for 204 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns. Granted, his final 62-yard scamper came in garbage time with under a minute left and the game already decided, but even without that run, he had the first 100-yard game of his career and over 20 fantasy points.
With this performance, Ajayi became the first running back since Jaguars’ back Fred Taylor to gain 200 rushing yards against the Steelers defense. Owners have to be at least a 10-year fantasy veteran to remember Taylor playing in the league, but his 200-yard day against Pittsburgh came during the 2000 season.
Clearly, the kid from Boise State can run, but the question now becomes what can he possibly do for an encore? Ajayi barely had 200 yards rushing in his first 13 games as a pro, and all the sudden busts out a 200-yard game.
Obviously, the performance isn’t going to be his new expectation. Only two running backs gained 200 yards in a single contest last season, so these types of rushing achievements are truly unique and special in today’s league. But all signs point to Ajayi becoming the Dolphins’ workhorse back and thus a quality option off any fantasy bench.
Many actually believed that Ajayi would be Miami’s starter once Lamar Miller fled to Houston last spring, but free agent signee Arian Foster earned the starting job. Ajayi apparently moped about it, and as a result, was left off the team’s plane when it left for Seattle on opening weekend.
Perhaps humility was a lesson the young back needed to learn, and maybe Foster really did outplay Ajayi during camp, but it’s been clear since Day 1 that he’s always been the back with the most upside for both the Dolphins and fantasy owners.
At 30 years old, Foster is injury prone and not very good anymore when he plays. He averaged 2.6 yards per carry on 63 attempts last season, and he’s averaging the same amount in three games this year. Ajayi is gaining yards at a clip more than twice as large (5.7 per attempt). When Foster suffered his injury in Week 2, coach Adam Gase was still hesitant to hand the running back job to Ajayi. Against the Browns in Week 3, Ajayi, Kenyan Drake and Isaiah Pead all had at least five attempts but none carried the ball more than nine times. Miami repeated that strategy in Week 4 against the Bengals.
Gase finally realized a three-or-four back committee wasn’t going to cut it, and handed Ajayi the reigns to the backfield. He showed promise in Week 5 versus Tennessee, rushing for 42 yards and a score, then exploded in Week 6.
It’s probably no coincidence that Ajayi had his big performance Sunday, the first game of the year when Miami had every expected offensive linemen in the lineup. The Dolphins line has been atrocious for years, but they don’t lack talent. There’s three top 15 picks on the Miami offensive line, so a big part of their problem has just been chemistry and lack of playing time together.
All the sudden, it came together for them against Pittsburgh. Not only did Miami rush for 222 yards, they didn’t give up a sack either.
Ajayi may not ever run for 200 yards again in his NFL career, but he won’t be a one-hit wonder. Gase bet on him as his starter and it’s time for fantasy owners to bet he’s worth a roster spot. Make him your No. 1 waiver wire priority this week; he’s owned in just 42.5 percent of ESPN leagues.