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The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Ari Ingel
Lets discuss the big elephant in the room right off the bat, Arian Foster. While he brings a big name that will scare off the casual fantasy fan from drafting Jay Ajayi, Arian Foster is like Kobe Bryant in his final season: someone who's name alone conjures visions of greatness, that is past his prime, endured a career riddled with injuries and most likely has little juice left in the tank.
Foster has never been very fast, running a 4.68 forty at the combine, and made his name through excellent vision, patience, route running and receiving ability. He has always been more of a glider, thriving in the zone-blocking scheme, due to his vision and feel for the flow of the game, then someone that beats people with pure athleticism or brute force.
Unfortunately for Foster, he is entering the dreaded age 30 season and has dealt with a slew of soft tissue and other injuries over the course of his career. Here is a list of his injuries in just the past five years:
- 2010 - Arthroscopic knee injury after tearing his right Meniscus during practice.
- 2011 - Tore his hamstring.
- 2013 - In Week 9 Foster left after the first play of the game with a herniated disc in his lumbar region on his back. He was placed on IR and underwent surgery a few days later.
- 2014 - Pulled his hamstring in the first week of preseason training camp and missed most of the pre-season.
- 2014 - Foster pulled his hamstring in Week 2, missing some games.
- 2014 - Foster pulled his groin in Week 9, missing two games.
- 2015 - Tore his groin muscle off the bone in his first padded practice. He needed surgery and was placed on IR/designated for return.
- 2015 - Week 6 he tore his Achilles and was placed on IR and needed surgery.
Before tearing his Achilles in Week 6 last year, Foster averaged a whopping 2.6 yards per carry on 63 carries. That's not good for those of you unaware.
So why did the Dolphins sign him? Because they have a very inexperienced and young running back core and it made sense for a NFL team such as the Dolphins to add a veteran like Foster to add depth at the position. Additionally, while Jay Ajayi has good hands for a running back, he is not nearly as an advanced route runner as Foster and as Josh Norris from Rotoworld mentioned, rookie Kenyan Drake is the worst pass protector he has ever scouted in college.
So adding depth, especially on passing downs, makes sense for the Dolphins and this is the area Foster will be most utilized. But as Greg Rosenthal from Around the NFL stated, “Foster got the contract ($1.5 million) of a player that has to earn a spot on the team and that has an uphill battle to start.” $1.5 million a year is not starter money, in fact, it is the type of money a veteran running back gets when there is not much of a market for their services.
Okay, now that we got that out of the way; noted talent evaluator and analyst, Greg Cosell, ranked Jay Ajayi as his second rated running back coming out of college last year, behind Todd Gurley. Ajayi is 6'0” 228 pounds, ran a 4.57 forty with a 39” vertical, 121” broad jump, 4.10 20-yard shuttle and 11.10 60-yard shuttle. Those are elite numbers, especially for a guy his size.
Ajayi has quick feet and the lateral movement of a smaller back, someone that reminded Cosell of Marshawn Lynch. While maybe not a great route runner yet, Ajayi does have good hands going 50/535/4 through the air in his final year of college. Last year, in limited action and coming off a soft tissue injury of his own, on just 49 carries, Ajayi broke 12 tackles and averaged 3.3 yards AFTER contact per attempt. Additionally, as fantasy analyst Chris Raybon mentioned in a recent column, HC Adam Gase offenses have ranked between 6th and 11th in rushing attempts in each of his three seasons as a play-caller and one back has handled 20 touches a game in 50% of Gase's career games.
Lastly, Ajayi was being drafted as the 24th running back off the board in the early 6th round before Foster signed. That ADP has since fallen, and with Foster's injury history, taking Ajayi as your number two or three running back is a no brainer.
Low Side by Andy Hicks
When the Dolphins allowed former starter Lamar Miller to take the money and run to Houston it seemed to open the door for second-year man Jay Ajayi to become the starter by default. Not convinced by him, Miami then spent a third-round pick in the draft on Kenyan Drake and recently signed the former Texan leading all time rusher in Arian Foster. The impact of Foster signing has yet to be realized in the draft position of Jay Ajayi, but he remains a risk at whatever draft price he eventually settles at.
Let's analyze the competition of Ajayi for playing time. First the veteran in Arian Foster. Foster has finished as a Top 5 fantasy back in four of the last six seasons, all of course with his former team the Houston Texans. At age 30 he probably doesn't expect to return to those levels and 200 carries would be seen as wildly optimistic. He is also coming off a serious Achilles injury, an injury that finishes off the career of a lot of other older players. He has to get through training camp and convince the Dolphins he can be useful. The concern though in drafting Ajayi is that if Foster is on the roster once the season starts then Ajayi is going to struggle for meaningful playing time.
The other competitor for playing time is 3rd round rookie Kenyan Drake. He isn't ready yet, but he has one thing that can't be taught, speed. He has good size as well and if the coaching staff can mould him well, he can be an every down starter. At his current draft price Drake is not even a late round flyer going as the 56th back off the board. Without being too dramatic, his situation reminds me of David Johnson in Arizona last year. Chris Johnson was the veteran, Andre Ellington was the young back, with poor stats and expected major contributor. David Johnson was the raw and unprepared rookie. Now we are not here to talk about Drake, so back to Ajayi.
Jay Ajayi is all upside to a lot of people, but a closer look reveals that he has a likely short term future in the NFL. The 149th pick in the 2015 draft looks like upside now, but since 2006 there have been 36 backs taken within 25 picks of Ajayi's draft slot. Only one has a 1000 yard season and that is Alfred Morris who has 3 of them. He now is the likely 3rd string back for the Cowboys. The next back of any caliber is a guy taken in Ajayi's exact slot, Tim Hightower in 2008. After that we have a bunch of guys with unfulfilled potential and short term stays in the NFL. Some are still productive in the NFL eg Bilal Powell, Dion Lewis, Chris Thompson and Mike Gillislee, but basically you are not expecting starter production out of these guys and you are extremely unlikely to get it.
A fraction of these guys like Jerome Harrison, Wali Lundy, Ryan Torain, Andre Brown, Anthony Dixon, Zac Stacy and Vick Ballard offer short term starter production, but it dissipates quickly. Basically Ajayi is extremely unlikely to be anything of note, especially if his limited performances to date are any indication. 49 carries for 187 yards doesn't look too bad, but he has yet to have 10 carries in any game and for his last seven games he registered 98 yards on 38 carries. 2.58 yards a carry is awful. What we have seen so far from Ajayi doesn't indicate he can break free from the mediocre backs that his draft slot dictates he is. The Dolphins have given him tepid enthusiasm as the starter by signing Arian Foster and drafting Kenyan Drake. Don't be fooled by any positives you see, they are significantly outweighed by the huge negatives surrounding him. He fell to the fifth round for a reason in 2015. Second-round potential means nothing if a team doesn't pay that price. He presents awful value for the 2016 season and can only disappoint.