With the status of Reggie Bush up in the air, it's entirely possible that the Detroit Lions are strongly considering drafting a running back early in the NFL Draft. Earlier in the week, I ranked what I believe to be the top 10 RBs in this year's class. One of those names that the Lions may be targeting is Boise State RB Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi had a huge year and led the NCAA in total touchdowns (32), and he finished second in yards from scrimmage (2,358). He also set a program record for single-season rushing yards (1,823) and rushing touchdowns (28).
At the NFL Combine, Ajayi showed off his short-area explosiveness with a couple of impressive shuttle times, as well as his 39-inch vertical. Interestingly enough, MockDraftable's No. 1 comparison to Ajayi's measurements was none other than Melvin Gordon.
Jay Ajayi has been one of my favorite college RBs to watch since he was a sophomore at Boise State. I love his ability to absorb contact while continuing to push forward and gain those extra 2 or 3 yards every time he touches the ball.
Yards After Contact
Here's a perfect example of how difficult it is to bring Ajayi down. He does a nice job of using his off-arm to deliver three straight stiff-arms and spins off of two defenders while falling forward and maintaining his balance. He turns what should have been a 2-yard gain into an 8-yard gain. Jay Ajayi laughs at your arm tackles.
Ajayi goes full beast mode on this play and never stops moving his legs. It takes about four Air Force defenders to finally bring him down for a 20-yard gain.
Patience, Vision and Quicks
Despite being known as a bruising downhill runner, Ajayi is also a former soccer athlete with extremely quick feet. In the play above, he follows his lead-blocker, recognizes a couple of holes opening up and quickly cuts up field for the TD. Ajayi's quickness and explosiveness are vastly underrated if you ask me.
Here is where his vision comes into play. Being quick and explosive is great, but it's the instantaneous decision-making that can separate a negative play from a 30-yard run. On their first play of the second half versus Colorado State, the Broncos ran a shotgun sweep to the left. Ajayi has a split second to react to the defender filling the left-side B-gap and quickly changes directions. He makes a couple of cuts and finds a new hole to burst through, finishing for a 35-yard gain.
Did I mention Ajayi is a pretty good pass catcher, too? Some view him as the best receiver out of the backfield in this class. I'd probably give that title to Duke Johnson, but Ajayi shows a lot of promise in many different areas.
One of my major concerns is Ajayi's tendency to dance around in the backfield, much like we've seen Reggie Bush do throughout his career.
Okay, this play has less to do with dancing in the backfield and more to do with Ajayi making an amazing play after a missed assignment from his O-line. I just had to share this.
Here's a real example. It appears that Ajayi could have easily cut back for a decent gain here, but chose to dance around and try to hit the sideline instead, resulting in a negative play.
Another concern I have is his poor blocking ability. He's a willing blocker, but often struggles with his technique.
12 fumbles (seven lost) in less than three full years of action may be a bit of a problem as well.
How He Fits
I consider Jay Ajayi to be a souped-up version of Joique Bell. He's a good receiver, works hard, plays harder and won't go down without a fight. He's much faster and more agile than Bell, and received a heavy workload with the Broncos, leading the NCAA in rushing attempts (347).
You may be thinking, "Why would the Lions want a similar back to Joique Bell?" Well, keep in mind both Bell and Bush are set to be 30 years old within the next couple of years, and the Lions should be more concerned with drafting talent. Plus, they still seem to be really high on Theo Riddick, and a Bell, Ajayi and Riddick backfield looks pretty sexy on paper.
Ajayi will likely be a Day 2 pick. It's unlikely that he'll be on the board in the third round by the time the Lions are on the clock, but he could be a realistic option in the late second for Detroit.
2015 NFL Draft profiles: OT T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh), RB Duke Johnson (Miami [FL]), CB Eric Rowe (Utah), DT Michael Bennett (Ohio State), CB Quinten Rollins (Miami [OH]), DT Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma), OT Ereck Flowers (Miami [FL]), DT Malcom Brown (Texas)
Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave any suggestions of prospects you would like to be profiled in the comments below.