If you talk to college scouts or draftniks, one name among the running backs that seems to be gaining steam is Jay Ajayi out of Boise State. NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah has Ajayi as the third best running back in the draft, while NFL Media's Lance Zierlein puts Ajayi at No. 4. Here's my take on this talented runner's fantasy outlook in 2015.
» Fantastic footwork, change of direction
» Big body, great balance help break tackles
» Good hands, dangerous out of the backfield
» Runs with good power and pad level
Watching Ajayi play in Boise State's offense, it's easy to see what a versatile back he is. The team asked him to be a power-back between the tackles, run outside, catch out of the backfield and even line up as a wide receiver and run routes. Ajayi was able to handle all of these tasks with aplomb, which allowed him to become the first player in FBS history to accumulate 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same season.
Zierlein compared Ajayi's style to Marshawn Lynch, and while he admits that might seem a bit much, I understand Zierlein's comparison. Ajayi has a great base and balance as he runs, and with his bigger body he's able to spin off of weaker tackles and gain extra yardage. Ajayi has shown all of the skills to be a complete, three-down back at the NFL level.
» Often looks east-west instead of north-south
» Average vision and feel for the hole
» Bad habit of carrying the ball in the wrong hand
» Seems to get tackled by guys he should have made miss
My biggest gripe with watching Ajayi run is that he far too often carried the ball in the wrong hand, meaning the ball was toward the pursuing defenders. This typically leads to far more fumbles, and not surprisingly Ajayi had 11 fumbles over the last two years and lost seven of them. That won't fly at the NFL level, as fumbles can quickly lead rookies right into a head coach's dog house (see Wilson, David or any Patriots RB).
Moreover, Ajayi had a tendency to try and stretch plays outside too often, while lacking the decisiveness to do so. Rather than plant his foot and hit the hole, or cut quickly to the outside, he'd dance around or hesitate and get caught behind the line of scrimmage, leaving valuable yards on the field.
Ideal NFL fantasy fits
Teams are starting to circle Ajayi has a potential difference maker, which makes teams without a lead back like the Jaguars or Chargers natural targets. I'd love to see Ajayi helping keep the pressure off Blake Bortles in Jacksonville while also catching passes out of the backfield. The same goes in Arizona, where Ajayi could basically fill in the role of all of the backs currently on the Cardinals roster.
Early fantasy draft projection
If Ajayi lands in a featured role, he'll definitely be a name worth calling in fantasy drafts. His abilities out of the backfield make him even more valuable -- especially in PPR formats -- as some team might draft and develop him while putting him on the field in specialized packages to cut his teeth as a rookie. Dynasty owners should definitely keep an eye on Ajayi as a potential steal as well.