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Is Jay Ajayi the next big running back?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When you think about the greatest running backs of all time, players like Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and O.J. Simpson come to mind. As great as those players were, only Simpson ran for over 400 yards in a two-game span in any point of the aforementioned players’ careers.

The back-to-back-to-back 200 yards rushing games record could be broken this week , something that has never been accomplished before. The player who has the chance to break the record is Miami Dolphins’ running back Jay Ajayi.

Yes, it’s as surprising as it sounds. Coming into this season, Ajayi was never talked about as a top running back in the NFL. Through 15 games in his career, Ajayi has averaged only 48 yards per game, even after back-to-back 200 yard performances. Ajayi was not even the starter coming into the season, playing behind Arian Foster. Now that Foster has retired, it is Ajayi’s shot to prove himself.

Can Ajayi be a legitimate starting NFL running back or is this just a flash in the pan? Ajayi’s last two games in which he ran for over 200 yards in each were against the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bills’ run defense has not been very good this season, ranking 26th and allowing 118.4 rushing yards per game.

The Steelers have been better, ranking 16th and allowing 106.7 rushing yards per game. Neither team has a very good run defense, but it is not like Ajayi was facing the San Francisco 49ers run defense, which has allowed 185.1 rushing yards per game.

Coming out of college, Ajayi was not highly sought out. The Dolphins ended up drafting him in the fifth round as the 149th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Despite all this, he has made a name for himself.

Any player who can run for over 400 yards in two games has talent, but being able to adjust when defenses change their scheme and being consistent week-to-week is something only few running backs can do.

At this point it’s impossible to know for sure if Ajayi is the real deal, but there are some things that point to him being better than he has shown in the early part of his young career.

For one, the Dolphins’ offensive line is not very good. Coming into the weeks in which Ajayi ran for 418 yards, Pro Football Focus ranked Miami’s offensive line as 23rd in the NFL. It is tough enough to do what Ajayi did behind a good offensive line, but being able to do it behind one in the bottom half of the league is extremely impressive.

Another thing that may have prevented Ajayi from breaking out earlier is lack of communication between him and his coaches. Obviously a coach is going to focus game plan more on the players that start and Ajayi was nowhere near starting at the beginning of the season. Before Ajayi broke out, he went to his head coach Adam Gase and told him which plays he likes the best. Gase considered that in his gameplan.

Now, the only thing that stands before him and history is the New York Jets’ defense. This will be Ajayi’s toughest test yet as the Jets have the NFL’s best run defense, allowing only 74 rushing yards per game. No one is expecting Ajayi to run for 200 yards again, but if he has another good game, it might be time to consider him as the next big time running back. 

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