Jay Ajayi: Post-Hype Sleeper - Footballguys

Diving into Jay Ajayi's fantasy prospects for 2018.

It’s hard to call someone a post-hype sleeper if he is being drafted in the third round, right? That’s where we find Jay Ajayi toiling a year removed from disappointing fantasy owners everywhere.

Something wasn’t working in Miami. In spite of a huge breakout in 2016 that included a pair of 200-yard games, Ajayi struggled on the field as a Dolphin in 2017. The former Boise State star averaged 3.4 YPC and failed to score a touchdown as a marine mammal. He also failed to maintain his coach’s trust to the point where he was moved for a fourth-round pick in a widely panned trade to the Eagles. Now he owns a championship ring, and he is a prime candidate to be a post-hype sleeper in 2018.


Positive Signs

The trade did little to help Ajayi’s fantasy value. He managed to score a couple of touchdowns, but he only managed 80 touches for 499 yards in seven regular-season appearances for the Eagles. His combined results were just good enough for 35th in fantasy scoring. He was practically useless on a weekly basis, and fantasy owners suffered a big loss on investment.

Within the fantasy carnage, though, there are glimmers of hope for Ajayi’s fantasy value going forward. After he slogged through Miami to the tune of 3.4 yards per carry, the big back was among the best in the league in Philadelphia with a shiny 5.8 average. And, even though he caught just 10 passes with the Eagles, Ajayi averaged 9.1 yards per reception. One of his two touchdowns was through the air, too.

His rushing average was a particularly good sign. Ajayi averages 4.5 YPC for his career, and his abysmal rate in Miami was a huge drag. The fact he was able to turn things around so quickly and dramatically tells us he is primed to do big things in that Eagles offense. Not to mention the homerun ability he has shown throughout his career. He just needs the opportunity to produce. 

Touch Vacuum

What might have Ajayi done in 2017 had he gotten 20 touches a game in Philadelphia? That question is left to bounce around the halls of the fantasy football fates. Based on his performance when he did get the ball, though, we can reasonably assume good things would have happened.

There is good news, though — the biggest reason he had depressed touch numbers isn’t around anymore. LeGarrette Blount took his 181 touches to Detroit. Blount had one of his most efficient rushing seasons as an Eagle, and there was little reason to force-feed his new running mate while he was performing well. Even better is the fact 173 of those touches were rushing attempts. In other words, these weren’t Duke Johnson touches. Ajayi is the perfect candidate to scoop up all those carries in Blount’s wake.

Granted, not all those touches will go to Ajayi. Head coach Doug Pederson’s maddening propensity to spread the touches around was Bill Belichick-like in its ability to torture fantasy owners. We will still see Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood on the field plenty, not to mention any other running back who makes the team.

Still, Ajayi is the most talented rusher in that backfield, and the touches will gravitate his way as a result. Coaches were raving about him being the No. 1 guy heading into mini-camp, and he is in “motivated by a contract year” mode. He is the perfect candidate to take on a bigger role like he enjoyed with the Dolphins. That includes a veritable lion’s share of goal-line touches, which will propel him near or above double-digit touchdowns.

Ajayi’s biggest issue is his pass-catching or lack thereof. He has caught 58 passes in his entire career. Seven running backs caught more last season. This is his biggest impediment as a fantasy producer in PPR leagues. When guys like Johnson can outscore you with just 82 carries, you might have a problem.

Fortune Favors the Bold

Ajayi is being taken in the third round (RB20) in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, on average. His veritable exclusion from the passing game is likely the most significant drag on his fantasy stock, but there are assuredly a fair number of fantasy owners still healing from the burns he administered a year ago. An average of the projections below puts Ajayi at 190.7 PPR points, which would have been good enough for 18th in fantasy scoring last season. That makes his ADP seem reasonable.

For the daring, though, Ajayi might be a bargain bin RB1. Should fantasy owners find themselves drafting receivers or tight ends in the first two rounds, Philadelphia’s starting running back might make for a great third-round pick. The floor could fall out from under him if Pederson decides to continue his maddening committee or Ajayi’s old injuries come back to haunt him. But his upside could put him in the Top 10 in fantasy scoring, particularly on a per-game basis.

Projections

Projector
Games
Rush
Yards
TDs
Rec
Yards
TDs
PPR FPTs
David Dodds
14.4
208
884
5.9
25.0
185
1.0
173.3
Bob Henry
15.0
215
960
5.0
28.0
225
1.0
182.5
Jason Wood
16.0
225
1000
6.0
24.0
205
1.0
186.5
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
200
912
5.2
23.8
177
0.7
168.1
Alessandro Miglio
14.0
240
1100
9.0
28
225
1
220.5

What Others Are Saying

Chris Raybon (@ChrisRaybon) June 15, 2018

Given the departure of Blount and a good QB/OL/coaching staff, I think Jay Ajayi has a decent shot to make a statistical jump back to 2016 levels.

And I think Amari Cooper will be force-fed, and adding Jordy's veteran savvy, Martavis' deep threat, and more slot work = bounce-back. https://t.co/kSQUnXjOAG

NFL.com’s James Koh is even more bullish than me about Jay Ajayi’s prospects:

"With a full off-season and with the workload on the clear upswing, 1,200 total yards, eight touchdowns and 30ish receptions seems like an entirely reasonable projection. Those are top 10 fantasy RB numbers by the way (and you're still exposed to upside!) all while paying a top 20 price."