Philadelphia Eagles: Why Jay Ajayi Is The Most Important Player In 2018

Jay Ajayi
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles not only won the Super Bowl on the arm of Nick Foles but also with the legs of LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, and Corey Clement. However, after the free agency period was over, the Eagles watched as Blount left for Detroit which left the Eagles running game to be spearheaded by Ajayi.

Before Jay Ajayi came to the Philadelphia Eagles, he was the leading rusher and future of the Miami Dolphins. In his two and a half years, Ajayi would play in 31 games for the Dolphins while starting 19. In his rookie season of 2012, Ajayi played in only nine games while rushing for 187 yards on 45 attempts. In 2016, Ajayi hit his stride in his second season rushing for 1,272 yards on 260 attempts while starting 12 of 15 games.

Can The Philadelphia Eagles Trust Jay Ajayi?

Adam Gase wanted more from his back and while Ajayi was a great runner, Gase needed a back who could also catch out the backfield. When the Dolphins selected Kenyan Drake in the 2016 NFL Draft, many figured that was this the writing on the wall for Ajayi. Yes, it was, as the Dolphins shipped Ajayi off to Philly in a trade deadline deal that saved Ajayi’s career and may have secured the Eagles first Super Bowl win.

In the beginning, it didn’t seem Jay Ajayi and the Philadelphia Eagles were such a great fit. With Blount still the workhorse, Ajayi saw limited action. While he would break off a few big runs here and there, his role was strictly to give Blount a breather. Ajayi saw no more than 15 carries per game as a member of the Eagles but he walked away a champion and may have walked right into a starting role in 2018.

For the Philadelphia Eagles to repeat, Jay Ajayi will have to become the player he was in 2016. While Dolphins fans will scoff at that idea, they also have to take into account the Eagles don’t need Ajayi to be Drake, they need him to be just Ajayi. With Blount carrying the ball 173 times, Ajayi should expect to see roughly the same or close to 200.

Although the Eagles will have Darren Sproles and Clement as backups, neither player is equipped to handle the workload or have the skills that Ajayi has. Then you take in account the Carson Wentz injury and the Eagles may rely on the run just a bit more than they did last season.

Jay Ajayi Could Lead The NFL In Rushing

What has Eagles fans believing this can be achieved is that Ajayi, despite his limited role in 2017, managed to average 5.8 yards per carry while with the Eagles. No, he did not hit a single game with 100 yards but to be fair, Blount only hit that century mark just once for the Eagles.

The Eagles offense is built on balance. If Doug Pederson can get the type of production that Jay Ajayi displayed while with the Dolphins, that will open up more room for players like Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, and Zach Ertz. Blount was the back who will get you the tough yards between the tackles while Ajayi is the back who could take it the distance every time he touches the ball. The Eagles have not had this type of explosion from any running back in quite some time.

With the help of Duece Staley, Ajayi had this to say about some of the changes we should see entering the 2018 season.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a running back coach in my career who actually played the position,” Ajayi said. “Now I’ve got one that’s actually played in the NFL. Just him telling me the little tidbits of how to attack a defense, and how to stick one way while getting a defense to move another way. His knowledge of the game and defenses allows me to be smarter out there and helps me know what’s coming even before it happens.”

Many will still point to the return of Wentz as the reason the Eagles will repeat, but truth be told, in order for Wentz to keep climbing the elite QB ladder, he will need a solid ground game. Oh, did I forget to mention that Ajayi is also in a contract year? Watch out NFL, you could see a new rushing leader.