The Philadelphia Eagles really didn’t need much help on offense, but they got better before the trade deadline anyway by acquiring running back Jay Ajayi. And all it cost them was a fourth-round pick.
Ajayi, 24, was a fifth-round pick in 2015 and exploded onto the scene in Oct. 2016 when he posted back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances to rescue the Miami Dolphins. With a third 200-yard performance in December, Ajayi finished the year with 1,272 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, earning a Pro Bowl nod for his efforts.
It was the third-best rushing season in Dolphins history, behind only Ricky Williams in 2002 and 2003. But a year later, the good vibes between the team and Ajayi wore off.
In seven games with the team in 2017, he posted 465 rushing yards but never found the end zone for an offense that struggled to find points.
Now he’s elsewhere with a much better chance of scoring, replicating his 2016 success and making a playoff run.
Why the Dolphins made the trade
While Miami is 4-3, the offense is No. 32 in points per game (13.1) and yards per game (252.4).
Ajayi has accounted for a significant percentage of the team’s offense, but he was averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and frustrations were building for Adam Gase. The Dolphins head coach blasted the team for being “the worst offense in football” and seemed to put Ajayi directly in his crosshairs.
“We’ve got to stop trying to hit home runs all the time,” he said. “How about take the 4 or 5 yards that we’re going to get? It comes down to everybody doing their job. If we actually start doing that, it might help. It’s on the running back. Do your job. That’s what you’ve got to do. It’s not hard.”
According to at least one report, Ajayi was getting frustrated too:
Source tells me Ajayi extremely combative with Dolphins coaching staff in recent weeks. Verbal confrontations.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) October 31, 2017
That wouldn’t be a first, as Ajayi and Gase butted heads in 2016 before his emergence as a star. The coach didn’t like the way Ajayi handled his discontent with being behind Arian Foster on the depth chart last year and left the running back at home for the team’s Week 1 game.
Ajayi later credited the healthy scratch as a big reason why he had such a breakout year. But when the Dolphins’ offense began cratering again in 2017, those same problems came back to roost.
With Ajayi producing like a below-average running back and struggling to get along with coaches, a fourth-round pick gives the team compensation for a player they may have been on the verge of a benching.
Why the Eagles made the trade
Philadelphia is 7-1, and its offense hasn’t had issues like Miami’s. Not even close.
Carson Wentz is a legitimate MVP candidate for an offense that is No. 4 in scoring and has scored at least 20 points in every game so far in 2017. While the team has only four rushing touchdowns, it collectively averages 4.2 yards per carry and is No. 5 in rushing yards.
Leading the way is LeGarrette Blount, a 6’1, 245-pound tank of a running back who led the NFL in rushing touchdowns while with the New England Patriots in 2016. He’s always been a journeyman running back who can get the job done.
But Ajayi offers the chance at something much more. He had ups and downs in Miami, but the ups were really high and the types of showings that would make an already dangerous Eagles offense even scarier.
Earlier in the year, Philadelphia lost Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey to injured reserve, stripping the team of a pair of smaller, spark plug running backs. At 6’0, 216 pounds, Ajayi isn’t that kind of running back, but he still contrasts with Blount and gives the Eagles more explosiveness in the backfield.
“We already had good backs here. We just added another good back,” Blount told reporters Thursday, via PhiladelphiaEagles.com. “There’s something that all of us bring to the table including him. Everybody brings something different to the table, so the depth just makes our room a lot stronger.”
Getting a Pro Bowler with a rookie contract for a fourth-round pick is a steal and should help a legitimate contender continue its push for a potential Super Bowl run.