Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi came back to work following his breakout Pro Bowl 2016 season this past spring determined to be better this year at some of the finer aspects of his job.
In particular, he wanted to do a better job of choosing the right gaps to run through in the hopes that he might reduce the number of direct hits he takes and thereby extend his life expectancy as an NFL back.
It was an admirable goal, but Ajayi is a downhill runner who seems to be at his best when he’s breaking tackles and making yards after contact and that’s what he was best at again in the Dolphins season opener on Sunday.
According to the numbers crunchers at Pro Football Focus, Ajayi picked up 82 of the 122 yards he gained on the ground against the Chargers on Sunday after contact, the most for any back in the league.
That’s right in line with how Ajayi gained most of his 1,272 yards a year ago, when he racked up 900 of those yards, the second most in the league according to PFF, after contact.
A lot of that contact comes in the form of would-be tacklers missing their tackles, and after leading all backs by forcing 58 missed tackles a year ago, per PFF, Ajayi was at it again on Sunday, forcing a league-leading eight missed tackles.
Not surprisingly, Dolphins coach Adam Gase could only marvel at the kind of production he continues to get out of a back that somehow slipped to the fifth round of the draft in 2015.
“Anytime you have Jay back there, if you can get the guys to cover up he’s going to hit it hard enough to where if you graze him that’s not going to bring him down,’’ Gase said.
“I mean, he runs hard. He gives everything he has on every play. He’s been practicing like that through spring and training camp and it hasn’t changed and we saw it again (on Sunday).
“We saw what happens when he gets just a little bit of a crease. We did a few things that we didn’t really do last year and we did a good job. He executed the schemes well and used his ability to make more.’’
It was a busy day for Ajayi as well. He was in on 64 of the Dolphins 68 offensive plays, which suggests he’ll continue to be the every-down back the Dolphins build their attack around.