2016 was an interesting season for the Miami Dolphins. Not only was it the first year of the Adam Gase era but this was also the first year the Dolphins had made the playoffs since 2008 (and their most recent playoff appearance at time of writing).
What made it even more interesting wasn’t Adam Gase seemingly getting the most out of Ryan Tannehill before his eventual ACL tear, nor was it Matt Moore finishing the season as the starter and leading the team into our only postseason game from 2009-2021. What made this season, in my eyes, one of our most interesting was none other than 2nd year running back Jay Ajayi.
Over the course of the 2016 campaign, Jay Ajayi went from inactive and left behind in Week 1 @Seattle to 1272 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns. Oh, and he just so happened to have 418 yards in 8 days. Wait, what?
Let’s start at the beginning of the season. According to reports, Jay Ajayi, who started the offseason as RB1 before the eventual signing of Arian Foster, was left behind for a road game against the Seattle Seahawks for being disgruntled with losing the top spot. While this was his only inactive game of the season, the next four weeks resulted in just 117 yards on 31 carries – good for 3.7 yards per carry. Not great.
vs. Pittsburgh (Week 6)
However, in week 6 against the Steelers, Jay Ajayi finally went off for 204 yards on 25 carries, good for 8.16 yards per carry and two touchdowns. He nearly doubled his previous 4 game output in 1 game and achieved a 200 yard game before ever having a 100 yard game. I’m sorry, what?
With a fully healthy offensive line, and starting in place of Arian Foster, Jay Ajayi was able to truly run free against a Steelers Defense that would go on to have the 10th ranked overall defense in the NFL – 13th against the run. His 8.16 yards per carry would go on to be the best of his career in games with a minimum of 10 carries. And yet, he was poised to top 200 again. AND AGAIN.
vs. Buffalo (Week 7)
Just 7 days after running for 204 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jay Ajayi would top the 200 mark for a second straight time, achieving 214 yards on 28 carriers at home against the division rival Buffalo Bills. Rushing for 7.64 yards per carry and his third touchdown in 2 games, Ajayi helped lead Miami to its second straight win of what would be 6 straight – oh, and 9 out of 10 – en route to the playoffs.
What’s even more incredible is that this was the first time a running back had run for 200 yards in consecutive games since 2002 – with Ajayi joining the ranks of O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and former Miami Dolphin Ricky Williams.
This stretch of running back play by Jay Ajayi was some of the best that Dolphins fans have had the chance to watch in some time. When he ran for 200 again in Week 15, also against Buffalo, Jay Ajayi cemented himself as a player most Dolphins fans won’t soon forget. Not only was he a 1,000 yard rusher, but Pro Football Focus also had him as the 3rd most elusive runner in the NFL and he led the league in forced missed tackles (56). He was also only the 4th running back to ever have (3) 200 yard games in a single season. Un. Real.
In a surprise move, Ajayi was traded the following season for a 4th round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles where he went on to win Super Bowl LII (Philly Special). While we never saw Jay Ajayi rise back to the level of play we saw in 2016, his 7 games of the 2017 season saw the highest YPC average for his entire career. However, in 2018 and 2019, Ajayi was hit by the injury bug before officially calling it a career.
For Dolphins fans, Jay Ajayi will always be a fan-favorite who gave fans hope of what is possible in the running game. Now, as we approach the 2022 season, Mike McDaniel and the new-look Dolphins offense hope to recapture that running game spark that Dolphins fans loved and lost with Jay Ajayi.