Carson Wentz and the Eagles were rolling even before the trade. Here’s what to expect from the newest back in Philadelphia.
The Eagles enter the bye week at 8-1, the best record in the NFL. Every facet of their team is performing at an above average level, especially the running game. LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement have exceeded expectations through nine weeks, but the move at the trade deadline to acquire Dolphins’ running back Jay Ajayi for a 2018 fourth-round pick adds a whole new element to the already impressive offense.
Ajayi’s impact was quickly noticed in their Week 9 domination of the Denver Broncos, 51-23, regardless of only playing 17 of the team’s 67 offensive snaps. In his first game with the team, Ajayi averaged 9.6 YPA on eight carries for 77 yards, including a 46 yard touchdown run towards the end of the first half. In the seven games prior to the trade, Ajayi averaged only 3.4 YPA. The bye week provides Ajayi the perfect opportunity to settle into the city and the playbook before what hopes to be a deep playoff run for the top team in the NFL. Here’s what Ajayi brings to the table for the Eagles and what to expect from him during the second half of the season.
Pace and Power
Ajayi comes to the Eagles sporting a unique skillset that combines sheer power running with the ability to hit the home run with his speed. In 2016, Ajayi led the league in forced missed tackles (58) and yards after contact (3.46). In fact, these numbers ranked far ahead of the next best backs, Jonathan Stewart (47) and Isaiah Crowell (3.18), behind a Dolphins’ offensive line that ranked 30th in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. His ability to break tackles and fight for yards after contact is seen below in his first game in Philadelphia.
Ajayi first makes contact with a defender at his own 45-yard line and is able to power his way for another ten yards after contact. Although the Eagles already have a bruising back like this (see: Blount, LeGarrette), it’s Ajayi’s combination of size and speed that really sets him apart from the rest of the backs on the roster.
Granted, it helps to have a good offensive line to run behind (Ajayi isn’t touched until the one-yard line), but this play clearly shows Ajayi’s ability to break away from defenders in the open field. The Eagles have a quicker back in Clement, but not a complete back who possesses the ability to break tackles and break away from defenders. Once Ajayi learns more of the playbook, he’ll see his snap totals incrementally increase.
Budding on a Budget
What’s more attractive to the Eagles than his unique skillset might be Ajayi’s age and current contract. Ajayi is only 24 years old and is signed through the 2018 season for just above $1 million total, according to Spotrac. With Blount signed to a one-year deal and plenty of critical pieces hitting free agency this offseason (Alshon Jeffery, Nigel Bradham, Darren Sproles and Patrick Robinson), the Eagles will need as much cap space as possible next year. Ajayi provides the team with their running back of the future, potentially, on a cheap deal for the next 23 regular season games. More importantly, this allows the Eagles to cut ties with Ajayi easily if things don’t work out as planned. Ajayi’s knees have historically been an issue, even causing the Dolphins to withhold him from practices as a precaution. If Ajayi’s knees begin to give out, the Eagles are not tied down to a multi-year deal laden with guaranteed money.
Second Half Snaps
As Ajayi learns more and more of the playbook, his role will increase and allow the young star to take over a majority of the running back duties. Throughout the first nine weeks of the season, head coach Doug Pederson and running backs coach Duce Staley have insisted on keeping their backs fresh, frequently rotating Blount, Clement and even Wendell Smallwood (when healthy). With the addition of Ajayi, that rotation should continue, but become less significant as the team inches closer to its first playoff appearance since the 2013 season. Clement will continue to handle obvious passing downs due to the coaching staff’s faith in him in pass protection (Clement took 11 of 12 pass protection snaps against Denver, according to The Athletic Philadelphia). Blount should receive his typical share of carries, especially early in games and in short yardage situations. The rest of those snaps will be Ajayi’s for the taking. The Eagles and the city of Philadelphia are hopeful Ajayi is the last piece needed to bring the Lombardi trophy to Philly for the first time in history.
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