Miami Dolphins

Jay Ajayi Q&A: Reaction to trade, relationship with LeGarrette Blount and more

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Jay Ajayi Q&A: Reaction to trade, relationship with LeGarrette Blount and more

Just nine months after playing in the Pro Bowl in a Dolphins jersey and just 2½ weeks after the biggest rushing game against the Falcons in two years, Jay Ajayi arrived at the NovaCare Complex Wednesday morning ready to begin a new phase of his career.

The Eagles acquired the 24-year-old running back from the Dolphins hours before the trade deadline Tuesday in exchange for a 2018 fourth-round draft pick.

Since opening day last year, Ajayi has the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL, behind only Ezekiel Elliott, Le'Veon Bell and Jordan Howard (and just ahead of new teammate LeGarrette Blount).

Ajayi met with the media after practice Wednesday and addressed numerous topics, including his role with the Eagles, anonymous allegations coming out of Miami about his attitude, and his relationship with Blount.

Q: What was your initial reaction to the trade?
Ajayi:
 I enjoyed my time with the Dolphins and appreciated being there. And then getting the news that I’m going to be an Eagle and understanding what comes with that and understanding where this team is and just wanting to be a part of this team, [going to] put my head down and get to work.

Q: Why do you think they traded you?
Ajayi:
 I have no idea.

Q: What do you expect your role to be?
Ajayi:
 I think that’s the coach’s decision to make on that, but for me personally in our running back room, just go inside there and [we're going to] push each other to be great. Myself personally, I strive to be great every day and I’m excited to come into this talented room and join these running backs and achieving our goal of helping this team win the Super Bowl.

Q: A lot of anonymous allegations and accusations critical of you started coming out of Miami the last couple days. What was your reaction to all of that?
Ajayi:
 Those things that are out there, I can only speak on how I view myself. I view myself as a team guy. I’m excited to be on the Eagles, excited for this opportunity. That stuff is in the past. I woke up today as a Philadelphia Eagle and I’m very excited about that.

Q: Do the comments bother you?
Ajayi:
 It is what it is. It’s a business, and at the end of the day I can just say I respect the Dolphins for giving me the opportunity to chase my dream of being in the NFL. And I can say I respect all my teammates. I love those guys. Bled. Fought. Won a lot of games with them and enjoyed my time as a Miami Dolphin. At the end of the day, God has another plan for me, and that’s to be with the Philadelphia Eagles. We’re 7-1 and I’m excited about that, and the opportunity to go get this thing, and just here to be a part of that, however the coaching staff wants to use me.

Q: What are your thoughts about running backs coach Duce Staley, who you met during joint practices over the summer?
Ajayi:
 I was just talking with Coach Duce. It’s ironic that I’m here, even though we got to see each other earlier this year during training camp and we even spoke very briefly in passing in training camp. For him to be my running backs coach, I’m very excited about that opportunity. Somebody that I looked at when I was starting to even follow football, I can remember the name Duce Staley as a Philadelphia Eagles running back. For him to be my running backs coach, I’m excited. Knowing he’ll be able to bring the best out of me.

Q: There was a report that the Dolphins don't think your knee will hold up long term. How is your knee?
Ajayi:
 My knee’s doing good. Just staying diligent with it. Having a good plan with the training staff, having a good plan with the coaches. Just have to stay with it.

Q: How's your blitz pick-up? Can you be a guy who can be on the field on passing downs?
Ajayi:
 Definitely, I view myself as a three-down guy (see film study). A guy who can be counted on to do anything that the offense needs me to do. I’m excited to be able to do that role here as well. Just continue to work on my craft, whether it’s blocking, catching the ball out the backfield or running hard for this team. I’m ready to do anything.

Q: Carson (Wentz) said he spoke to you after he heard about the trade. What was that conversation like?
Ajayi:
 He just basically expressed his excitement to get me out here and get ready to keep this thing rolling. That was warming for me to get the quarterback and some of the guys to send a text and to tweet, so that was really cool. And then just being able to be around him today and even just from watching his game throughout this season, you can tell he’s a special guy, a special talent. I’m excited to be in the backfield with him.

Q: How do things stand between you and LeGarrette Blount?
Ajayi:
 Me and L.B. have actually had a good relationship through passing on playing games when he was on the Patriots to even when we were out here for joint practices. So I’ve been able to build a little bit of a respect relationship with him, and we’ve had conversations here and there. Now being a teammate, it’s just a really cool dynamic now, and it’s fresh, all of us in the running backs room are all trying to feel each other out, especially with me being the new guy. I’m just trying to join whatever they’ve got going and not try to be a distraction or anything, just try to be a help. I think it’s a great dynamic in that RB room.

Q: How's your understanding of the offense after one day?
Ajayi:
 It’s been good. I’ve been able to have a lot of good meetings with Coach Staley. We’ve been talking about the offense, going through the playbook and really it’s just about just getting comfortable. That’s what it comes down to. Getting on the field. The coaches getting comfortable in me knowing the plays. So right now it’s just about getting comfortable in the playbook and getting comfortable with my teammates and being able to do that.

Q: Before the trade, Dolphins coach Adam Gase criticized you for trying to hit home runs instead of running in a disciplined style and taking what the defense gives you. What was your reaction to that?
Ajayi:
 I think that my style is my style. I don’t think it’s a style of always looking to bounce. I think it’s taking what the defense gives you and even creating things if there’s nothing there. I think that’s a lot of my style, being able to break tackles, [play] downhill, and make big plays for the team. I don’t think that’s going to change. Definitely always want to be able to hit the right reads and make the right decisions on the field. At the end of the day, I’m a downhill runner looking to make big plays for this team and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.

Q: What have the last 24 hours been like?
Ajayi:
 It's been crazy. Never thought I would be traded. It’s something new, a little bit of a new challenge, new adversity, but I feel like I’m built for it. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career and I’m excited to have this as a positive. I’m excited to be here in Philly. I think it’s time for a new opportunity for me and I’m embracing it and just excited to be here.

Q: You caught 50 passes your last year at Boise but only had 48 catches in three years in Miami. Can you be a viable receiver in the NFL?
Ajayi:
 Always working on my craft. This past offseason, really worked hard on doing a lot of route running and really being able to be a good pass catcher and understanding that if that’s something we need to be able to do here, I can do that and be an option at all times on the field.

Q: How different is the offense here than Miami?
Ajayi:
 We did a lot of different schemes [in Miami], to be honest, ran a lot of different styles of runs, which is why I feel like I’m very versatile and I can do a lot of different things. Here we actually do a lot of similar things to what I did in Miami. In a way it's a little bit different, some of the little tendencies here and there, but it's nothing too out of the ordinary for me, so it's just about putting it in those same terms that I can remember and I'll know it down pat and getting comfortable doing it over and over, and that way I can get used to this offense.

Eagles have liked Jay Ajayi since August

Eagles have liked Jay Ajayi since August

The Eagles had a pretty close look at Jay Ajayi just a few months ago when the Dolphins were in town for joint practices in August. 

And they liked what they saw. 

"He's one of the guys that when we came back after those practices, we said, 'That's our kind of guy,'" Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Tuesday. "He's got the mentality that we're looking for. He brings the presence and he plays the kind of way we want to play and we want to represent our football team with and our fans with."

While Roseman said the Eagles didn't have a sense that Ajayi would be available for a trade just a couple months later, the Eagles did use those practices to scout the Dolphins. So they watched Ajayi, came away impressed and tucked that information away. 

They brought it back out on Monday when they began discussing a trade that would bring the running back to Philly. The move, which sends a fourth-rounder next year back to Miami, was completed on Tuesday.

While the Eagles were impressed with what they saw from Ajayi on the practice field in August, they couldn't possibly have seen inside the Miami locker room through the first seven games of this season. According to a report from the Miami Herald, Ajayi had become a chemistry problem, even storming out of the locker room after wins because he didn't get enough carries. 

For a team with a head coach who, as recently as Monday, was concerned about negatively affecting the chemistry of a 7-1 team with a new face, this could seem like a pretty big problem. 

But the Eagles did their homework, Roseman said, and came away feeling good about the move. 

"We weren't going to bring anyone here that would disrupt team chemistry," Roseman said. "We feel very confident and comfortable about the player."

A couple times on Tuesday, Roseman mentioned "trust" when talking about making deals with Miami. The Dolphins are run by Roseman's friend Mike Tannenbaum, and it was their close relationship that helped the Eagles make the move from 13 to 8 in the 2016 draft. 

So when the Eagles made the decision to go ahead with the trade on Tuesday, they probably leaned on the information they gathered from the Dolphins as well as their own talks with Ajayi, who they interviewed at the 2015 combine. Ajayi was a fifth-round pick out of Boise State. 

Another major question mark about Ajayi is his health. He has struggled with knee issues dating back to college and the pre-draft process, and those issues aren't past him. He has been listed on the Dolphins' injury report this season. As of Tuesday afternoon, Ajayi still needed to pass a physical. 

Even if Ajayi's knees don't make him a candidate to fill the void at running back for the long term, he can at least help the Eagles make a Super Bowl push over the next two seasons. He's just 24 — as Roseman eagerly pointed out a few times on Tuesday — and is cheap for the rest of this season and next. 

After a Pro Bowl season last year, Ajayi's 2017 hasn't gotten off to a great start. He's averaging just 3.37 yards per carry this year, the second-worst average among backs with at least 100 carries. Even taking the Dolphins' poor offensive line into account, there has been a pretty clear numbers drop for Ajayi this season with two pretty notable exceptions. 

"I think you look at the Chargers game and the Falcons game and you could argue he put the team on his back," Roseman said of Ajayi's two 100-yard rushing performances in 2017. "That was this season."

What the Eagles can hope is that he returns to the form that sent him to the Pro Bowl in 2016. He was great last season, rushing for over 1,200 yards and averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. He averaged 3.46 yards per attempt after contact. 

His yards after contact average from last year is actually better than his yards per attempt average through seven games in 2017. 

But if the Eagles can get the 2016 version of Ajayi, they got a steal. 

"This is a physical, downhill running back, he can run after contact, he can make people miss," Roseman said. 

Sure, adding a piece to a team that is already in control of the NFC East and is the frontrunner to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs is a risk. Chemistry is a real concern and it's why Doug Pederson seemed so hesitant on Monday. 

The Eagles are in a unique position at 7-1 and maybe acquiring Ajayi will help them get to the Super Bowl and bring the city its first major football championship in over half a century. For a fourth-round pick, the Eagles took that gamble. 

"I think you take into account where you are," Roseman said. "It's certainly different when you're 7-1 than if you're having a losing season. But at the same time, we're not going to do anything that puts us in a bad spot going forward. Again, a big part of this trade, this is a 24-year-old back that's not just on a one-year deal. But if there are opportunities to improve our team and improve where we're at, we have a responsibility to the people on the field, the people off the field, our fans, to evaluate everything."

Fantasy football impact of Jay Ajayi trade

Fantasy football impact of Jay Ajayi trade

The Eagles' acquisition of Jay Ajayi has pretty big fantasy implications in Philly, Miami and for anyone who has a running back from one of the two teams.

Let's dive in:

Jay Ajayi
For me, this move does not alter Ajayi's rest-of-season stock much. Yes, he's moving to a much better offense, but he'll also be giving up the volume he had in Miami.

In seven games this season, Ajayi has averaged 22 touches (20 carries, two catches). Aside from quarterback runs, 86 percent of Miami's carries this season came from Ajayi.

The Eagles have been much more balanced on the ground. They've had 202 carries from non-quarterbacks and LeGarrette Blount has led the way with 100.

Now, part of the reason the Eagles have handed the ball off to so many different backs is that they've lacked a true No. 1. Ajayi is closer to a No. 1 than anyone on the roster. He figures to get more than the 50 percent of carries that Blount has accrued. But Ajayi's number won't be anywhere close to the 86 percent of carries he was getting in Miami.

The assumption here is that Ajayi receives about 60 percent of the Eagles' running back touches from here on out. He'll need to pick up the offense and he'll need to impress in pass blocking. At the goal line or in short yardage, Blount will still get his carries; that's what he is here for.

So really, Ajayi's fantasy outlook is close to unchanged. He's in a better situation to put up points but won't have the bell cow status he had in Miami. Fewer touches but better touches.

The thing is, Ajayi's fantasy owners are so frustrated with him at this point (no touchdowns, 3.4 yards per carry) that they'll welcome any change.

LeGarrette Blount
This obviously downgrades Blount the rest of the season. He's still a touchdown-dependent RB2 or flex option, but now you won't be able to count on him reaching 15 carries or 50 yards on a weekly basis. 

For Blount, though, the downgrade is slight. His only path to fantasy points is with 1-yard TDs, which are unpredictable — you can't exactly forecast when a pass interference call is going to occur in the end zone.

Blount averaged 8.65 fantasy points per week the first eight games. I'd peg his weekly average moving forward at 5.5 to 6.5.

Kenyan Drake, Damien Williams
Folks will rush out this week to grab both of the Dolphins' remaining running backs. At this point in the season, free-agent auction bucks aren't as valuable, so if you're really hurting at RB, you might as well spend some dough on one of them.

Drake is listed as the No. 2 running back, but Williams has been Miami's preferred option in passing situations. Given how awful the Dolphins' offense is, neither figures to make much of a fantasy impact moving forward.

One final note
Jarvis Landry appears to be very available in a trade before today's 4 p.m. deadline. He's in the final year of his rookie deal and will command mega-bucks in free agency so the Dolphins would be wise to get something in return for him.

A trade to literally anywhere in the NFL except Cleveland (or maybe Baltimore) would put Landry in a better fantasy situation.

And even if Landry stays in Miami, his situation is a little better for the rest of the season. With a weaker running game, Miami will be forced to involve him even more with short passes.

Here's a fun tweet from injured Odell Beckham Jr., a former LSU teammate of Landry's.