Earlier this spring, Jay Ajayi said he was looking forward to being the Eagles’ lead running back in the 2018 season.
Turns out, Duce Staley is looking forward to it too.
The Eagles’ running backs coach on Monday confirmed that Ajayi is going to take the top role for the Eagles this season, but it will be done as a part of a continuing committee.
“I think he will (be the lead back),” Staley said. “If you just go back and study us for the last couple of years. A lot of that comes from being that guy. You look at LeGarrette (Blount), he was that guy. You look at (Darren) Sproles. When we have a group of backs, we’re going to start off with a back, he’s going to go out there, he’s going to run until his tongue is hanging out and here comes the next guy.”
Ajayi, 24, is certainly excited about being back in that role. Remember, he was a Pro Bowler just a couple of seasons ago when he rushed for over 1,200 yards with the Dolphins in 2016.
Staley already liked what he saw from Ajayi in limited time last season. Ajayi was traded to the Eagles in the middle of the year but put in extra work to get caught up and saw his workload increase as the season went on.
During the regular season, Ajayi averaged 5.8 yards per carry (408 on 70) in the final seven games before the playoffs. That’s the best average per carry for an Eagles running back (minimum 50 attempts) in the modern era. And then he started the first two playoff games before Blount started in the Super Bowl.
But it was pretty clear as last season went on that Ajayi was starting to be groomed for that starter role and now with Blount gone — to Detroit in free agency — Ajayi will have the top spot.
“Him being focused coming in,” Staley said, “knowing he’s the guy that’s going to step up there and put everything on his back and we’re going to ride with him.”
Now, it’s important to remember that even though Blount was the lead back for most of the 2017 season, that didn’t mean he led the team in carries every week. Remember way back to Week 2 of the season in Kansas City when Blount didn’t have a single rushing attempt? It was a big deal at the time, but he came back and ended up averaging over 6.1 yards per carry over the following four weeks.
That’s the type of committee that makes the Eagles happy but can be a nightmare for fantasy football owners.
What's most impressive is that it appears all the Eagles’ running backs have bought into that committee — even Ajayi, who had a less-than-stellar reputation when the Eagles traded for him. Staley somehow seems to make everyone happy.
How does he do it?
“Just by telling them it’s not about them,” Staley said. “I think that’s the most important thing for them to understand. And you have that conversation with them as soon as they walk through the door. It’s not something you hold back.”