The Miami Dolphins placed rookie running back Jay Ajayi on the Reserve/Injured (Designated for Return) list at the start of the season, sidelining the fifth-round pick after he broke ribs during the team's fourth preseason game. Teams may use the Designated for Return IR option one time a season, for players with major injuries but who will be able to return at some point during the year. The player can return to the team for practice after six weeks on the list, and can be activated after eight weeks on the list. Heading into a Week 9 contest against the Buffalo Bills, Miami could activate Ajayi as early as this weekend, but they do not seem to have decided exactly when they will make that move.
"We are just slowly getting him back, I guess is the best way to say that," Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell said on Wednesday. "He’s got some good practice time in really over, I guess this would be about a week and a half now. He’s improving. That’s what’s encouraging. He is improving every day. Now that decision, if it’s made, won’t be for a while. But certainly we are looking at him. We’re looking at everybody. That’s what I would tell you. He’s improving right now."
Dolphins starting running back Lamar Miller is currently 16th in the league in rushing yards with 434 so far this season. He is fourth in the league in yards per carry, averaging 5.5 yards every time he touches the ball, and he has the longest rush of the year thus far, an 85-yard touchdown. Activating Ajayi would not supplant Miller as the team's starter, but it could give them another option when it comes to the ground game.
The Dolphins have used a combination of Jonas Gray and Damien Williams behind Miller this season. Gray, who appears to have cemented his role as the team's second string running back and third-down option, at least until Ajayi is ready to assume that role, has 122 yards on 31 carries, giving him a 3.9 yards per carry average, while Williams has 46 yards on 11 carries this year, averaging 4.2 yards per attempt.
The Dolphins seem to be erring on the side of caution when it comes to getting Ajayi back. "I guess we have basically another week or over until we have to absolutely make a decision," Campbell added. "But at this point we can if we would like to activate him this week he will be eligible to do that. We don’t want to do it right now until we know for sure."
If the Dolphins intend to use Ajayi this weekend against the Bills, they have until Saturday to make the roster move. The team would have to release a player to make space for Ajayi if they decided to activate him.
Ajayi was projected as a first-round potential in the 2015 NFL Draft, but fell to the fifth round over concerns about the health of his knee. At Boise State in 2014, Ajayi ran for 1,823 yards with 32 touchdowns. He rushed for 16 carries for 91 yards in the preseason before landing on the IR list.
There is a lot of hype surrounding Ajayi, who could turn into a great rushing threat for Miami. He has the potential and does run like a first-round draft choice. The concerns over his knee were for the long-term, second-contract window, so picking him up in the fifth-round of the Draft could be a huge steal for Miami. It is now just a matter of the team feeling comfortable with his health and how ready he is for game action.
Activating Ajayi for this weekend would make sense, even if it just to get him a couple of carries in the game. It will at least get him the experience and get him hit for the first time since the preseason. The Dolphins have no reason to admit they are going to activate Ajayi this early in the week, so they could talk about waiting to see how he progresses now, then make the roster move on Friday or Saturday. They could still have real concerns about Ajayi's ability to be ready for the game or about his health, but they could also just be slow playing the activation.
Whatever the case, the Dolphins could be getting ready to add another option to the offense. He may not be an immediate home-run hitter, but Ajayi could be a spark to the rushing attack for Miami.