The Miami Dolphins are heading into the 2016 NFL season with a question mark at the running back position, mostly because there is not a “proven” runner on the roster. Presumed starter Jay Ajayi is entering his second NFL season after missing the first part of his rookie campaign with a rib injury. Behind him are rookie Kenyan Drake and third-year running back Damien Williams, who has the most experience among the top three runners with 52 carries for 181 yards.
Ajayi carried the ball 49 times in 2015, picking up 187 yards with a touchdown.
Miami also has their 2011 second-round pick Daniel Thomas and St. Louis Rams 2012 second-round pick Isaiah Pead on the roster, both looking to re-boot their careers.
Pro Football Focus, over the past few days, has started a look at the rosters for each team, ranking their position groups. They do not seem to like the Dolphins’ running backs, based on their 30th position ranking, but their explanation completely makes sense:
Starter: Jay Ajayi
Backups: Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake
Key stat: The three backs listed above have played a combined 484 pro snaps.
This is little more than a situation of lack of information. Jay Ajayi could be a great starting running back, it’s just impossible to tell after 49 carries as a rookie. Those 49 carries, though, were fairly impressive. On them, he broke 12 tackles and averaged 3.3 yards after contact per attempt, even though he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry—a ludicrous ratio. Kenyan Drake (Alabama) should step right in and be a competent third-down back, as well, and I would be very surprised if the Dolphins aren’t higher in the end-of-year RB rankings.
Hopefully, the Dolphins are higher in the rankings by the end of the year. The team should look to run the ball more this year than the did last year when the team appeared to give up on the ground game in the second half each week. New head coach Adam Gase should be more committed to running the ball, and the team will be looking to use the run to assist in slowing the pass rush against quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The 30th ranking seems low, at least as a Dolphins fan who expects to see a lot out of Ajayi this year, but the PFF explanation is correct. The question mark at the running back position simply makes it hard to rank the Dolphins’ running backs at this point.