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Miami Dolphins Depth Chart Projections: Running Back

Which running backs will be on the Miami Dolphins’ roster when week 1 of the 2017 NFL season comes around, and where will they place on the depth chart?

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason is a magical time in the NFL. All players are “in the best shape of their lives” and every single coach is going to “create a winning culture.” All teams are “poised to make a playoff run,” and perennial losing clubs are “finally ready to turn things around.”

That being said, the offseason is also a time when coaches need to make the tough decisions about who is going to make their team’s roster. No matter how much talent a front office brings in through free agency and the draft, cuts are inevitable. An offseason roster of 90 players will eventually have to be trimmed down to the best 53, and outside of a team’s top players, there are never guarantees as to who will make the cut.

This offseason, I am running a series of depth chart projections, breaking down Miami’s roster by position and predicting who will make it to week 1 of the 2017 season. Today, we review the running backs.


Jay Ajayi

Kenyan Drake

Damien Williams

Storm Johnson

Senorise Perry

De’Veon Smith (R)

Roster Locks

Jay Ajayi

Last season, the Jay Train proved how wrong so many NFL teams were in letting him fall to the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. After being forced to sit out during Miami’s week 1 loss to Seattle last year, Ajayi found his spark, starting 12 games once the venerable Arian Foster chose to retire midway through the season. Despite only starting three quarters of the season, Ajayi racked up 1,272 yards at a healthy 4.9 yards per carry on top of 8 rushing touchdowns. What really made the ferocious power back a household name was his breakout during week 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ajayi’s 200 yard pounding helped Miami turn around their season, and was followed up by two more 200 yard outings, both against the division rival Buffalo Bills. Now the unquestioned starter, all Dolphins fans should be excited to see Ajayi continue to smash through defenses in 2017.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 100%

Probable Backups

Kenyan Drake

Drake made an immediate impact in his rookie season, accumulating 179 yards at 5.4 yards per carry and recording 3 touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 returning). His 96-yard kick return touchdown against the New York Jets in week 9 helped seal a win for Miami and exemplified just how fast and athletic the young running back is. If you want another example, just take a look at his 45-yard touchdown run against the Buffalo Bills in week 16. There’s no other way to say it: this guy is fast. Whenever he came into a game, he brought with him the potential for an explosive play.

This offseason, Head Coach Adam Gase explained his desire to develop Drake into an all-around running back. Gase said that he sees Drake as the kind of player who is ready to step up at any moment. Gase also stated during the NFL Scouting Combine back in March that he’s always trying to find ways to get both Drake and fellow backup Damien Williams into the game to make contributions as often as possible. With Drake’s knack for making big plays and the way Gase has spoken about him since being drafted, I foresee Drake becoming more and more involved in Miami’s offense over the coming season even though Ajayi will almost certainly get the lion’s share of the carries.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 99%

Damien Williams

Over three seasons as a Miami Dolphin, Williams has been a very reliable backup to Lamar Miller, Arian Foster, and Jayi Ajayi. He’s developed into a solid pass blocker and red-zone threat, often entering the game when Miami is within reach of the endzone. Williams has also proven to be a weapon in the passing game, catching 23 passes for 249 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2017. Unfortunately, Williams has often been subpar when it comes to consistency in his running game. He’s averaged 3.4, 3.7, and 3.3 yards per carry respectively over the past three seasons, with a career long rush of 23 yards.

This apparent lack of explosiveness could very well be the reason that Miami was hesitant to reward Williams with the long-term extension he desired this offseason, as the team instead resorted to hitting him with an RFA tender. There is little doubt that Williams will continue to have a spot in the running back rotation, but he could see a reduced role if Ajayi and Drake continue to develop.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 99%

Must Impress

De’Veon Smith (R)

The Dolphins ended last year with just three running backs on the roster, but I think De’Veon Smith has an opportunity to force the team to consider holding onto a fourth. I explained in an article just over a month ago that Smith is closest I’ve seen to a Jay Ajayi clone (both in size and play style), and it’s no coincidence that the Dolphins went after him following the draft. Unfortunately, when a running back runs with the ferociousness and aggressiveness of Ajayi and is asked to be a primary running back, carrying the ball 20+ times per game, their body is bound to get pretty beat up. Should Miami need a replacement power runner for any amount of time during the season, Smith would be a solid fallback option.

In his film, Smith displays the strength to run through defenders, the awareness to hit the right holes at the line of scrimmage, and even decent hands with the occasional reception. He’s definitely not surpassing Drake or Williams on the depth chart any time soon, but if he displays the traits that made him successful at Michigan during training camp and preseason games, Gase may be impressed enough to sacrifice a roster spot for the undrafted rookie.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 40%

Training Camp Bodies

Senorise Perry

Perry was signed by the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent following the 2014 NFL Draft. He never carried the ball as a running back in regular season play, but was a key contributor on special teams, leading the team in special teams tackles on top of forcing two fumbles. He then spent the entire 2015 season on injured reserve and was waived in 2016. He spent a few weeks on Chicago’s practice squad before being released, after which he was signed to Miami’s practice squad.

Despite not being able to demonstrate his rushing skills in Chicago, Perry displayed a good blend of speed and toughness in three seasons at Louisville. He averaged 5.2 and 4.8 yards per carry respectively over his junior and senior seasons, accumulating 1,382 rushing yards over that span. He will have a very difficult time making the team solely based off of his running talent, but could push for a roster spot if the coaches are overwhelmed by his special teams ability.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 15%

Storm Johnson

Johnson was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014, after which he played in six games before being released in September of 2015. In August of 2016, Johnson signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before being released three days later. In November of last season, Johnson was signed to Miami’s practice squad and signed a reserve/future contract with the Dolphins in January.

In his time at UCF, Johnson was a productive ball carrier who displayed strength on inside runs and elusiveness on the outside. He definitely has the physical traits to become a depth runner on an NFL team, but his lack of pass protection skills and disappointing performance during his short time in the league will give him a tough time making the team.

Chance of making the 53 man roster: 10%

Projected 2017 Running Back Depth Chart

  1. Jay Ajayi
  2. Kenyan Drake
  3. Damien Williams
  4. De’Veon Smith

Current Depth Chart Projections

As we move through this series, I will keep a running list of past projections. By the time roster cuts roll around, we will have a full depth chart projection for the 2017 season.


Running Back

  1. Jay Ajayi
  2. Kenyan Drake
  3. Damien Williams
  4. De’Veon Smith (R)

Wide Receiver

  1. Jarvis Landry
  2. DeVante Parker
  3. Kenny Stills
  4. Leonte Carroo
  5. Jakeem Grant
  6. Isaiah Ford (R)

Tight End

Offensive Line

Defensive Line



  1. Kiko Alonso
  2. Neville Hewitt


  1. Lawrence Timmons
  2. Mike Hull


  1. Raekwon McMillan
  2. Koa Misi
  3. Deon Lacey



Special Teams

Current Roster Spots Occupied: 17