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Jay Ajayi set for Miami return: Will Dolphins see the J-Train get on track?

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

During the 2015 NFL Draft’s fifth round, the Miami Dolphins utilized the 149th overall pick in the three-day selection process to add Boise State running back Jay Ajayi. He did not make his NFL debut until Week 9 after having to be activated off the injured reserve list following broken ribs sustained in the preseason. He carried the ball 49 times as a rookie, picking up 187 yards with a touchdown and catching seven passes for 90 yards.

In 2016, Ajayi broke out. The J-Train carried the ball 260 times for 1,271 yards with eight touchdowns as well as 27 receptions for 151 yards. He rushed for over 200 yards three times that season, in Week 6 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the next week against the Buffalo Bills, and again in Week 15 against the Bills. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for his stellar season.

Ajayi appeared to be the running back Miami needed to lead their offense heading into 2017, but after starting seven games with 138 carries for 465 yards along with 14 receptions for 67 yards, Ajayi was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fourth-round draft choice. As part of Adam Gase’s effort to get players who fit his system and, more importantly, the ideal personality that fit with his coaching style, Ajayi was shipped off and, ultimately, won the Super Bowl with the Eagles that season.

The 2018 season for Ajayi was cut short when he tore his ACL in Week 5, limiting him to four games played with three starts, carrying the ball 45 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns and catching five passes for 20 yards. Ajayi became a free agent after the season and remained unsigned until two weeks ago, when he tried out and signed back with Philadelphia.

On Sunday, he returns to South Florida to face the Dolphins for the first time. “It’s like a nostalgic [trip],” Ajayi told the media earlier this week. “I get to remember those memories, playing there and the good things I accomplished there.”

“I would say just that 2016 season I believe it was,” Ajayi responded when asked about his favorite memories in Miami. “Accomplishing 200-yard games with them alongside with making it to the playoffs for the first time in like 10 years. We were on a roll and we had figured things out in Miami. We were competitive. It was just a fun time. I enjoyed my teammates. there was just a buzz around the city. It was a really great time to be a Dolphin. The year 2016, in my career, was one of the funnest [sic] times in my career, besides winning the Super Bowl.”

What should the Dolphins and Dolphins fans expect from a player who once wore aqua so well? Last week against the Seattle Seahawks, he saw six carries for 16 yards on eight offensive snaps. That role could expand this week, where leading Eagles rusher Jordan Howard has been ruled out of the game with a shoulder injury. Will Ajayi be an impact player today? I asked Brandon Lee Gowton, the manager of Bleeding Green Nation, SB Nation’s Eagles site, for his thoughts on Ajayi and what we should expect to see from one of only four running backs with three 200-yard rushing performances in a single season.

Ajayi finished with just 16 yards on six carries, so, [his debut was] not great. There was one moment in last week’s game where he had an opportunity to hit the hole hard and he either just didn’t or couldn’t. It looked like a play where most running backs would’ve had an explosive gain. Perhaps Ajayi is still working himself back into form after such a long layoff. There isn’t much reason to be confident in him being a reliable contributor right now. With Jordan Howard out again, Ajayi should still see a handful of carries. We’ll see if he can actually do anything with them this time.

Hopefully Ajayi’s knee injury is not an lingering issue for a player who already had suspect knees when Miami selected him in 2015. Hopefully he can find his form again and get back to looking like a dominant running back.

Just, hopefully not this week.