DAVIE, Fla. -- One year ago the Miami Dolphins were very excited to land running back Jay Ajayi in the fifth round of the NFL draft. The former Boise State product had a monster college career -- rushing for 3,796 yards and 55 total touchdowns -- but concerns over multiple knee injuries greatly impacted his draft stock.
The Dolphins believed they potentially landed a future starter -- and the time is now to prove it.
Ajayi will enter the season as the hands-down favorite to replace starter Lamar Miller, who bolted to the Houston Texans in free agency. The spotlight is now on Ajayi to become the centerpiece of Miami's running game after he posted just 187 rushing yards and one touchdown as a rookie.
"Everyone else has opinions on what I can do and if I'm worthy enough, and I know how good I am," Ajayi said. "I know how great I can be. That's my mentality coming in, day in and day out -- to work, so that when I step out on that field, I can produce the way I know that I can and be the great back that I know I can be."
Ajayi showed several flashes last year when he rushed for 41 and 48 yards in his first two games. After that, his production tailed off as Miami's offense struggled overall during an abysmal 6-10 season.
This offseason Ajayi worked on being more patient and elusive as a runner now that his carries will significantly increase.
"I feel like the game has definitely slowed down a lot more for me," Ajayi said of entering his second season. "It's now working on the details, working on consistency. That's really what I'm harping on -- being a lot more consistent with my game."
Ajayi's biggest strengths are his size and physicality. He attacks the line of scrimmage and tries to push the pile when holes aren't there.
The Dolphins' new-look offense under rookie head coach Adam Gase will try to spread out defenses and create creases for Ajayi and other running backs.
"We're going to open up the holes for him and he's going to hit it. I'm not worried about him tiptoeing through the hole," Dolphins left tackle Branden Albert said of Ajayi. "He's going to put his head down, find the hole and he's going to get through there. We need someone else to step up in the running game too and run the ball."
Albert is correct. Most teams need at least two capable running backs to be successful on offense. The Dolphins are lacking in proven depth behind Ajayi and need someone to step up as the No. 2 option.
Among the candidates competing to back up Ajayi are rookie third-round pick Kenyan Drake and veterans Daniel Thomas, Isaiah Pead and Damien Williams. Drake has the most upside and versatility as a dual threat who can run and catch out of the backfield. He also has the potential to return kicks.
However, barring any late additions, the biggest responsibility rests with Ajayi, who must prove he can carry the load in Miami.
"I don't want to be a hindrance to this team," Ajayi said. "I want to be a contributor, a guy that makes big plays for this team and scores touchdowns."