In contract year, Eagles' Jay Ajayi at top of RB depth chart

Despite the wealth of talent in the running back room, the Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff has made it clear who sits atop the depth chart heading into the 2018 offseason: Jay Ajayi.

"Yeah, he's definitely going into camp as the No. 1 guy," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said last week during minicamp.

That's music to the ears of Ajayi, who is in a contract year and eager to get back to being a workhorse back.

"It's kind of a year and a half removed from being the guy, so I'm excited to kind of get back in that role and showcase again to the world what I can do," he said.

Ajayi hired a personal chef and brought his trainer to Philly with him this offseason in preparation for the opportunity. Pederson took notice of his efforts, saying that he arrived to spring workouts in "great shape, great health."

"He's been awesome," added assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley. "And [ever since] Jay first came here, he's been awesome. He's one of those guys that has spent a lot of time in the film room. I still remember when we got him during the week (following the trade with the Miami Dolphins). He was eager to learn, he wanted to know more. It's like he was just plugged in with no problems, and he kept getting better each week."

Ajayi averaged nearly six yards per carry in seven regular-season games for the Eagles last season. Even with that success, Pederson chose to stick with a rotation that included Corey Clement and LeGarrette Blount, who signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency this offseason.

Ajayi will still have to share the rock in 2018. Clement (4.3 yards per carry, six total TDs) has earned the trust of the coaching staff following a productive rookie season, which included a touchdown reception against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Veteran Darren Sproles is back in the mix after tearing his ACL last September, and there's a group of backs that includes Donnel Pumphrey, Matt Jones, Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams that are looking to break through as well.

The Eagles found success splitting carries between Blount (173), Clement (74) and Ajayi (70) last season, and will demand a selfless mentality out of the running back group once again.

"You have that conversation with them as soon as they walk in the door," Staley said. "You say, 'Hey, man, it's about the team. It will always be about the team. Either you are with us or against us.' And once you share that with them, you walk in the room and you see Sproles, you see Jay -- for a younger guy -- and those guys sit back and they're like, 'Whoa, if these guys are doing it, I can, too.' "

While he's unlikely to have a workload similar to 2016, when he carried the ball 260 times and finished fourth in the NFL in rushing, the Eagles clearly plan on putting the 25-year-old Ajayi out in front.

Staley sees a benefit of Ajayi "coming in knowing he's the guy, knowing he's the guy that's going to step up there and just put everything on his back," he said. "We're going to ride with him."