1 V 1 RB Edition: Jay Ajayi Vs Jordan Howard
In this series I'm going to compare two similarly ranked and drafted running backs putting them up against each other, comparing them in a variety of categories such as 2016 stats, quality of offensive line, draft pedigree, age, combine results, measurables, teams time of possession, percentage of rushing attempts, snaps played, PFF grades, and depth chart competition. In an attempt to determine which of the two players will be the superior dynasty asset. In this edition I'm going to compare two polarizing running backs who both managed to slide to day three of their drafts. While researching these two players I was astounded at the similarities between Ajayi and Howard, it's going to be very difficult to determine which one of these two will be the better dynasty player for your team.
The similarities begin with their 2016 stats, Ajayi rushed 260 times gaining 1272 yards for an average of 4.9 yards per carry with 8 touchdowns. He also added 27 receptions on 35 targets for 151 yards, and an average of 5.6 yards per reception. Last season Ajayi was graded as PFF's 4th overall ranked running back with an impressive grade of 87.5, I currently have Ajayi as my 5th ranked dynasty running back . In 2016 Howard rushed 252 times for 1313 yards averaging 5.2 yards per carry, with 6 touchdowns, adding 29 receptions on 50 targets for 298 yards and 1 touchdown, averaging 10.3 yards per reception. Howard is ranked as my 9th overall running back. Advantage: Ajayi
A big part of running back success is tied to the quality of a teams offensive line, as we have seen time and time again a serviceable running back with a top notch offensive line can have comparable stats with a much better running back with a questionable offensive line. This was the only category when comparing these two where I discovered a distinct advantage for one of them. Last season Chicago graded out as the 15th best offensive line and is projected to be a top 5 O-line in 2017 by PFF. Miami was the 30th ranked offensive line in 2016 and is only projected to move up 4 positions this season to occupy the 26th spot., which isn't what Ajayi owners wanted to hear. One positive for Ajayi is that Miami should be playing significantly more in 2017 from a positive game script than Chicago will be. Last season Miami averaged 28:41 time of possession, while rushing the ball on 43.8% of plays, while Chicago possessed the ball 28:06 per game and ran the ball on 39.3% of plays. It's pretty difficult to imagine almost any scenario where Chicago manages to have a better season than Miami, realistically Chicago is likely drafting in the top ten next year, if not top five. Advantage: Howard
When it comes to age, measurables, combine results, and draft pedigree, it appears these two are nearly identical in every one of these comparisons. Currently Ajayi is 24 years old and roughly a year and a half older than Howard and that's really all that separates them in this category. They are essentially the same size with Howard listed at 6'1, 222 lbs, and Ajayi coming in at 6'0, 224. There combine numbers are also eerily similar Ajayi ran a 4.57 40, to Howard's 4.59. Howard jumped 122 inches in the broad edging out Ajayi by 1”. Ajayi had an explosive 39'' vert, out jumping Howard by a full 3”. Of course they were only selected one pick apart all be it in different drafts, Ajayi was drafted in the 2015 NFL draft with the 13th pick of the 5th round 149th overall, Howard went one pick later at 150th overall but in the 2016 draft, he was drafted with the 11th pick of the 5th round. Advantage: Tie
Unsurprisingly they played nearly the same snaps last season with Ajayi playing 624 snaps, 62 of which were in pass protection and Howard playing 654 snaps 63 in pass pro. Howard had the edge in pass protection grades last season with a very impressive 80.7 grade, compared to Ajayi's uninspiring 50.4 pass protection grade. There are also similarities regarding their depth charts, they are both the unquestioned number one running back on their teams, and neither team signed any serious competition for touches. All either team really has behind Howard and Ajayi are smaller pass catching backs, more suited for a change of pace roll, although a case can be made for Kenyan Drake to potentially carve out a bigger role moving forward, behind him it's only only Damien Williams. Howard will likely be off the field on most 3rd downs as Tarik Cohen is an excellent pass catching back and Benny Cunningham is also a capable pass catcher. In 2016 Howard lead all running backs in dropped catchable passes with 8, now that may not seem like many drops but that equates to 16% of his overall targets he just flat out dropped. Which probably explains the 5th round pick spent on pass catching back Tarik Cohen who caught 98 passes throughout his college career, and the signing of Benny Cunningham who often worked as the 3rd down back behind Todd Gurley last year. Advantage: Ajayi
When I started researching these two running backs I assumed that it was going to be advantage Ajayi pretty easily, somewhat writing Howard off due to his “lack of receiving ability”. I honestly didn't realize that Howard was not only targeted more often in the passing game than Ajayi, but had nearly double the receiving yards, which bodes well for a player on a team that will be playing from behind a lot in 2017, if he's the guy catching those passes. It can't be forgotten that Ajayi slipped several rounds in the 2015 draft due to a bone on bone degenerative knee condition, many had him ranked as the third overall running back in that class behind only Gurley and Gordon based on talent alone. Based on everything I learned about these two talented young backs, it's nearly impossible to decide on which one of them has the advantage as far as being the better long term dynasty asset. I'm giving the very slight advantage to Ajayi but it really comes down to personal preference, and since fantasy football is all about the fun of the game, and watching football on Sundays, you might as well just select whichever of these talented running backs you enjoy watching more. Winner: Jay Ajayi