Futures: RB Jay Ajayi, Wild Horse or Thoroughbred?

Photo by Firelizard5. Cover photo by Jason Mrachina


Boise State RB Jay Ajayi has the talent to have the best career of any back in this stacked 2015 draft class of runners. But he’ll need at least one firm boundary before he runs free. 

By Matt Waldman

Jay Ajayi is a wild horse. Watching him gallop about the field, his gait and hips remind me of a potential thoroughbred.

No, a wild horse can’t become a thoroughbred in real life. Thanks for the reminder, Rick. It’s always swell having readers like you who point out the little things that jar your sensibility for metaphors.

Those of you thoroughbred owners who are willing to put down your snifter of cognac, recline in your leather wing back chair by the fire, and suspend disbelief for a couple of dozen paragraphs while your assistant massages your feet, maybe you’ll get past the fact that a wild horse cannot actually become a thoroughbred. Then you can appreciate the point that a thoroughbred has a few things in common with wild horses: speed, agility, and spirit.

Like a wild horse (excuse me, some wild horses), thoroughbreds are know as horses that run hot. The difference aside from breeding (thank you, Rick), thoroughbreds are tamed.

DeMarco Murray was a wild horse as a freshman at Oklahoma. By the time Murray finished his injury-riddled career with the Sooners, he no longer ran with the thrilling recklessness that defined the early days. However, the hard lessons learn made him a better runner.

Sam Gash and Earnest Byner flanked me at the fence of Senior Bowl practices and watched Murray display the patience, balance, and burst to time a crease and blow through it to the secondary against a defensive unit stacked with talent. It was Byner who punctuated that run with a one-word remark to his old friend on the other side of me. Thoroughbred.

The best NFL runners don’t always enter the league as thoroughbreds. Adrian Peterson was a wild horse if I ever saw one. I still think of this play in the 2005 Holiday Bowl against Haloti Ngata and the Oregon Ducks when I recall the state of Peterson’s game as a collegian.

As this draw play covers almost the entire width of the field, it serves as a canvas for Peterson’s speed, agility, recklessness with ball security, and willingness to risk a huge loss for a short gain. Watch most of Peterson’s college tape and there’s a primal, predator/prey vibe that comes with watching a National Geographic special.

Tell me Bo Jackson runs didn’t have a striking similarity to a pride of lions trying (and failing) to bring down a rhino.

<As our narrator says, “Even six lions don’t have the power to pull down an animal that size.” When it came to Jackson, sometimes 11 Lions, Bengals, or Giants didn’t have a chance.

One commonality with great running backs is something that my friend Sigmund Bloom defines as a 1-on-11 mentality. On any given play, the best runners not only believe that they can beat all 11 defenders if they need to, but they play as if they relish the opportunity.

Peterson, Jackson, Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Earl Campbell, and Gale Sayers all express this primal quality in their running style. Billy Sims, Gregg Pruitt, and Marshawn Lynch may never earn a bust in Canton, but they ran this way at their best, too.

We like to think that these backs ran with abandon every game and every rep. It’s because the coaches for these players knew that you don’t place a thoroughbred in a tightly fenced area. You give them strictly defined boundaries, but a hell of a lot of room to run. This is true with good management of talented employees. Want to waste a thoroughbred of a worker capable of transforming an aspect of your team, department, division, or company? Just weigh them down with process. Eighty percent of your workers might need that process to be effective, but with true talent you set wide boundaries and let them roam free. If his co-workers grow irritated, they’ll begrudgingly understand as they begin to see the results that transform the job. You don’t think some of Barry Sanders‘ runs weren’t frustrating and head-scratching for some of his offensive linemen? You live with experimentation when the talent is this strong.

Jay Ajayi is not a special back, at least not right now. He has the talent to develop into the best back of the 2015 draft class. Although not a generational talent that many of us thought Peterson was (I labeled him as such in my pre-draft analysis), Ajayi runs like a wild horse. Ajayi has the talent to develop into one of the best backs of the 2015 draft class — if not the best overall. Read the rest at Football Outsiders

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