In his final preseason chance to impress coach Adam Gase and win the lead running back job for the Miami Dolphins Thursday, Jay Ajayi literally fumbled it away.
Ajayi, the second year back battling veteran Arian Foster, had ample chances to make a push as the Week 1 starter. He began his showcase off terribly, with a fumble on the first play of the game against the Tennessee Titans. He added a drop later. Ajayi wrapped up the contest with three carries for 13 yards, largely as a result of popping a 16-yard gainer.
But it was definitely the drop that stuck with Dolphins first-year head coach Adam Gase, following the 21-10 loss.
"I was a little disappointed that he put the ball on the ground," Gase said. "I feel like what he's shown me in the spring and in training camp as far as being a guy that is reliable in the passing game. I don't know the exact ball placement on second down – I'm not sure if it was behind him or if he dropped it – I know I have a lot of faith, even if the ball's off target, he usually makes that play. I know it's the fourth preseason (game). Everyone kind of looks at this game and shrugs their shoulders but any time you walk on that field it's important."
"I would've liked to see him not [fumble] – I don't think we saw a ball on the ground the entire preseason as far with the running backs. To have that happen, I guess I expect better from him. I have higher standards for him."
The fact that Arian Foster isn't playing tonight but Jay Ajayi is...very telling.— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) September 1, 2016
Ajayi, 23, finished the 2016 preseason with 18 rushes for 49 yards and two receptions for 12 yards. He failed to score a touchdown.
Foster, 30, had seven attempts for five rushing yards and a touchdown. He also had two receptions for 20 yards and did not turn the ball over.
Jay Ajayi drops an easy pass. Remember who told you his hands were troublesome? pic.twitter.com/ElGdSlsESm— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) September 1, 2016
Fantasy football-wise, this is going to be a situation to monitor for the entirety of the 2016 season, as neither back did enough to outright win the job this preseason. Foster brings a wealth of experience and résumé of success to Adam Gase's offense. Ajayi has familiarity with that offense's personnel, but it hasn't shown up in his production at this point. The fact that Foster sat out the Dolphins' final game could be a clue that Gase was resting him for Week 1 and just needed to see more from Ajayi to make his decision abundantly clear.
Expect Foster to see the first look Sunday, Sept. 11 against the Seattle Seahawks, who are known for attacking the football and sniffing out turnovers. It is never a good look when you show your coach that you can turn the ball over right before facing off against a stellar defensive unit. Although Foster has not blown away Gase with game production, he has shown flashes of brilliance since his free agent signing.
While neither of these running backs have the ceiling of a running back one for your squad, they both deserve a look in the later rounds. Even if Ajayi somehow asserts himself as the workhorse later in the season, expect Foster to stay valuable as a viable third-down running back and to spell Ajayi. Foster has the ceiling of a No. 2 running back this season, while Ajayi could be a running back three or even a fourth, depth option for your 2016 fantasy football team.