July 28 (UPI) -- Improved hands and an increased leadership role for the Miami Dolphins are two of the reasons you should seriously consider Jay Ajayi in the first round of your fantasy football draft.
The Dolphins have been boasting about Ajayi's manicured mitts all offseason. He dedicated hours toward improving his receiving ability to prove to coaches and teammates that he deserves to be on the field for every offensive snap. While the Dolphins brought back deep threat Kenny Stills and traded for tight end Julius Thomas this offseason, the franchise is best suited handing off the rock to No. 23. There are many mouths to feed in the Dolphins' offense, but coach Adam Gase hasn't waited to define Ajayi's role.
But he's not just looking at a huge workload - currently predicted to get 350 to 400 carries - he's toting the season's aspirations. Ajayi's taking that role seriously.
And his teammates can feel it.
"Yes, you see Jay out there just trying to lead by example," Stills said Friday at training camp in Davie, Fla. "You hear him a little bit more; he's a little bit more vocal [than last year]. It's great for us as an offense. We've got so many young guys that can do big things for this offense. Just for us to be out there and picking each other up all the time is pretty big for all of us."
Ajayi had a historic 2016, rushing for 1,271 yards and eight scores. That Pro Bowl campaign was good for third-best in Dolphins history for a single season. Ricky Williams had the other two stellar seasons.
Despite devouring yards last season, Ajayi still has room to stomach more success.
"Definitely. I'm a competitor," he said. "I'm striving to be the best. Last year was a great season. Now it's just about starting fresh and building with this team, building on this season and trying to be great."
For fantasy football sake, you might be thinking that Ajayi can't possibly produce the same amount of rushing yards he did last season. After all, he did churn up nearly half of his rushing total in three games (204 yards in Week 6, 214 yards in Week 7 and 206 yards in Week 15). But his hands could compensate for that. If Ajayi is able to add some more catches to his stat line, he can use his ability to break tackles, churning up yards after the catch, and be a consistent asset for your fantasy squad. The Dolphins were 9-1 when Ajayi had at least 19 touches in 2016, with their only loss coming in Week 16 to the New England Patriots.
But the biggest boost for Ajayi's value this season could be a healthy Mike Pouncey. The three-time Pro Bowl center played in just five games last year due to a hip issue. He had a stem-cell procedure on the area this offseason. Pouncey was medically cleared by a doctor on Tuesday and is on pace to start the Dolphins' Week 1 contest on Sept. 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In the five games Pouncey played, Ajayi averaged 21.8 carries for 130 yards and 0.8 touchdowns. The Dolphins also moved second-year lineman Laremy Tunsil back to his original position, left tackle.
With many teams going to a running back by committee in the last few years, Ajayi is in the rare spot to be the unquestionable leader of this rushing attack.
"I've been working hard on [receiving] it all offseason. It's something that I've been working to get real comfortable [with]. I believe I can do it," Ajayi said. "I know I have the skillset to do it. I'm striving to be that all-around back that never needs to come off the field. That's what I've been working on every day."