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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: Boise St. RB Jay Ajayi

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at Boise St. RB Jay Ajayi

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Ajayi redshirted as a freshman at Boise State in 2011, in part due to disciplinary problems (he was arrested for stealing shirts) and a knee injury. As a result, Ajayi was almost dismissed, spending over a year in the coaches' doghouse. To his credit, however, he worked hard off the field and made the most of his second chance. The following season, still in the doghouse, he served in a backup role, playing in eleven games and averaging  a healthy 6.68 yards per carry. In 2013, he earned a starting role, and finished with 1,425 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, earning All-Mountain West Conference first-team honors.

In 2014, he built on his excellent sophomore campaign, setting school records for rushing yards (1,823), carries (347), touches (397), all-purpose yardage (2,358), rushing touchdowns (28) and 100-yard rushing performances (10). After becoming the only player in FBS history with 1,800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a single season, Ajayi earned third-team AP All-American and first-team All-MWC laurels.

Ajayi boasts an impressive combination of balance and power. He stays on his feet in traffic and uses his low center of gravity to bounce off contact and keep the pile moving. Plus, he shows surprising acceleration, allowing him to make explosive plays once he gets to the second level. He's also effective in the passing game, especially on screens and hitches. As a receiver, he is able to adjust to the ball and make secure catches with soft hands. The only check-mark on the negative side of his ledges is ball security; he had eleven fumbles in the last two seasons.

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at Ajayi's measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss SPARQ (%)
6' 0" 221 32" 10" 4.57 1.60 19 39" 121" 7.10 4.10 127.6 (69.2)

And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

And over at Draft Breakdown, they have seven of Ajayi's games on tap for you to enjoy. Check him out against Colorado State, when we went a cool 33-219, or in the Fiesta Bowl against Arizona (22-134). How did he fare against one of the nation's top defenses? Against Ole Miss he carried 20 times for 86 yards. Click on the links to watch the videos.

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Ajayi:

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 6th-ranked ; 58th overall:

Competitiveness: Outstanding competitiveness and toughness as a runner. Would have elite grade in this category if not for ball security problems. Has a 1.6-percent fumble ratio on 751 career offensive touches, which is way below average for the position. And seven of 12 career fumbles were during his final season (2014), so ball security declined later in career.

Vision/Patience: Good overall vision and patience as a runner. Waits for blocks to develop but doesn't dance. Is an aggressive runner. Attacks the creases when it opens. Senses cutback lanes and has lateral quickness to exploit. Occasionally will get greedy and try to bounce outside, rather than taking his medicine.

Agility/Acceleration: Agile, shifty runner with very quick feet for size. Very effective stop-start and jump-cut moves. Outstanding lateral agility. Can string together multiple moves. Shows ability to make defenders miss in tight spaces. Accelerates off plant foot and can reach top speed in a hurry. Shows acceleration to turn corner as outside runner. Very effective spin move. Top end speed is not elite but he does show a second gear and can bounce inside runs to the perimeter once he reaches second level.

Power/Balance: Has good size and runs hard. Runs behind his pads and shows good initial pop. Pinball type runner with outstanding natural balance to bounce off defenders (who don't wrap) and spin for extra yards at end of runs. However, he does not have great lower-body strength to drive through contact. The more tape studied, the more apparent it is that he fails to break enough tackles in one-on-one opportunities. Not a great short-yardage runner and not a great pile pusher.

Passing Game: Productive as a pass catcher (77 receptions in last two seasons at Boise State). Natural pass catcher with good body control, hand-eye coordination and overall ball skills. Good route runner for position. Comfortable in space. Transitions upfield quickly after catch and is a threat in open-field with ball in his hands. Adequate in pass pro, showing significant improvement this past season. Has size and willingness to continue to improve. But still needs to do a better job sustaining blocks.

Intangibles: Was arrested for stealing sweatpants in 2011, and was later sentenced to five days in jail. Was given a second-chance and took full advantage. Matured tremendously during four years at Boise State. Developed into a good student and was two-time Academic All-Mountain West. Self-motivator. Driven individual. Majored in Marketing. Born in London, England to Nigerian parents. Moved to Maryland in fourth grade (in 2000).Eventually moved to Texas, where he attended Frisco Liberty High School. Grew up playing soccer and was seriously considering playing professional soccer (Nigerian National team wanted him to try out for team), but chose football over soccer in high school. Comes from a supportive two-parent home. Will become the seventh former Boise State running back selected in NFL Draft history, including most recently Doug Martin (Buccaneers, 1st round 2012).

Dane Brugler (CBSSports.com) 3rd-ranked RB; 41st overall:

Strengths: Workable body type with adequate upper- and lower-body bulk. Quick-footed and nimble to control his acceleration with burst and wheels to finish runs. Explosive cuts with springs in his legs to launch off his plant foot and get upfield with forward momentum. Athletic lateral jump cuts to escape trouble. Limber and flexible body type with rubber joints to be slippery at the tackle point. Runs low and close to the ground with balance and proper pad level to work off contact. Refuses to go down easy and uses every ounce of power to push forward. Improved vision to cut-and-go with quick eyes to read blocks and trust the play design. Good patience to allow the action to develop and doesn't run hesitant. Athletic pass catcher to make errant throws look like routine catches with soft hands, collecting himself well after the grab to turn downfield. Experienced lining up out wide and running routes. Tough, hungry and competitive, attacking the teeth of defenses and popping up after big hits. Understands situations and knows where the sticks are. High-effort player and carries himself with a chip on his shoulder, playing motivated to prove people wrong and preparing the same way. Highly productive career, including a record-breaking junior season in 2014, becoming the first player in FBS history to rush for 1,800-plus yards and collect 500-plus receiving yards.

Weaknesses: Has added bulk to his frame and runs hard, but lacks ideal power to consistently run through arm tackles as an inside runner. Needs to break more tackles and not allow ankle biters to bring him down. Relies too much on bouncing runs outside and will get himself in trouble trying to string runs out. Plays too fast at times and needs to better avoid bodies in tight spaces. Good, but not great, speed and can be caught from behind. Prefers to run away from contact at times and will lose yardage. Needs to improve his ball security with 12 career fumbles (seven lost). Appears to wear down late in games, taking a lot of hits in Boise State's offense with a heavy volume of touches the past two seasons. Needs work in pass protection with his technique and strength to sustain both lacking. Some past character issues that need vetted, including an Oct. 2011 arrest for stealing sweatpants from a Wal-Mart near campus (plead guilty to misdemeanor, served five days in jail and eight hours of classes) -- banned from 2011 bowl game, suspended for the 2012 season opener and was forced to work his way back into the good graces of the coaches. Shredded his right knee in Oct. 2011 and has dealt with other minor injuries. Soccer was his first love and he considered going that direction after high school to play overseas.

Compares to: Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans -- Like the first running back drafted in the 2014 class, Ajayi has a balanced skill-set as a ballcarrier and receiver with the ability to make defenders miss and create his own yardage.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 4th-ranked RB; 39th overall:

Strengths: Good size and great feet. Former soccer player with sudden feet. Able to string together multiple moves at a time. Varies speeds as a runner and can call on second gear when he sees daylight. Hips and feet always in sync thanks to soccer background. Shows enough wiggle to make defenders miss and can create and improvise if creases aren't offering much. Runs with wide base and generates leg drive to push. Plays with bend and bursts through the hole with low pad level. Reliable yards-after-contact back. Accelerates into contact on second level. True weapon out of backfield with adequate hands and good feel for maximizing each catch in space. Twists and turns and fights to fall forward. Asked to be physical, downhill runner between tackles and he obliged. Shows good blitz recognition. Showed mental toughness and character, coming back from deep in the doghouse for October 2011 arrest.

Weaknesses: Gets too cute at times looking to sift laterally from gap to gap as he approaches line of scrimmage. Needs to run with more urgency to perimeter. Can get out-flanked when opportunity to turn corner was previously available. Average feel through the hole. Runs into defenders he should be able to avoid. Heavy workload in 2014 with 398 total touches (28.4 per game). Ball-security concerns with 11 fumbles over last 597 carries. Pass-protection technique needs improvement. Tore his ACL in 2011. Was arrested for stealing sweatpants in 2011 and faced long road of severe punishment from then-coach Chris Petersen.

Sources tell us: "Of all the backs in this draft, Ajayi might be my favorite because he can do everything you want from a back and you don't have to find a complementary back to pick up the slack for him in any one area." -- AFC scout in charge of grading running backs

NFL comparison: Marshawn Lynch

Bob Sturm (Dallas Morning News):

What I liked: When you talk about a guy who can do it all, you have to look at Ajayi as maybe the best example in this draft.  Unlike Melvin Gordon, Ajayi is maybe the best receiving RB in this entire group (and that says something).  Unlike Tevin Coleman, Ajayi's inside runs are great, showing you that he will get you 5 yards between the tackles on a regular basis.  Unlike Todd Gurley, he is completely healthy.  Unlike Ameer Abdullah, he is the perfect size to take on the NFL game.  He just does everything well.  I like his burst to the outside and I really like his vision where he can find a solution to many problems in mid-play.  He can beat you to the corner, but he can also go "Beast Mode" or "J-Train" and just run you over.  He has superior balance and has demonstrated a multitude of times that he will not go down on first contact.  He is a real workhorse who does not look fun to tackle as the game goes on.  He really is good at squeezing through smaller holes and finding positive space inside, while remaining a smaller target for linebackers.

What I did not like: There is a hint of ball security issues, but again, when a guy has 400 touches in a season, there will be a fumble or two for the type of runner that fights to the whistle.  He also is a product of a zone read type scheme, so we must at least consider the fact that with a QB like Tony Romo, any benefit that Coleman or Ajayi get from that deception will not be available in the NFL (or at least in Dallas).  It is tough to say that he has the same breakaway gear as Coleman or Gurley, but not many do. He did have a bout or two with immaturity as a freshman at Boise, but it seems he has grown into a mature prospect.

Summary: I might have tipped my hands early, but I really like this guy to a point that if there was one guy you might cheer to fall to #60 in Round 2, this could be him.  He can just do it all and looks like a day one starter who can pass protect, receive, and run inside or outside.  He looks the part of a legitimate NFL starter who will compete for the 3rd guy off the board.  I don't see a lot to not like about him and he has a competitive level about him that is very admirable and contagious.  I continue to say that this is a group of running backs that is as deep and talented as many of us can recall, but Ajayi is a quality player that deserves to be in that conversation for 3rd best behind Gurley and Gordon.

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Our draftniks are in general agreement, with Gary Horton as a slight outlier, ranking him a bit lower than the other two. All three of them (including Sturm, who makes a case for Ajayi in round two) see him as a second rounder, so that's where I'll put the Boise St. product on my "little board."

That said, its not only the likes of Zierlein and Brugler who have him in the late-30s or early-40s; indeed, many pundits see him in that range, which happens to be the no man's land between the Cowboys current selection in rounds one and two. Look at the list of teams who have expressed interest in Ajayi: Jaguars (36); Falcons (42); Vikings (45) and 49ers (46). Unless the Cowboys trade back - in which case he would have to be their first pick in the draft - he'll have to run though that gauntlet, and a bunch of other running back-hungry teams, to make it to Dallas' second rounder at pick # 60. If he does, and they pick him there? I'd be perfectly happy with that scenario...

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Next up: Indiana RB Tevin Coleman