Dolphins pressing fantasy questions: Ajayi packs plenty of high-round promise

The arrow is pointing up for Jay Ajayi after a superb 2016. (AP)
3-Point Stance: Owners need to consider Ajayi strongly in Round 1

As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Friday’s topic: The Miami Dolphins

From Weeks 6-9, Jay Ajayi penned his name in the record books amassing a ridiculous 529 rushing yards over a three-game span. His breakout season ended with a top-12 finish among running backs. BELIEVE or MAKE BELIEVE: Ajayi is worthy of a first-round pick in 12-team standard formats. 

Liz – BELIEVE. It took Adam Gase a minute to figure this one out, but once he caved and leaned on the former soccer player, the Phins’ ground game exploded. After Miami’s bye through the end of the season, Ajayi averaged nearly 20 carriers per contest, which was second in number only to Le’Veon Bell. In a league chocked full of platoons, Ajayi’s potential volume makes him worthy of a first round selection.

His success will be somewhat dependent on Laremy Tunsil’s ability to move from guard to left tackle. Don’t forget the Dolphins traded veteran LT Branden Albert to Jacksonville in order to make room for Tunsil. But given the lineman’s pedigree, the transition should go smoothly. Ranked inside my top-ten players at the position, Ajayi’s dual-threat ability in tandem with the lack of depth on the roster make him a no-brainer in the first round.

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Brad – BELIEVE. Last season, Ajayi transformed from guppy to Great White practically overnight. Only sporadically used Weeks 1-5, he consumed defenses whole once gifted at least 65 percent of the opportunity share. His historic stretch beginning Week 6 shifted his value into high gear. From Weeks 6-17, he tallied 1,262 total yards and six TDs, the seventh-best output by a RB in fantasy. His secondary profile also glistened. He totaled 5.0 yards per carry and ranked top-10 in evaded tackles (69), yards after contact per touch (1.7) and total breakaway runs (15). The ‘Fin was Jaws personified.

Earlier in May, Miami offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen described Ajayi’s receiving skills as “200 percent better” than at this juncture last year. With that in mind, projecting a significant uptick in catches (40-50?) is fair. Now a truer three-down threat, he’s easily a mid-range RB1 and worth a selection in the No. 9-No. 12 overall range. There are questions about the offensive line (Mike Pouncey’s hip?), but it’s conceivable he eclipses 1,400 combined yards with double-digit TDs.

Jarvis Landry is a certifiable pass-catching machine. Drop a quarter in the slot and jackpot symbols lock in, particularly for those in full-point PPR leagues. Since entering the league in 2014, he’s hauled in an average of 96.3 receptions per year. OVER/UNDER 99.5 Landry catches this fall. 

Brad – UNDER. Think of Landry as a mid-sized four door. He isn’t the sexiest car on the lot, but he’s a highly predictable and reliable product who can take PPR owners smoothly from Point A to Point B. Last year, the slot man commanded 28.1 percent of Miami’s targets and grabbed 71.8 percent of those looks. Touchdowns are a rarity, but he’s a very bankable WR2.

However, I foresee a slight decline from last fall’s 94-catch campaign. Julius Thomas is now in the fold and Ajayi and Parker should each undergo target increases. Miami’s improved defense also decreases confidence. Put it together and a final tally near 90-1050-4 feels right.

Liz – UNDER. As Miami adds more weapons, Landry’s targets have decreased. Down 33 looks from 2015, the slot-machine’s opportunities are likely to take another hit come September. With DeVante Parker healthy, Kenny Stills re-signed, Leonte Carroo coming around, Julius Thomas added to the squad, and Jay Ajayi beefing up his receiving skills, there’s only so much for Landry to absorb. He’s still one of the most efficient receivers in the game, but should be ranked just outside of the top 20 players at the position.

According to local reports, DeVante Parker is on the verge of a breakthrough campaign. Last season over 15 games, the wideout landed outside the top-50 in fantasy points per game and enticed a modest 20 percent of Miami’s target share. Are you BUYING or SELLING Parker as a WR3 or better contributor in 12-team leagues? 

Liz – SELLING. As recently as March, Coach Gase derided Parker’s work habits. Maybe that was an attempt to motivate the 24-year-old, but I’d hope he wouldn’t need motivating, especially after two underwhelming seasons. Furthermore, the Phins decided to keep Kenny Stills, whose skill set is similar to Parker’s. That’s telling.

The best thing about Parker is his catch radius, which from a fantasy standpoint, could mean TDs in the red area of the field. But if the newly acquired Julius Thomas (who was a red zone monster under Gase in Denver) stays healthy for even half of the season, Parker’s red zone opportunities will be limited. Yes, he has the skills, but if the organization isn’t banking on him, then I certainly won’t either.

Brad – BUYING. There’s no doubting Parker’s pure talents. When healthy and motivated, he’s a flashy and explosive downfield weapon. In his first two years as a pro he averaged a robust 15.1 yards per route. Recall several scouts compared him to DeAndre Hopkins during the 2015 Draft process. Limited by injuries, his numbers haven’t quite caught up to the baseline skill. This season, however, that may change.

Christensen recently predicted a “gigantic” step for the third-year wideout. If Parker can stave off the injury imp and entice 110-120 targets (88 in 15 games last year), he has a realistic shot of netting a 70-1000-6 line. At his 78.2 ADP (WR41), bargain hunters have to like his potential.

Chuck passes at Brad and Liz follow them on Twitter @YahooNoise and @LizLoza_FF