Miami Dolphins columnist Armando Salguero, who once publicly asked a team exec if Laremy Tunsil loves football more than drugs, appears to be veering into hot take territory yet again with his latest column early on in Training Camp.
“The most important player on [the Dolphins] is running back Jay Ajayi,” Salguero writes.
The meat of his senseless argument:
“The Dolphins are certain they have a winning quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. They have one of the NFL’s highest paid and most accomplished defenders in Ndamukong Suh. Reshad Jones and Cameron Wake are elite.
And yet Ajayi is the most important player on the team.
Take Tannehill off the team. Does that crash the season?
It didn’t last year when the quarterback injured his left knee.
Miami won two of the final three regular-season games without Tannehill and the team’s scoring average went from 21.6 points per game to 27.3 points per game. I’m not saying Matt Moore is better than Tannehill or the Dolphins are better off without Tannehill.
I’m saying the Apocalypse does not begin if Tannehill isn’t available.
Jones? Wake? Their absence would lessen the team as it did the past two seasons when one or the other was injured. But the Dolphins have options without them.
Similarly, if Suh cannot take his usual 80-85 percent of the snaps in games, the Dolphins are diminished in the middle of their defense. But a Dolphins team without Ndamukong Suh can still compete for a playoff spot.
Now go ahead and do the unthinkable. Take away Ajayi.
Damien Williams takes over. Kenyan Drake is asked to carry more of the load. Senorice Perry suddenly becomes a thing.
Bye-bye to 1,272 rushing yards. Bye-bye to the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher, the NFL’s leader in forced missed tackles and one of the leaders in yards after contact.
Salguero’s argument is baloney and it has nothing to do with Ajayi as a player. By every measure available, ranging from advanced metrics to the eye balls, he had a stellar season last year and is among the best at his position. He was a bulldozer, finishing second in yards after contact (901) and first in forced missed tackles (58), per Pro Football Focus.
However, he is a running back and running back, in 2017, is among the most replaceable positions in football.
It all comes down to positional impact and cost above replacement. How do we know that Damien Williams or Kenyan Drake, upon receiving the opportunity, can’t come out of nowhere like Ajayi before them and make an impact? A back’s success is often tied to the system and pieces around him and it’s why we see so many quality backs last until late in the draft.
I’m not going to sit here and argue why two handfuls of players are more valuable to the Dolphins than Ajayi — and there are — because all I need is one.
As with most teams, it’s quarterback. Don’t overthink this.
Matt Moore is certainly among the more capable backups in football. He filled in admirably the final four games of the regular season and wasn’t horrendous during their blowout loss to the Steelers, though he was less than solid.
Consider three of his last four regular season opponents ranked among the league’s bottom third in pass defense, per Football Outsiders. Also factor in nobody’s made a legitimate offer to make him their starter since Tannehill seized the No. 1 spot in 2012. This is for a reason.
While Tannehill continues to be a polarizing figure because nobody seems to be able to agree on what tier of quarterback he is, I think if you averaged the opinions of all the smart football people out there, he’d probably check in somewhere in the 8-16 range, between above average and very good. Cian Fahey quantified how Tannehill is one of the most accurate (and unluckiest) passers in football.
You especially saw how limited Miami’s offense was against a strong playoff opponent in Pittsburgh. They completely took away Ajayi — choosing to remove the other team’s running game is something any top defense is capable of doing — and asked Moore to beat them. He could not because Moore is a reliever, not an ace or even a No. 2. As is the case with most backup QBs, even the moderately successful ones become exposed as the sample size increases.
Ajayi may be a Top 5 running back. He certainly played like one in his breakout 2016 season. However, whether you consider Tannehill the league’s eighth best QB or the 14th, he’s a SIGNIFICANTLY more valuable overall player to the Dolphinss. Don’t let Salguero’s hot takery fool you.