In this article I will be giving my evaluations of Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement. Ajayi and Clement played pivotal roles in the Eagles’ backfield last year on their way to a Super Bowl Championship. A lot will be expected of them this upcoming season, as the 2 of them figure to be a dangerous 1-2 punch. Ajayi is in the final year of his rookie contract and is determined to have another Pro-Bowl level season like he did in 2016, this time as the lead back of the Eagles’ RB committee. Clement is also expected to have an increased workload from last year. Even with Sproles’ return, people want to see just how good the young playmaker can be, given the opportunities.
I evaluate Running Backs on 10 traits, each weighted differently based on importance. Traits are listed as follows (not in order of importance):
Mental Processing: Pre-snap recognition, key & diagnose, football intelligence.
Pad Level: Run low to the ground with knee bend, get skinny through the hole, fall forward when finishing runs.
Vision: Post-snap path, set up blocks, improve and create when blocking breaks down.
Burst: Explosion through hole, accelerate to top speed.
Force Missed Tackles: Agility/Elusiveness to avoid defenders, power/strength to break tackles, contact balance to remain on feet.
Speed: Ability to run away from defenders.
Ball Security: Maintain ball possession.
Receiving: Route running to get separation, catch & gather.
Pass Blocking: Hold ground vs pass rusher, give QB time in pocket.
Competitive Intangibles: Leadership, fortitude, endurance, consistency, toughness, durability.
Grading scale terms (from best to worst):
Player: Jay Ajayi
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Weight: 223 lbs
2016: 15 Games, 260 Rushes, 1272 Rushing Yards, 4.9 Yards Per Attempt, 27 Receptions, 151 Receiving Yards, 8 Touchdowns, 4 Fumbles.
2017 (Philadelphia Eagles, Including Playoffs): 10 Games, 112 Rushes, 592 Rushing Yards, 5.29 Yards Per Attempt, 16 Receptions, 161 Receiving Yards, 2 Touchdowns, 3 Fumbles.
2011 (Boise State): ACL Tear Grade 3.
2015: Rib Fracture.
2016: Shoulder AC Join Sprain
4th year RB. Drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 2015. Played under Head Coach Adam Gase and Offensive Coordinator Clyde Christensen in 2016 as well as the first 7 games of 2017. Traded to the Eagles on October 31. Split time with LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, and Kenjon Barner as he learned Doug Pederson and Frank Reich’s offensive system. Eventually received majority of the snaps late in the season and in the playoffs.
Great Mental Processing. Shows a high level of awareness to keys. Mindful of linebackers and defensive backs in the box. Gained an understanding of the run schemes in Doug Pederson’s offensive system in a short period of time.
Elite Pad Level. Runs with a low center of gravity and forward lean, allowing him to get in and out of cuts quickly and easily. Has the body control to get skinny in tight spaces. Finishes runs by constantly lowering his shoulders and falling forward for extra yards after contact.
Elite Vision. In gap schemes uses pace and angles to set up pulling linemen. Presses the hole until lane is available. In zone schemes takes an angular path after the mesh point, particularly on outside zone runs where he stays parallel to the line of scrimmage with square hips and shoulders. Elite overall footwork to manipulate linebackers and safeties and set up blocks. Soccer background is evident, possessing quick and light feet, enabling him to elude penetration and create for himself when blocking breaks down. Does a good job of following blockers at the 2nd and 3rd levels.
Great Burst. Gets to top speed through the hole within one stride. Runs with a steady, patient pace behind the line of scrimmage before hitting a 2nd gear into the 2nd and 3rd levels when the running lane opens up.
Elite ability to Force Missed Tackles. Possesses the physicality, strength, and contact balance to constantly fight off contact and break tackles. Feet never stop moving. Has the agility and quickness to evade defensive linemen behind the line of scrimmage and linebackers at the 2nd level. Utilizes numerous jukes, spin moves, head fakes, and stutter steps to break down defenders in space, as well as a an effective stiff arm to fight off linebackers and defensive backs.
Solid Speed. Can get to the edge and turn the corner on defensive linemen and linebackers.
Solid/Good Receiver. Flashes smooth and natural hands, catching away from his body with ease. Good timing on screens.
Good Pass Blocker. Has good technique in engaging with pass rushers. Looks to initiate contact and gets low for good leverage.
Great/Elite Competitive Intangibles. Worked hard to learn new playbook after being traded. Never complained about splitting time in a committee with the Eagles after being the featured back with the Dolphins. Much improved consistency with Eagles compared to sporadic production in 2016 with Dolphins. Played well late in the season and in the playoffs when finally tasked to take on more touches. Showed no signs of wearing down and didn’t miss any playing time due to injury.
Vision; can rely too much on athleticism and try to cut back across the field if blocking breaks down. Did less of this as season went on.
Speed; lacks breakaway speed to pull away from defensive backs at the 3rd levels.
Adequate Ball Security. Keeps ball tight when in space, but doesn’t make the extra effort to secure when fighting off multiple defenders for extra yards.
Receiving; too many focus/concentration drops on easy throws.
Pass Blocking; showed a tendency to make the incorrect read and miss his blocking assignment. Improved in this area as the season went on.
Competitive Intangibles; chronic knee condition. Has “bone-on-bone” in right knee. Needs monitoring. Potential issue long-term.
Overall, Jay Ajayi is a starter you can win because of. When healthy, he’s shown to be a great talent who can carry a full workload and be a featured RB. He can run both Gap and Zone schemes at a high level. He is also a capable option on passing downs both as a receiver and a pass blocker. The only things limiting him are his ball security issues and long-term durability due to his right knee. With a full offseason to train with and learn Doug Pederson’s system as well as the endorsement from the coaches as the team’s lead back, expect similar or better production from Ajayi in 2018.
Player: Corey Clement
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
Weight: 220 lbs
2017 (Including Playoffs): 19 Games, 80 Rushes, 354 Rushing Yards, 4.4 Yards Per Attempt, 20 Receptions, 262 Receiving Yards, 7 Touchdowns, 0 Fumbles.
2nd year RB. Undrafted Free Agent, signed by the Philadelphia Eagles on April 29, 2017. Split time with LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner, and Jay Ajayi at different points of the season.
Good Mental Processing. Displays an understanding of both gap and zone schemes as well as awareness to keys.
Great Pad Level. Runs with a relatively low base and forward lean. Gets low on contact to gain additional yards.
Good Vision. Lures linebackers into gaps and then makes a cut into the correct hole. Persistent with post-snap path on outside run plays before making jump cut upfield. Flashes excellent ability on outside zones, making one decisive cut through the hole and getting north-south. Takes what’s given instead of trying to unnecessarily bounce runs outside or backside; doesn’t make a loss of yards even worse. Decisive and aggressive; doesn’t hesitate. Uses good angles in space at the 2nd and 3rd levels to maximize yards.
Great Burst. Makes sudden and narrow cuts which help him maintain a lot of speed and explosion through the hole.
Good ability to Force Missed Tackles. Possesses some agility and quickness to avoid defensive lineman and linebackers as well as good contact balance and strength to bounce off of arm tackles. Utilizes a sudden and powerful stiff-arm in space.
Solid/Good speed. Can pull away from or match speed with linebackers and safeties once into the 2nd and 3rd levels.
Great/Elite Ball Security. Holds ball tight to body, especially in traffic.
Great Receiver. Very good route runner who gets separation from linebackers consistently with acceleration. Quick to gather and turn upfield after the catch. Has the focus and body control to make tight catches along the boundaries.
Solid/Good Pass Blocker. Reads keys across the formation. Does a good job at scanning and sliding. Effective chip blocker who attacks pass rusher with his shoulder to negate their rush.
Good Competitive Intangibles. Made roster despite being brought on as an Undrafted Free Agent. Developed into a 3rd down receiving back in the absence of Darren Sproles.
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) February 14, 2018
Pad Level; needs work on getting skinny through the hole. Has tendency to run into blockers at the line of scrimmage.
Vision; Needs better pacing and patience from the mesh point to the hole. Goes too fast at times, resulting in bad timing with blockers. Improved on outside zone runs as season progressed, but still misses bend/cutback lane and isn’t patient enough to see secondary holes. Lacks the ability to create yards for himself behind the line of scrimmage.
Burst; one-speed runner. Doesn’t offer any change-ups in speed to manipulate and break down defenders.
Force Missed Tackles; lacks great elusiveness and lateral quickness. Makes cuts with narrow footwork instead of extending and driving his leg to explode laterally. Sacrifices lateral movement for maintained speed.
Receiving; hasn’t shown the ability to extend and catch the ball naturally away from his body.
Pass Blocking; needs to be more aggressive when facing a pass rusher 1v1. Gets caught reaching.
Overall, Corey Clement is a complimentary back that you can win with. He shows the ability to run effectively in both gap and zone schemes, but is best at running outside zone concepts. He has also developed himself into a dangerous weapon as a receiver, which was a skill he wasn’t known for during his college career. He still needs refinement as a runner when it comes to his overall pacing and patience, and he needs to be more consistent at setting up his blocks on outside runs. It remains to be seen if he can ever be a lead or featured RB for a team, but he has the potential to be one of the better dual threat backs in the league.