Jay Ajayi, the London born running back out of Boise State is rapidly moving up many draft boards. He is the consensus third best running back in the 2015 draft, but is making the case to be not only the earliest British born player of a generation, but maybe of all time.
Jay Ajayi would not be the first British born player to make an impact in the NFL. In 2013 Menelik Watson, born in Manchester, was drafted in the second round, by the Oakland Raiders, and has made his presence felt ever since, and the great Osi Umenyiora, remains the most well-known and successful English-born player of his generation. But if things continue to go Ajayi’s way, he could just become the earliest drafted Britain of his generation, if not all time.
Like Umenyiora, Ajayi as born in the UK to Nigerian parents, and like Umenyiora, Ajayi moved to the USA early in his childhood. He is not home-grown in the same way that Menelik Watson is, yet his ties to his homeland remain strong.
Between an unusually strong draft class, and a number of key free agents receiving monster contracts, 2015 could well be the year of the running back, and if things go his way, Ajayi could find himself climbing into the latter part of the first round come draft day.
Most commentators agree that Ajayi is probably the third best running back in the draft, after Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon—both of whom are consensus first rounders—however a number of draft experts are beginning to feel that the distance between the top two players and Ajayi is not as great as it once was, and reports suggest that more than a few teams picking late in the first round may prefer Ajayi over either Gurley or Gordon, due to off-field issues and injury concerns.
The earliest a British player has ever been drafted was in 1976 when Mike Dawson was selected 22nd overall by the St. Louis Cardinals. Ajayi may struggle to top that mark, most do not see any RB’s going off the board until the mid-20’s at the earliest, but often NFL scouts evaluate players very differently than draft experts, meaning that it is not unusual for players to go much earlier, or later, than projected.
If, as many expect, running backs do become one the hottest commodities in this years draft, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to suggest that, perhaps, Ajayi could see a reasonable bump in value that could push the top RB’s as high as the mid-to-late teens, and Ajayi into the early 20’s.
Even if Ajayi is not selected in the first round, however, he could still become the earliest drafted player of his generation, as some commentators believe he will be off the board in the mid-to-late 30’s, before Umenyiora, who was picked at 53 and Menelik Watson, at 42 overall.
Ultimately, we will have to wait and see just where Ajayi is selected, but wherever that is, all signs point to him having a long and successful career in the NFL, another huge win for the growth of the game in Britain.