It won't be long now, training camp is almost here and the excitement continues to build, let's continue our training camp preview by going into the running backs of the Miami Dolphins going into 2017.
This position is perhaps one of the most talented spots on the team, touting versatility and explosiveness for every situation. No matter what role is required, there's a running back on the team who can handle it. Without further ado, let's get started.
There's an old saying in the Bible that says that he who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted. Both scenarios took place last season for Jay Ajayi, as he presumed that he would be handed the starting running back job on a silver platter in 2016, no questions asked.
But an Adam Gase led football team does not hand out starting jobs to anyone, not even the team's most talented running back. So, in order to send a message to the British-born running back, Gase decided to make Jay Ajayi a healthy scratch for the team's Week 1 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, forcing him to stay home in Miami while his team flew to Seattle without him.
Ajayi was humbled, and then he was exalted.
Once he got his head back on straight, Ajayi was put into the rotation, and eventually became the full-time starter - thanks in part to the sudden retirement of veteran Arian Foster, and it didn't take long for Ajayi to make his mark on the NFL.
It's already been well-documented at this point, Ajayi ran for 200+ yards in two straight games, back to back against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buffalo Bills, and then he repeated that performance during the rematch against the Bills several weeks later.
He's fast, he breaks tackles, and there's no signs of that horrible degenerative knee issue that caused him to fall all the way into the fifth round back in 2015. Now that he's proven himself, the Dolphins will likely make him a major focal point of the offense in 2017, which will open things up for Ryan Tannehill and the other skill positions.
Ajayi isn't the only talented running back on the roster. Kenyan Drake, who is coming into his second year in the league out of Alabama, is another talented player with a very high ceiling.
Besides his worth as a returner, Drake is able to change directions on a dime and turn corners with the best of them, as showcased when he ran the opposite direction of the intended play and sped away from the entirety of the Bills defense for a touchdown. That was one of two touchdowns he would score rushing the ball in 2016, as he averaged 5.4 yards a carry, getting a total of 179 yards on only 33 attempts.
He's also an excellent weapon in the passing game, as he's shown that he can make catches out of the backfield and add another wrinkle in the offense that will keep defenses on their toes. Adam Gase wants to get more out of Drake in his second season, and given his enthusiasm for experimenting with weapons, one can only imagine what he has in mind.
With a skill set reminiscent of Reggie Bush and his development in the NFL only just beginning, it's safe to say - as long as he stays healthy - Drake's future is bright.
Damien Williams has had a very up and down career with the Miami Dolphins so far. In his rookie season, he averaged only 3.4 yards a carry, then in 2015, he "increased" it to 3.7 yards a carry, and then last season, he hit a career low as he rushed for only 3.3 yards a carry.
So if the whole point of a running back is to run the football, and Williams can't seem to find a way to do so consistently, why is he still considered an important cog in the Miami offense? Simply put, Williams is the Swiss army knife of the Miami Dolphins running back corps.
While his rushing history has been poor, Williams is the best blocking running back on the team's roster, and he has proven to be an incredibly versatile weapon in the passing game. In 2016, Williams caught 23 passes for a total of 249 yards and three touchdowns.
There was a brief moment where it seemed Williams wouldn't return to the team, as he took a visit as a restricted free agent to the New England Patriots, but after not receiving an offer, Williams chose to sign his tender and will make a guaranteed $1,797,000 in 2017. His performance this season will likely have an effect on whether the Dolphins decide to give him a multi-year deal in 2018, until then, he'll compete with Kenyan Drake for backup time.
Now we start getting into the projected fringe running backs on the roster, starting with former Jacksonville Jaguars seventh round draft pick Storm Johnson.
Weighing in at 6 feet and 216 pounds, Johnson was projected by many to go in the fourth or fifth rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, but despite the potential he was sporting pre-draft, he's only played in a total of six games, all for the Jaguars before he spent training camp in 2016 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and then he signed on with the Dolphins practice squad on November 8th.
Johnson is likely practice squad fodder at this point, with his most impressive highlight in the NFL being a 20-yard run in a 17-9 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2014. Although with coach Gase's preference for using running backs in his offense, he may have a chance.
A former 2014 undrafted free agent out of Louisville, Perry was signed by the Bears and played in all 16 games as a special teams contributor, and then in 2015 he was placed on injured reserve before the start of the season with a foot injury.
But he did get some time to workout with the team before that injury, and 2015 happens to be the year that Adam Gase spent as the offensive coordinator in Chicago, which would explain Perry's presence on the roster now.
Though he wasn't quite as hyped up as Johnson, the previous connection with Gase might give him an edge in training camp, but he'll have stiff competition from Johnson and the next rusher to be mentioned.
De'Veon Smith went undrafted in 2017, and the Dolphins decided to bring him in and see what he was capable of in a Miami uniform.
Smith became a regular starter for Michigan in 2015, leading the team with 753 rushing yards and six touchdowns, as well as 19 catches for 159 yards and one touchdown. Then in 2016, he set a college career high in rushing yards with 846 and rushing touchdowns with 10, earning an honorable mention All-Big Ten notice.
Though Smith won't be outrunning the NFL's speedier corners anytime soon, he is a strong back who refuses to stop running until the whistle blows, meaning he could be useful on third and short plays or goal line situations.
With all these talented running backs on the roster, it will be interesting to watch and see who shines the most in training camp once the pads come on.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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