After running back Doug Martin had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons for Boise State and was selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the question last year was whether or not the previously injured D.J. Harper could step in and fill the void.

Harper answered that in a big way, rushing for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns last season to earn himself a free-agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers.

Now the Broncos will again be featuring a first-year starter in the backfield in redshirt sophomore Jay Ajayi, who rushed for 559 yards and four touchdowns on 82 carries as the backup to Harper last season.

Ajayi clearly has skill — his 6.68 yards per carry was a single-season school record for running backs with at least 75 rushes — but he tore his ACL during his redshirt year and admittingly wasn’t at 100 percent last year either.

At 6-foot, 215 pounds, Ajayi has a nice combination of size and speed. He’s a big, physical back who fights for extra yards and is tough to bring down. But he can also break away from defenders in the open field and has enough speed to take one to the house. His second career carry went for 71 yards on Sept. 29 against New Mexico last season and his career-high 118 yards against the Lobos made him the first Boise State freshman since 2009 to have a 100-yard game.

Ajayi said recently his knee wasn’t fully healthy last season, which caused him to play at a little heavier weight than he was used to. His knee has fully recovered and he’s trimmed down to a slimmer weight which could make him even more explosive. If Ajayi continues to produce at the level he did last season with an increased number of carries, the Broncos could actually see an improvement in their running game this fall.

“He’s another guy where I don’t really know,” said Boise State coach Chris Petersen. “Everybody wants to anoint him as the next Walter Payton already and he’s had a few carries, but I’m excited. Jay has a lot of potential but he has a knee injury that will hopefully stay healthy. He’ll get a bigger chance obviously than he has in the past so we’ll see if he can consistently make some big plays.”

If he does, the Boise State offense could be fun to watch.

  • B.J Rains covers Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press-Tribune. He also makes daily appearances on ESPN Boise.

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