The Dolphins had hoped to grab their cornerstone running back in the first round of the NFL Draft.
They might have stolen one in the fifth.
Jay Ajayi, the Boise State bruiser selected by the Dolphins with the 149th pick Saturday, has all the talent in the world.
So why did the other 31 teams pass on him — again and again? Some feared he might not even make it to a second NFL contract.
Ajayi, a dual-threat back who rushed for more than 1,800 yards as a senior, has a knee issue. And depending on whom you believe, it might be a big one.
He tore his ACL in 2011, and the knee reportedly sustained cartilage damage that can never be fixed.
But for the Dolphins, who made five selections Saturday — including four in the fifth round — Ajayi’s scary medical history “was not an issue,” assistant general manager Eric Stokes said.
Said Ajayi: “I know that with my knee and with the way I make sure that I handle it, I will play for a long time, and I’m excited to see how my future unfolds.”
Still, it was telling that the Dolphins waited until Round 5 to take him on a day largely dedicated to filling holes.
They selected Arizona State guard Jamil Douglas in the fourth round, before taking two corners (Memphis’ Bobby McCain and Michigan State’s Tony Lippett) and Minnesota safety Cedric Thompson in the fifth. The Dolphins did not own a sixth- or seventh-round pick, and were done with the draft around 3 p.m. Saturday.
▪ Douglas (pick No. 114) has the best chance of any third-day pick to win a starting job as a rookie.
Douglas, who played both guard and tackle for the Sun Devils, will line up at left guard when rookie minicamp begins in the coming days. Left guard also happens to be the most tenuous position on the team, as Dallas Thomas is ripe to be supplanted after a brutal 2014 season.
“We like where we are there,” Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey said. “It’s great to add Jamil Douglas. We firmly believe in our philosophy about having competitive environments, and guys that we have here are going to compete, guys that we bring in are going to compete, and that’s the beauty of the NFL.”
▪ McCain (No. 145) fits the Dolphins’ template at corner. He’s small (5-9, 195 pounds), but freakishly athletic (he broad-jumped 130 inches at the Scouting Combine, third-longest of anyone at his position).
And he has a knack for making plays. McCain returned four interceptions for touchdowns in his career at Memphis, and had 11 picks in the past two seasons. He could eventually replace Brent Grimes, who turns 32 this summer.
“I’m really smart,” McCain said. “I’m not the tallest guy, I’m not the fastest guy, but I’m probably the most competitive guy. I’m not going to back down on anyone; I’m a player with a good head on my shoulders who is going to play with a chip on my shoulders as well.”
▪ The Dolphins have had success with fifth-round safeties. Reshad Jones was taken in that round five years ago.
The team hopes it has unearthed another gem in Thompson (pick No. 150), a free safety from Minnesota who didn’t receive an invitation to the Combine. But at the Gophers’ Pro Day, he ran in the 4.4s (seconds) in the 40-yard dash and jumped 40 inches.
“He really provides the passion, excitement,” said Chris Grier, the Dolphins’ director of college scouting. “You feel this guy loves football.”
▪ Lippett (pick No. 156) was a two-way player for Michigan State, but the Dolphins have one role in mind: cornerback.
His measurables (6-2, 192 pounds, 4.61 seconds) are in the same ballpark of another tall corner once selected in the fifth round: Seahawks star Richard Sherman.
Still, no pick generated more buzz than Ajayi, who buoyed the Dolphins after missing out on Georgia standout Todd Gurley in the first round.
“Watching the draft, I did think I was going to go earlier, so I definitely was disappointed,” Ajayi said. “But at the same time, I can only control what I can control. I know right now, at this day, I am extremely healthy and I’m ready to go into camp and contribute right away. I’m excited that the Dolphins took a chance on me. I’m excited to prove a lot of people wrong and prove the Dolphins right.”
Dolphins picked Saturday
Dolphins’ Saturday selections
Round 4, Pick 114
Jamil Douglas, Guard
College: Arizona State.
Ht/Wt: 6-4, 304.
Comment: Douglas played left tackle last year, but will compete with Dallas Thomas, Jeff Linkenbach and others for starting left guard job.
Round 5, Pick 145
Bobby McCain, Cornerback
Ht/Wt: 5-9, 195.
Comment: Models his game after another diminutive cornerback — the Dolphins’ Brent Grimes. Now they’re teammates.
Round 5, Pick 149
Jay Ajayi, Running Back
College: Boise State.
Ht/Wt: 6-0, 221.
Comment: On talent alone, should have been a second-day pick. But fell to the fifth round because of concerns over a knee injury.
Round 5, Pick 150
Cedric Thompson, Safety
Ht/Wt: 6-0, 208.
Comment: Started all 13 games as a senior (83 tackles). Could see playing time from scrimmage if Louis Delmas (knee) has a setback.
Round 5, Pick 156
Tony Lippett, Cornerback
College: Michigan State.
Ht/Wt: 6-2, 192.
Comment: Was the Spartans’ MVP after catching 11 touchdown passes as a receiver. With the Dolphins, he will be asked to knock those passes down.