Should We Trust Kenyan Drake's Breakout?

A detailed look at Kenyan Drake's 2020 fantasy prospects.

Should We Believe the Breakout?

Kenyan Drake was in fantasy purgatory for 3.5 seasons in Miami, and just when almost everyone had given up on him, the Arizona Cardinals give him newfound relevance. In the second half of the season, Drake was a top-5 fantasy running back for Arizona in spite of stepping into the lineup without any time to learn the playbook or build chemistry with his new teammates. In the offseason the Cardinals traded David Johnson, beefed up the offensive line, and assigned the transition tag to Drake, assuring he'll remain their cornerstone in 2020. Drake is being drafted as a low-end No. 1 fantasy back this year, and there's plenty of justification for the excitement. While he's not without risk, given his lack of a full-time role at any point in his post-high school career, it's hard not to be excited by what we saw in November and December.


Started from the Bottom, Now He’s Here

The Miami Dolphins selected Kenyan Drake in the third round of the 2016 draft in Adam Gase’s first season as head coach. The team parted ways with Lamar Miller in the offseason, and veteran Arian Foster and second-year pro Jay Ajayi were set to compete for the starting role. Drake was a potential piece of the team’s future, but not the present. Drake’s Alabama pedigree enticed dynasty league owners, as did his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame. He was viewed as a home-run hitter who would, at worst, settle into a high-impact committee in 2017 and beyond once the Arian Foster experiment fizzled. It never happened.

Drake floundered in three seasons under Gase, and could never earn the coach’s trust. He started 14 games over that span and shared the limelight with Ajayi, Frank Gore, Damien Williams, and Kalen Ballage.

Dolphins RB Carries, 2016-2018

Fans rejoiced when Gase was fired before the 2019 season, and Brian Flores took over with Chad O’Shea as play-caller. Finally, it seemed Drake would get a chance to thrive. But, yet again, it didn’t happen. Drake had just 47 rushes in six games despite a lack of compelling alternatives.

Dolphins RB Carries, Weeks 1 through 8, 2019

After 3.5 seasons in the NFL, Drake appeared to be part of a long list of failed prospects, and his fantasy stock was at its nadir. And the Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals came calling.

Freeeeeeedom!

With David Johnson hurt, the Cardinals needed a new engine for Kingsbury’s spread offense. They jumped on Miami’s veteran fire sale and acquired Drake for a conditional sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft. Drake stepped into the lineup immediately and looked like a completely different player.

Kenyan Drake, 2019, Arizona Cardinals

  • 8 games
  • 123 carries
  • 643 rushing yards
  • 5.2 yards per rush
  • 8 rushing touchdowns
  • 35 targets
  • 28 receptions
  • 171 receiving yards
  • 157.4 PPR points
  • RB4 ranking

As a Cardinal, Drake performed like an elite offensive asset. He was a league-winner for anyone who acquired him on the cheap in the middle of the season.

Top Running Backs (Weeks 9-17), 2019

Rank
Player
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FPTs
1
146
652
7
77
662
2
262.4
2
152
959
11
10
78
1
185.7
3
166
754
6
30
243
2
177.7
4
123
643
8
28
171
0
157.4
5
143
630
4
30
277
1
150.7
6
118
500
7
31
259
0
148.9
7
177
817
5
16
177
0
145.4
8
85
424
4
48
257
0
140.1
9
60
306
0
41
486
3
138.2
10
122
619
8
15
119
0
136.8
11
103
549
3
14
151
5
132.0
12
113
524
2
31
235
2
130.9
13
131
502
6
16
126
1
120.8
14
137
440
2
34
274
0
117.4
15
164
756
2
15
143
0
116.9
16
83
463
7
10
112
1
115.5
17
98
410
4
25
200
0
110.0
18
44
197
1
30
287
4
108.4
19
119
571
4
15
117
0
107.8
20
132
605
1
20
136
1
106.1
21
93
312
4
24
226
0
101.8
22
144
522
3
10
88
1
95.0
23
114
515
4
10
93
0
94.8
24
118
530
3
9
64
0
86.4
25
110
499
5
3
14
0
84.3

A Supportive Offseason

Drake wouldn't be the first player to have a strong month or two and disappoint in a full-time role. NFL statistical sample sizes are already small in a full season, and reading too much into a partial season stretch can lead to poor conclusions. Encouragingly, the Cardinals front office did a lot in the offseason to further bolster Drake's outlook.

  1. Trading David Johnson -- Arizona traded David Johnson to the Houston Texans, clearing up a potential committee situation
  2. Acquiring DeAndre Hopkins -- Adding one of the league's best receivers forces teams to lay off the run, and should increase the overall size of the offensive pie
  3. Transition Tagging Drake -- The Cardinals tagged Drake, who signed his tender immediately, and he'll make $8.4 million this season
  4. Drafting Josh Jones -- The team added Jones, a mammoth (6-foot-5, 309 pounds) tackle who should immediately compete for the starting right tackle spot

The One Potential Concern: A History of Limited Workloads

Things look great for Drake. He excelled instantly in the Cardinals system. His main competition was sent packing. They committed to him financially. But there's one risk that cannot be dispelled, yet.

Drake has never been a workhorse.

We know he was relegated to part-time duties in Miami under Adam Gase, but it was the case under Brian Flores, too. And of greatest concern, it was the case at the University of Alabama. Nick Saban -- one of the greatest college football coaches in history -- never saw Drake as a feature back. And Saban has been a factory for workhorse runners, including current NFL studs Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram II and Josh Jacobs. Take a look at Drake's season-by-season workload:

  • 2012 -- Drake ran 42 times for 281 yards (6.7 per rush) and 5 touchdowns. He ranked third among running backs behind Eddie Lacy (204 carries for 1,322 yards and 22 touchdowns) and T.J. Yeldon (175 carries for 1,108 yards and 11 touchdowns)
  • 2013 -- Drake ran 92 times for 694 yards (7.5 per rush) and 8 touchdowns. He ranked second behind T.J. Yeldon (207 carries for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns)
  • 2014 -- Drake ran 22 times for 112 yards (5.1 per rush) and 4 touchdowns. He ranked third behind T.J. Yeldon (194 carries for 979 yards and 11 touchdowns) and Derrick Henry (172 carries for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns)
  • 2015 -- Drake ran 77 times for 408 yards (5.6 per rush) and 1 touchdown. He ranked second behind Derrick Henry (395 carries for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns)

Looking at it another way, in four seasons, Drake never got more than 92 carries while Saban routinely gave other running backs massive workloads.

Rushing Seasons, University of Alabama (2012-2015)

Rank
Player
Year
Rushes
RuYds
YPR
RuTDs
1
2015
395
2219
5.6
28
2
2013
207
1235
6.0
14
3
2012
204
1322
6.5
17
4
2014
194
979
5.0
11
5
2012
175
1108
6.3
12
6
2014
172
990
5.8
11
7
2013
92
694
7.5
8
8
Blake Sims
2014
83
350
4.2
7
9
2015
77
408
5.3
1
10
A.J. McCarron
2012
49
4
0.1
1
11
2015
46
157
3.4
1
12
2012
42
281
6.7
5
13
Tyren Jones
2014
36
224
6.2
2
14
2013
35
382
10.9
3
15
A.J. McCarron
2013
34
-22
-0.6
0
16
Blake Sims
2012
30
187
6.2
2
17
2014
22
112
5.1
4
18
Altee Tenpenny
2013
22
82
3.7
1
19
Dee Hart
2013
22
78
3.5
1
20
Dee Hart
2012
21
88
4.2
0
21
2013
20
88
4.4
0
22
2015
18
104
5.8
1
23
Ben Howell
2012
18
52
2.9
0
24
2014
12
69
5.8
0
25
2012
11
85
7.7
0

Nick Saban and his coaches are not myopic or misguided. If they never saw Drake as the lead back in four seasons, should we so quick to discount the Dolphins' views when they match up? I still tend to view Gase's decision to limit Drake as stubborn, but Saban is harder to disregard. That said, fantasy value comes from a confluence of ability and opportunity, and Drake appears to have both in 2020.

STATS AND PROJECTIONS

Season
Team
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Targets
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumL
2017
Miami
16
133
644
3
48
32
239
1
2
2018
Miami
16
120
535
4
73
53
477
5
1
2019
Arizona/Miami
14
170
817
8
68
50
345
0
1
Season
Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumL
2020
14.9
206
927
7.9
53.0
387
1.9
2.3
2020
15.0
211
1000
9.5
54.0
410
2.0
2.0
2020
14.0
205
930
8.0
50.0
365
2.0
2.0
2020
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
215
974
8.9
55.9
398
1.2
2.9

Final Thoughts

Kenyan Drake could never win the lead role at Alabama, yet his raw athleticism, size, speed, and pedigree were enough to vault him into the NFL with a high draft pick. He then spent 3.5 years as a part-time player, usually as the lesser part of a multi-back committee. Dynasty owners had all but given up on him. But Kliff Kingsbury saw unrealized potential as the Cardinals cure for an ailing David Johnson, and the results were fantastic. Drake was a top-5 fantasy running back during his tenure in Arizona, and the team subsequently put everything into place for Drake to resume his role as the offensive centerpiece in 2020. It's hard to look at how well he performed last year as a Cardinal, and think he can't be a high-end fantasy asset. We saw him do it, in spite of having literally no time to learn the playbook or build rapport with his teammates. At his current ADP, Drake doesn't have to match last year's heroics to return value. 80-90% of what he did last year, on a per-game basis, will be fine. It's hard to completely discount his perennial part-time status since Nick Saban saw it the same way Adam Gase did, but that's more of a concern for dynasty owners who have to worry about Drake's ability to hold up to a larger workload. For 2020, Drake is a good bet as an early-round pick.


Thoughts From Around the Industry

4for4s John Paulsen thinks he's a solid No. 1 fantasy back:

Drake’s production, while impressive, wasn’t a fluke. Prior to his arrival, Johnson (four) and Edmonds (one) combined to have five games with at least 102 total yards. If we only look at the best Arizona running back each week through the first eight weeks, they would have combined to be the No. 5 fantasy running back at that point in the season. So the Arizona offense was producing fantasy points at the position even before Drake’s arrival.

Redshirtfantasy's Kai Brewer sees Drake as a top-12 back this year:

Miami didn’t seem to share the faith in Kenyan Drake that the Cardinals appear to now. A hefty paycheck, a lack of alternative options, and small adjustments to the offensive line reveal a plan to continue forward with Drake leading the way for a Kliff Kinsbury offense that already opened in the top half of the NFL in points scored, points per drive, and the top ten in rushing yards. If Drake puts up just 90% of the numbers he posted in Arizona in 2019, there’s no reason he won’t be a top 10-12 back this season.


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