Only two NFL running backs have averaged more yards per carry over the past three years than the player who seemingly became an afterthought in the Dolphins’ running game last season.
And that simply must change this season, because the Dolphins must definitively determine Kenyan Drake’s value and ceiling as he enters the final season of his rookie contract.
A case could be made, as Herald correspondent Anthony Frascone espoused, that Drake is the most underutilized running back (compared to the type of workload he deserves) in Dolphins history.
Of the 84 running backs drafted by the Dolphins in their history, Drake has the highest yards per attempt over his first three seasons (4.75), ahead of Lamar Miller. But his 286 carries over those three years were considerably fewer than Miller’s 444 carries in his first three seasons.
Since 2016, Drake’s 4.75 average per rush is tied with Kareem Hunt for third best in the league.
The only two ahead of Drake: Alvin Kamara at 5.13 (he has 314 rushing attempts in two NFL seasons) and Mark Ingram at 4.91. Ingram has 573 carries over those three years - almost exactly twice as much as Drake has.
And yet, in seven years since graduating high school, Drake has carried the ball 15 times or more only three times – none in four years at Alabama and three games for the Dolphins (all in 2017).
And you know how he did in those 15-plus carry games? He rushed for 120 yards on 23 carries against Denver (5.2 average), 114 on 25 against New England (4.6 average) and 78 on 16 carries at Buffalo (4.9 average), with Miami winning two of those games.
In fact, the only time he got a heavy workload, he led the NFL in rushing over the final five games of 2017.
And there’s this nugget unearthed by Frascone (of 3oh5sports.com): From 2007 to 2017, Drake averaged more yards after contact than any other NFL running back with a minimum of 100 carries (4.29). Adrian Peterson was second at 3.93.
Last year, Drake’s after contact average dropped to 2.68 – not great but better than Jay Ajayi, Sony Michael, David Johnson, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy and a bunch of others.
That means Drake did excellent work despite often not getting much run blocking.
What more does the man need to do to get the ball more than his 7.5 carries per game last season?
Now we know there were other factors last year: 1) Frank Gore (now with Buffalo) was very good for the Dolphins. 2) Gore was more likely to have fewer negative plays than Drake, which heavily influenced Adam Gase’s thinking. 3) Drake was featured prominently in the passing game (53 catches, 477 yards, five touchdowns). 4) The Dolphins had the fewest offensive plays in the league.
And all those reasons are understandable individually. But the bottom line is Drake needs to carry the ball more because despite the occasional negative play, good things often happen when he has the ball.
Yes, Miami needs to see what it has in Kalen Ballage and perhaps Mark Walton. But Drake needs 12-18 carries a game; the odds are he will make the most of them.
“He has good hands, is fast, elusive; he’s a good player,” coach Brian Flores said Tuesday. “Working with him has been good. He’s got a lot of skill. He’s doing a lot of things we’re asking him to do. There’s still a long way to go.”
Unlike Ajayi before him, Drake refuses to complain about lack of carries or even hint that he wants more.
Asked Tuesday if he ever thinks about what he could achieve if he got a heavier workload, he resisted the temptation to answer in any way that might displease his coaches.
“I would like to win a lot more games,” he said. “That’s my most important thing. Whether I get the ball five times or 25 times, if we’re winning games, everybody is going to get the accolades they want.”
What allows him to be at peace with his modest carry totals when others might complain?
“My work is going to speak for itself,” he said.
Here are my Tuesday Dolphins notes with perspective on just how tenuous the Dolphins’ situation is with edge rushers and their proposed solutions to mask the problem.
Here’s my Tuesday piece on the Marlins being poised to make another big splash in international free agency- seven months after signing the Mesa brothers.