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NFL Draft

Will Kenyan Drake Thrive As Cardinals’ Starting RB?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 14, 2020
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Kenyan Drake is ready for a full-time workload with the Arizona Cardinals. For him, “everything kind of happened the way it was supposed to,” including a disappointing rookie season, back-to-back sub-650-yard seasons, and a trade in the middle of 2019.

Drake got a new start in the Valley, and it was his most productive stretch yet. 

In just eight games, he rushed for 643 yards—one yard shy of matching his career-best from 2017, where he played in all 16 games for the Miami Dolphins—and eight touchdowns. The Cardinals ensured they would be able to keep Drake, who they got for a fifth-round pick, on a transition tag while they negotiate a long-term contract; or continue to feel out the market as the mid-July deadline approaches.

If no deal is reached, Drake will remain on the tag through the 2020 season, and the full-time load will make-or-break his case for a top deal—or even an average one with the depreciating value of running backs. He remains optimistic as a back who has yet to reach his full potential and wants stability in a very unstable market.

“I feel like my ceiling is as high as I'll take it,” Drake told NFL media in late May. “I can't do anything but put the work in right now and take that into whenever the season starts.

“I feel like anybody who plays this game is obviously looking for stability and a long-term contract. But we got the deal done to where we are currently, and everything else will take care of itself. All I can do is focus on the things I can control.”

The good news for Drake is his short 2019 season with the Cardinals wasn’t a flash in the pan. If healthy, which he has been throughout his NFL career, Drake can thrive. Arizona has made it a little bit easier for him to do so with its recent offensive additions; but like the mid-season trade, this is unknown territory.

Drake is preparing to carry the load of RB1 for the first season of his five-year career. He has played in all 16 games every year except 2019 when he missed two, but he’s never shouldered the weight of the top back. His eight starts in Arizona were the most of his career, and if the Cardinals needed a sign of what’s to come, they got a good one for a very low investment.

Drake, a third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, was overshadowed in a class featuring Ezekiel Elliott and flew under the radar at Alabama behind T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Drake dealt with a few injuries in college—a broken leg in 2014 and a fractured arm a season later—that turned some teams off. His versatile, explosive play, however, was enough to earn him Reggie Bush comparisons, which, when looking at Bush’s career arc compared to Drake, still holds up. 

Drake wasn’t as consistent as Bush when he first entered the league, but he approaches his sixth year in a similar position. Bush hit the 1,000-yard mark with the Miami Dolphins in 2011 after five seasons in New Orleans and his first as a full-time starter. Drake is in a similar position now.

While Drake may not reach that illustrious mark in the pass-heavy Cardinals offense, he’s already sustained success in Kliff Kingsbury's system. Kingsbury has a history of shying away from the run in college and brought that style to the NFL, but that’s recently been Arizona’s style. From 2018 to 2019, the Cardinals rushed the ball 39.36% and 39.60% of the time, respectively. Arizona cleared the backfield by sending the aging David Johnson to the Houston Texans (along with a second-round pick) in exchange for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, giving Drake plenty of room to grow into this role. 

Drake will have Chase Edmonds, who was one of the team’s primary backs in 2019 before missing multiple weeks with a hamstring injury, seventh-round pick Eno Benjamin, and quarterback Kyler Murray, who was second to Drake last season with 544 rushing yards, sharing touches. 

While Arizona can opt to use the committee approach again, Drake was the lone member of the said committee who truly produced last season. Edmonds totaled 303 yards on 60 carries while Johnson added 345 yards on 94 touches. 

The most important distinction here is how Drake will be used, instead of how often. He seized opportunities last season to prove he can be an every-down back and while the NFC West has some fearsome defenses, none truly stood out stopping the run. The Cardinals didn’t add any significant depth to the running back room, and if I had to take a guess, it’s because they are betting on Drake to again seize the opportunity he’s presented. If he is a flash in the pan, it’ll be disappointing, but Arizona is in a win-win situation as Drake has a very high upside.

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