The Miami Dolphins have a (recent) productive history of drafting starting running backs in the middle rounds of the NFL draft.
Since the Daniel Thomas fiasco in 2011 (2nd-round), the Dolphins have selected top-tier running backs in Lamar Miller (4th-round), Jay Ajayi (5th-round) and Kenyan Drake (3rd-round).
Even with the team’s annually inept offensive line, Miller was able to accumulate 1,099 rushing yards in 2014, Ajayi rushed for a highlight-reel worthy 1,272 yards in 2016, and Drake has been able to amass 1,358 total rushing yards….in 3 years?
Without any other evidence, it’s safe to assume that Drake will not rush for 1,000 yards in 2019, but digging deeper into all the variables, it has nothing to do with Drake’s skill or production. In fact, you could argue that Drake is a better running back than either Miller or Ajayi were before him.
So what makes us confident that Drake will not be a 1,000-yard running back as he enters what is possibly his final year as a Dolphin?
The Possibilities Are Not Endless
With Chad O’Shea joining Brian Flores‘ staff as the offensive coordinator, we have a glimpse into what the Miami Dolphins offense will look like in 2019. Obviously, I don’t expect the team to copy Josh McDaniel‘s playbook entirely, but we should see some similar schemes and play calls scattered throughout the season.
But what does this mean for Kenyan Drake specifically?
In 2018, The New England Patriots ranked 3rd in total number of running plays. If we’re basing it off of the percentage of running plays each team ran (compared to their total offensive snap count), the Patriots ranked 8th. This appears to lean towards a run-heavy offense, until you realize that they ran the ball just 44.5% of their total offensive plays.
As if you needed more evidence to support the cliche that the NFL is turning into a passing league, in 2018:
- The Seattle Seahawks were the only team to run the ball more than they passed (52.8%).
- Only 7 teams ran the ball more than 45% of their total offensive snaps.
- 14 teams ran the ball less than 40% of the time.
With a diminishing number of snaps dedicated to rushing plays, Drake is going to have a hard time simply receiving the opportunities necessary to reach 1,000 rushing yards.
Throughout his career, Drake has rushed for a total of 1,358 yards on 286 attempts – that’s an average of 4.74 yards-per-carry. That’s a pretty great Y/C average, but for Drake to rush for 1,000 yards with a 4.74 Y/C average he would need 211 rushing attempts in 2019.
In 2018 Drake had 120 rushing attempts, and in 2017 he had 133 attempts. While entirely possible, I don’t think Drake is going to jump from ~125 rushing attempts all the way up to 211. He has proven he can run between the tackles, but that’s not his game. He is best utilized in space, where his shiftiness and speed can prevent anyone (not just Gronk) from having the proper angle to tackle him.
Let’s be generous and say the Dolphins can potentially run 500 rushing plays in 2019. The days of a #1 running back receiving every carry (Ricky Williams style) are over. Just about every team almost equally deploys two running backs throughout a 16-game season. There’s no way to keep your players fresh otherwise.
Above you’ll notice the snap count differential for each of New England’s running backs in 2018. Your interest may be peaked when you notice that James White was on the field for 600 offensive snaps and Sony Michel was on the field for 320.
This seems promising for Drake, but these snap counts include plays where they were asked to pass block, act as a decoy, or become involved in the passing game. This isn’t anywhere close to the number of times the player will touch the ball.
What is promising for Drake’s development, potential and overall Free Agency payday is that Kenyan Drake is going to closely resemble James White in Miami’s offense.
Like we mentioned, teams typically deploy two running backs throughout a season, but both running backs are meant to compliment each other – they aren’t identical players with similar playing styles – and both the Patriots and Dolphins exuded that logic in 2018:
Kenyan Drake is to James White as Frank Gore is to Sony Michel. You can easily see the versatility in White and Drake’s game, while both Michel and Gore were almost strictly asked to run the ball. I don’t expect Chad O’Shea to suddenly change this logic and turn Drake into a run-specific player.
Drake is most-lethal as a dual threat. Notice the statistical differential in James White’s passing numbers compared to his rushing numbers? That isn’t to say he was unproductive running the ball – you’ll take 4.52 Y/C every chance you get – but he was most-productive when he was incorporated into the passing game.
This is what we should come to expect more of from Kenyan Drake’s game.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) May 30, 2019
Reminds me a lot of Kenyan Drake.
Now a big difference going into 2019 is that the Dolphins don’t have a proven “big-bodied” back that could carry the load between the tackles. We can hope that Kalen Ballage becomes that player, but with minimal evidence to support this, it’s hard to rely on him as such.
Though this doesn’t necessarily mean that Drake is going to receive the bulk of the rushing attempts either. Miami’s running back room should produce at least one reliable rusher. Between rookie 7th-round picks Myles Gaskin and Chandler Cox, 2nd-year pro Mark Walton, and a group of additional running backs who have the opportunity to make the team once preseason hits, it’s possible one of these players evolve into the bruiser this team needs.
But what remains likely is that Drake isn’t going to be that bruising back.
Drake accumulated 883 total offensive yards in 2017 and 1,012 yards in 2018. It’s likely that increases even more in 2019 – it’s not far fetched to say that Drake could possibly accumulate 1,250 total offensive yards in 2019. But those yards are going to come at a versatile rate, rather than strictly as a stereotypical running back.
And it’s a good thing Drake isn’t a stereotypical running back, because this team is going to be successful with his versatility.
Rushing numbers don’t automatically equate to a successful running back. Does anyone think Darren Sproles, Alvin Kamara or Tarik Cohen are unsuccessful running backs? None of them have accumulated 1,000 rushing yards in a single season at any point in their careers, but we certainly would love to have any of them as they hit their prime. (Sproles is obviously past his prime, but when he was accumulating 1,313 total offensive yards at 28-years old we would have loved him in our backfield).
Kenyan Drake is about to leave the Miami Dolphins without ever rushing for 1,000 yards in a single season, but he’s quite possibly the best running back this team has had since Ricky Williams came over from the New Orleans Saints.
Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis
Dolphins go back to the 2017 first round defensive end well, claim Charlton from waivers
The 2017 Dolphins were, sadly, one of the more anticipated teams this organization has assembled in recent memory. Fresh off a surprise 10-win season, heading into year-two of the new system, and bevy of players returning from injury had fans feeling optimistic.
Patching up the perceived holes on the roster — like the defensive end position — started with an atrocious Andre Branch extension, and ended on the draft’s opening night with a handful of edge rusher prospects ripe for picking.
Derek Barnett came off the board before Miami could pluck the future Super Bowl hero, but everyone else was available. Jonathan Allen was selected five picks ahead of the Dolphins, but he was billed more as a three and five-technique inside player, not a true edge rusher.
That left Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, Tak McKinley and T.J. Watt. Two of those players are off to sterling starts in their young careers — the other two are nearing their respective last legs, and both are now Miami Dolphins.
Charlton received his release from the Cowboys earlier this week after an under-whelming 34-game stay in Big D. Taco’s snap count is revealing of the feeling about the player among the Dallas staff.
|Year||Taco Charlton Defensive Snaps Played (% of Cowboys’ Defensive Snaps)|
A 40-percent snap-taker is typically indicative of one of two things for an edge player. He’s either a situational savant — whether that’s to support the run game or pin his ears back and get after the quarterback — or that he’s the second option in the rotation, A.K.A. a backup.
Charlton’s production suggests that he was the latter, and only because of his draft status. His descent into a game day inactive signaled the end of his time with the club that drafted him.
Rumors of a trade were speculated as the reason Charlton was a healthy scratch for the season’s first two games, but Head Coach Jason Garrett referred to the numbers game. “We have 10 guys on the active roster on the defensive line and we dressed eight for the game. It felt like the guys we had up there gave us the best chance,” Garrett said via a report from Bloggin’ The Boys.
Still, we have 800 reps to look at to figure out where it went wrong for Charlton, and if he possesses a legitimate shot to fit this scheme and carve out spot in the future plans of the NFL’s most steadfast rebuild operation.
First, let’s start with the type of player Charlton was supposed to be coming out of Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan program.
The Dolphins are a team that adheres strongly to prototypes all over the field, but particularly in the trenches. Explosive metrics aren’t nearly as important as length, strength, read-and-react skillsets, intelligence to process and execute a variety of roles (stunts, twists, slants, picks), and most importantly, playing with heavy hands.
His fit begins with his build. At 6’6’’, 270-pounds with 34.5-inch arms, Charlton looks like plenty of defensive ends in a Brian Flores (Bill Belichick defense) before him. Charlton doesn’t check off all those boxes from the previous paragraph, but he hits enough of the buzz words to justify a flier.
This from Lance Zierlein of NFL Media.
That immediate get-off and quickness would’ve suited him better in Miami’s wide-9 alignment under Matt Burke. The length will benefit him, especially as he forces tackles to quickly get into their pass sets. The challenge will be developing a secondary move to work back inside and underneath the tackle.
The glowing praise for his twist, bend, and lower-body control will serve him well in a defense that will stunt, stunt, and stunt some more.
Most of all, the length will help him excel in this scheme as a run defender. To lock out and hold the point of attack are keys, and those are areas that put Charlton on the map as a first-round prospect.
The weaknesses from that blurb are alarming. Getting washed out of his gap by power and allowing blockers into his frame will earn him a quick ticket right out of town — those are the departments where the surprise cuts in Nate Orchard and Dewayne Hendrix struggled.
Lack of consistency, takes plays off, needs a coach that will push him — those are the final takeaways from Zierlein’s conversation with an anonymous AFC Executive.
If there’s any one thing you can point to with Flores as far as his football acumen — this excludes leadership and communication — it’s his ability to coach football (novel idea, huh?) This feels like a Flores pet project.
Let’s get into some of Charlton’s Dallas tenure, starting with his metrics from Pro Football Focus.
Charlton has 38 total pressures in his two years as a pro (4 sacks, 8 hits, 26 hurries). He compiled those numbers on 464 pass rush reps, a pressure on 8.2% of his pass rush snaps — not good. His 4.1 weighted pass rush productivity mark in 2018 ranked 132ndamong all edge rushers.
Charlton missed four tackles on 34 opportunities — an 11.8 missed tackle percentage, also not good. He made 23 run-stops on 346 snaps against the ground game. That mark — 6.6% — landed Charlton at 73rd among edge defenders in 2018, and 143rd in 2017.
The majority of Charlton’s work came from the right side of the defensive line (position vacated by Robert Quinn, currently held by a cast of many in Miami). Charlton lined up for pass rushing situations on the right side for 67.3% of his total reps.
Now, for the tape.
Quick Taco Charlton film thread. Looking at the applicable traits that make him a potential fit in Miami’s scheme, where he needs to get better, and why coaching can make a difference.
First, the get-off paired with lateral agility will suit him well in a stunt-heavy defense. pic.twitter.com/Qgd0kzPzlp
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) September 19, 2019
If Charlton can piece together the finer points of his game and develop a better arsenal or rush moves, he’ll stick as a building block. The decreased workload this year, his lack of production dating back to college, and inconsistencies makes one wonder about the drive and work habits.
We’ll quickly find out about the character of Charlton. If he embraces this opportunity, it’s a great landing spot for him. If not, he’ll be back on the unemployment line in short order.
Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton
Only minutes after the Miami Dolphins’ Week 2 loss against the Patriots, Head Coach Brian Flores maintained that Ryan Fitzpatrick was the starting quarterback… “Right now”.
By Thursday afternoon, it became clear that “right now” had passed as Josh Rosen was announced to take over the starting QB position ahead of Miami’s first road trip this Sunday against the Cowboys.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 19, 2019
Fans had caught intermittent glimpses of Rosen’s abilities through the preseason and he has seen the field during replacement duty in Weeks 1 and 2, so far completing 8/21 passes for 102 yards, 2 INTs and a 38.1% completion percentage.
While Rosen has not yet led the Dolphins to regular season points, the second year passer will find his opportunity to do so in Dallas and the Dolphins will be able to make further evaluation of 2018’s tenth overall pick.
Ryan Fitzpatrick’s veteran standing and experience had given him the early advantage, but the time has arrived in for the Dolphins to see what the future may bring – if anything – for Josh Rosen in Miami.
Whilst the national attention seems to be focused on Chris Grier’s rebuild of the roster, the Dolphins have claimed former first round pick, DE Taco Charlton, released by the Cowboys on Wednesday.
Dolphins have claimed former Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, source confirms. Charlton was Dallas 2017 first-round pick who the team waived Wednesday.
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) September 19, 2019
The Dolphins are getting Taco Charlton for a bargain: 2 years, $2.5M.
— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) September 19, 2019
Charlton was the Dallas Cowboys’ first round selection in 2017, having played in 27 games (7 starts) and registered 4.0 sacks and 47 combined tackles.
Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview
Dolphins Search to Stop the Bleeding in Big D
Who: Dolphins (0-2) at Cowboys (2-0)
When: Sunday September 22, 1:00 PM East
Where: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, TX
Vegas Slant: Dolphins +21
The hits keep coming for Miami. Another prominent fixture of the roster has been jettisoned, and another loaded team is on the docket for the downtrodden Dolphins.
This current iteration of the Dallas Cowboys is akin to what Miami hopes to build in a couple years’ time — stout trench play, emerging young quarterback, and star-studded skill positions.
Three touchdown underdogs for the second consecutive week, the Dolphins are introducing college point-spreads into the National Football League. Miami’s 19-point home handicap last week was the biggest such spread for a host team since the 2007 season, and the Dolphins are now channeling the 2013 Broncos-Jaguars game that climbed up over 25 points before betting closed.
The Dolphins were far more competitive last week, even if the scoreboard didn’t show it. Contributions from star Cornerback Xavien Howard, upstart Linebacker Jerome Baker, and surprising recent addition Vince Biegel were the silver linings in the 43-point thrashing; we’re looking for more of those in Dallas.
The switch from Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore might’ve been the biggest upgrade in the NFL this offseason. Moore, a coach’s son that made it to the NFL for his cerebral prowess at the quarterback position, is dressing up Dallas’ offense with disguise, misdirection, and tendency breakers.
Dallas varies it’s running scheme, but the talent to execute simple gap-schemes and power concepts allows Moore to get creative with the play action game. Cowboys players praise Moore for his nuance and emphasis on getting players in position to exhibit their best traits.
Scheming chunk-plays in the passing game, running the football to keep the offense on schedule, and devising red zone concepts to free up pass catchers in the condensed area already has Moore’s name circulating as the next hot head coaching candidate.
On top of impeccable front-seven talent, the Cowboys borrow concepts from some of the most accomplished, revolutionary defensive schemes in the history of the league. Rod Marinelli still carries the title of Defensive Coordinator, but it’s a co-op with he and the up-and-coming Kris Richard.
With elements of the Tampa-2 from Marinelli’s days with the Bucs — and more recently in Chicago — fused with Richard’s rendition of the wildly popular scheme originated by Pete Carroll, Dallas is successful in a multitude of packages and pre-snap disguises.
Creating one-on-one rush opportunities from their elite pass rushers, while playing a variety of cover-3, 2, and 1 on the back-end, the Cowboys can apply pressure while dropping seven — the ultimate goal of every NFL defense.
Look for Chad O’Shea to attack this defense with more in-breaking routes. That means high-low and drive concepts (designed to displace zone coverage and attack the middle of cover-1 and Tampa-2 defenses) and seam shots with the Cowboys drop two deep.
Dak Prescott is off to an MVP-caliber beginning to his 2019 season. Prescott handles pressure in two ways — the type of pressure applied by ferocious fronts, and the pressure of big moments. He’s accurate, creates opportunities off-script, and allows Kellen Moore to utilize designed runs.
Then there’s Zeke Elliot, who’s just getting rolling. Zeke, behind arguably the NFL’s best offensive line with the healthy Travis Frederic, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith and La’El Collins, Dallas can line up and push teams off the football.
The Dolphins must get big showings from Davon Godchaux and Christian Wilkins to hold the point-of-attack and free up Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan to meet Zeke in the hole.
Amari Cooper is one of the game’s best route runners, and he pairs that with size and speed. He’ll be a tough matchup for Miami, unless Xavien Howard wants to travel with the Cowboys play maker. That opens up another bag of worms, especially as Miami will be working in a new safety alongside corner-convert, Bobby McCain.
Jason Witten is back, but he serves mostly as an additional lineman and the forgotten man in the red zone (as far as the defense is concerned, Witten has two touchdowns already on plays that schemed him wide open). Michael Gallup will miss this game while the resurgent Randal Cobb will help keep the Miami defense honest horizontally in the misdirection game.
Jaylon Smith leads the defense with his instinctive, urgent playing style that pairs well with uncommon physical traits. He and Leighton Vander Esch set the tone in the middle of the Dallas defense, and a lot of the scheme is designed to free these two up to wreak havoc. Smith’s athleticism allows Marinelli to keep the Tampa-2 concept alive.
Demarcus Lawrence is set to have a field day. Miami haven’t been able to block anybody this year, and now will have to handle one of the game’s best pass rushers against deafening crowd noise.
Byron Jones has fallen out of favor in Dallas. The dependable Jeff Heath, and the underrated Xavier Woods make it so, while Chidobe Awuzie locks down the opposition’s number one receiver. Dallas’ vulnerability in this position group from the perimeter corner position opposite Awuzie. Jones has been playing corner to pair with slot specialist Jourdan Lewis and Awuzie.
If Miami can create one-on-one passing opportunities into the boundary, look for O’Shea to attack vertically and hope to steal some points — the best bet here is likely Preston Williams.
— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) September 18, 2019
Quite literally all over the football field. Dallas can line up with power and milk the Dolphins defense dry. They can attack vertically, or in the controlled passing game with well-timed shot plays built into the offense, all on top of exceptional red zone production in the early going of 2019.
Demarcus Lawrence leads the team in pressures, but he’s only pulled the quarterback down once — that ties the team lead. This Cowboys pass rush is going to be champing at the bit to pad those stats, and there’s no reason to think Miami can handle the relentless pressure, even without blitzing.
Special teams might be the one area Miami can spark some magic. The Dolphins are off to a slow start in this department as well, but Jakeem Grant’s big-play ability will be needed if Miami are to pull the miracle upset.
Finding vertical shots — whether it’s Mike Gesicki splitting the Tampa-2, Preston Williams winning an outside release into the boundary without safety help, or getting a fly-by from Grant, Miami needs some fireworks.
The Projected Outcome:
The game plan came together defensively in the first half against the Patriots, but it’s a challenge for even the league’s best stop-units to carry a lifeless offense. Unless the Dolphins can finally sustain some drives and convert in the red zone, this game will get out of hand. It’s doubtful Miami can do that, so look for an aggressive offense that tries to hit the big play.
Dallas just has too much star power and excellent coordinators for Miami to pick them off — or even cover.
- Taco Charlton: New Acquisition Analysis September 19, 2019
- Josh Rosen Named Starting QB vs Cowboys; Claim DE Taco Charlton September 19, 2019
- Dolphins Cowboys Week Three Preview September 19, 2019
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