The 2016 draft was one that was supposed to be littered with good running backs. It was headlined by the highly touted Ohio State star Ezekiel Elliot, and the Heisman winner from Alabama, Derek Henry. It was also thought to be quite deep with names like Utah’s Devontae Booker, Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, and Notre Dame’s CJ Prosise however.
With Lamar Miller leaving via free agency to the Houston Texans, the Miami Dolphins were in the market for a back. There was a lot of buzz going into the draft that Miami was very interested in Elliot, but that pipe dream ended quickly as the Cowboys took him with the 4th pick. When that happened, speculation began about which of the remaining backs Miami would take. As Booker and Dixon fell further than most thought they would, the Dolphins pick in round 3 came around, and they had their pick of the litter of the second tier after the big two.
When Kenyan Drake’s name was called it was a surprise to most Dolphins fans. Drake was a backup to Henry and their kick returner. He was thought of as more of a specialty player, and with Jay Ajayi yet to break out, the Dolphins were thought to be looking for a feature back. Head coach Adam Gase, however, said they felt like Drake could be a three down back, and there were reportedly some personnel people around the NFL that believed Drake might actually be the better NFL running back of the two Alabama players. Still, fans were somewhat skeptical.
In Drake’s rookie year, Drake was a backup, and watched as Jay Ajayi broke out and took the NFL by storm. The Dolphins liked what backup running back Damien Williams could do in the passing game, so Drake was relegated to the end of the depth chart at the position. Despite this, he did have a couple of electric plays for Miami when he got on the field. He had a game winning kick return against the New York Jets, and 45 yard touchdown run against the Buffalo Bills where he looked to be stopped in the backfield, reversed field and took it up the sideline to the house.
The opportunities were few and far between for Drake, however, and he ended the season with a meager 179 yards on 33 carries. The big plays did leave Dolphins fans wondering what he could do with a bigger opportunity.
Fans hoped that opportunity would come in his sophomore season. With questions about Ajayi’s knees and some other minor injuries, the hope was that Drake could save some mileage on Ajayi. Drake, slowed himself by nagging injuries, did have some impressive runs in the preseason which gave fans hope that he might be given a role in the offense, but as the season started, Drake once again found himself struggling to see the field behind Ajayi and Williams.
Miami’s coaching staff had alluded to the notion that Drake might not have the mental side figured out yet from a pass protection standpoint, leading fans to believe this could be the reason he wasn’t seeing much playing time in the backfield. It wasn’t until mop up time while getting blown out by the Ravens that Drake got any extensive action carrying the ball. When he did, however, once again he looked good in doing so.
As a fan, you had to wonder if the Dolphins were overthinking things with Drake. Sure, you want your players to know what they’re doing in all aspects, and with Miami’s offensive line situation, their quarterbacks need all the help they can get from a protection standpoint. The most important thing for a running back, however, is what they do carrying the football. And when Drake has carried the football, he has been impressive enough to warrant a bigger look.
And it wasn’t like Miami’s other backs were doing such a great job in pass pro either. With it appearing like the coaches didn’t seem all that interested in giving Drake an opportunity, in my head, I was ready to write an article about how Drake could be the next running back who wasn’t really given a shot, that went on to prove he can play in this league (see Orleans Darkwa and Mike Gillislee).
Then on Tuesday, the bombshell dropped. On the day of the NFL trade deadline, Miami surprisingly dealt star running back Jay Ajayi to the Eagles for a 4th round draft pick. Ajayi hadn’t been putting up the numbers everyone had hoped for, but most people felt like the blame lied mostly on the offensive line. Apparently Adam Gase felt differently. When putting two and two together, Adam Gase’s scathing Friday press conference after the Ravens blowout appears to have been directed in large part at Ajayi. With Ajayi now gone, it looks like Drake will finally get his real opportunity.
The Dolphins could very well give Damien Williams the starting job, and more of the carries, but one would think Drake will at the very least still get some run, and here’s hoping he gets a good share of the workload. While he may not be the all-around back Ajayi was, there is reason to believe that with his speed and explosiveness, and ability to get to the outside, he could end up having more success with Miami’s shaky offensive line. Drake doesn’t have to be a star. Dolphins fans would be thrilled if they could get similar production from Drake that they got from Reggie Bush, a player who Drake has frequently been compared to.
Interestingly enough, earlier this week, Kenyan Drake, cut off the dreadlocks he had been growing since the offseason. I’m sure he didn’t know it at the time, but he may have a chance to show off that clean shaven look in prime time against the Raiders this week, and just maybe show off his talent to the country as well.
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