Will Kenyan Drake Finally Be Unleashed?
Disappointment is a flavor most fantasy football faithful are familiar with. We have all tasted it at one point or another. The buffet is set, we pick our flavors and once a week, we shovel them in hoping to taste victory. Disappointment often sneaks in, spoiling the taste, or in some cases leading to dire sickness, nausea, and anger that can only be truly understood by other fantasy degenerates. They get it because they have sampled the same wares with the same mixed results.
Kenyan Drake was a frustrating fantasy player for owners in 2018. It was a combination of factors that led to the overall disappointment. On the precipice of 2019 what we all want to know is what do we do with Kenyan Drake? Here, we are going to go through some data and see where his value could be to establish and floor and ceiling for the 2019 fantasy season.
Kenyan Drake: Finally Unleashed?
A Brief History
Make no mistake, Adam Gase harbors a severe hatred for talented running backs (Le’Veon Bell owners, do not say you were not warned.). Gase’s track record for misuse in Miami goes all the way back to 2016 when he sent Jay Ajayi to the doghouse. In fact, there was an instance where he was not even permitted to travel with the team to an away game. It was not until Arian Foster abruptly retired that Ajayi got his shot as the lead back.
In 2017, after failing to score a rushing touchdown, the Dolphins traded Ajayi midseason to the Philadelphia Eagles. At that point, the clamor for Drake began. Drake and Damien Williams entered a crude committee that finished out the season.
It was during this time that Drake showed glimpses of the multi-faceted talent that he is. While the chart above reflects his rushing stats, it does not show his prowess as a receiver out of the backfield. He added 32 receptions on 48 targets for 239 receiving yards and one more score.
At this point that fantasy owners began to salivate over Drake as a potential breakout candidate. That excitement heightened when Damien Williams signed to a backup role with the Kansas City Chiefs. All appeared to point to Drake as the lead back in the Dolphins offense, and what that could mean for fantasy value. During the last five games of 2017, Drake handled the closest thing to a feature back role that he has had thus far. He averaged 118 yards per game during that span.
The Rise and Fall of 2018
Adam Gase was having none of that. The Dolphins signed the infinite Frank Gore and drafted Kalen Ballage. Despite that, many people in the fantasy community, present wordsmith included, still believed that Drake’s talent would propel him to the top. The first three weeks of the season showed that this had become another committee approach. Overall, the carries were split very close to even, with Drake getting a slight bump due to his continued use in the passing game. From that point on, the misuse of Drake as a weapon was a weekly frustration for fantasy owners.
Simply put, Drake seemed to be a threat any time he was utilized and Gore was safe for a plodding type of production. As shown in the chart above, while Gore’s frequency stayed closer to an average type of production, Drake had bigger games, some more drastic dips, but ultimately the higher potential ceiling, leading to an RB21 finish in PPR scoring on the season. Drake can make plays with the ball in his hands. He showed that multiple times at the end of 2017 and even through the sub-optimal usage of 2018.
The theory of rational coaching suggests that if a player is making big plays when given opportunity, provide that player with more opportunity. That did not happen. Despite the big plays on limited work, the coaching staff could not commit to feeding him the ball.
Fantasy football owners are prone to holding grudges. It is almost a prerequisite. Ask anyone who drafted Eli Manning in 2013 if they would ever touch him again, even with a free-pick and a 10-foot pole. It is difficult to overcome a hyped player that drastically disappoints. Sometimes, the situation changes for the better. Let’s evaluate what we know about Drake and the Miami Dolphins offense moving forward.
2019: Opportunity Renewed
Adam Gase has moved on and is now the New York Jets’ (growing) problem. The Dolphins brought in Brian Flores. Flores has little to no playcalling experience for reference, which is difficult for projection purposes. He named Chad O’Shea as offensive coordinator, again with no noted experience at the position. To further muddy the waters, there has been plenty of talk of full-on tank mode from the South Beach area. All of these factors make projection difficult. Looks like we are back to the theory of rational coaching.
In a recent interview with the Miami Herald, Flores had this to say about Drake.
“I think Drake is an explosive player, I’ve seen it firsthand, unfortunately. I think he’s a talented player. He catches the ball well. He’s a good runner. He runs hard. He does a lot of really good things.”
However, he went on to say that he’s not committed to giving any running back 275-300 touches. “It depends on the back.” He said.
“I think if that’s what’s best for the team, then that’s what we do. That will always be kind of my thought process on it. If that’s what’s best for the Miami Dolphins, then that’s what we’ll do. We’ve got some good backs. Ballage is a good back, as well. We may draft a back. We may not draft a back. I don’t know. But the guys who go out and practice well and prepare the right way and block in pass protection, those are the guys who will be out on the field.”
Is this coach-speak and Flores is just refusing to show his hand to the media?
Wrapping It All Up
What we do know is that the Dolphins did not bring in any running back competition during the free agency period. They spent a sixth and seventh-round draft pick on Chandler Cox and Myles Gaskin respectively. Cox profiles more as a fullback and should remain of almost no fantasy relevance. Gaskin was very productive at the collegiate level, rushing for over 1,200 yards in all four seasons. With all the wear and tear, Gaskin fell to later rounds in drafts and should be thought of as more of a depth piece for this season.
Drake has shown through parts of the last two seasons that he is the most complete, dynamic back on this roster. We know that Drake has shown his ability as a rusher, boasting a career 4.7 yards-per-carry average. He has also shown his ability as a pass catcher, posting the 13th most receptions of all qualified running backs last season. He is a play-maker, capable of taking any dump off or carry for big yardage. We also know that it would be exceedingly difficult for the new coaching staff to misuse his talent worse than we saw last season. If Drake comes out doing what we’ve seen him do before, be very productive, then it is nearly ludicrous to envision the coaching limiting his workload.
Drake is currently being drafted at 5.07, as the 27th running back off the board. This draft position is more close to his floor than his potential ceiling. Being able to draft a dual-threat, dynamic back in the middle of the fifth round is savvy. Drake has plenty of upside, even on a tank-mode team. Honestly, what does the team have to lose by putting Josh Rosen and Drake out there to see what they have? Drake has RB1 type of upside if utilized properly. The fantasy football community may be poised to finally see Kenyan Drake utilized as a focal-point weapon for this franchise. That’s a lottery ticket I’m willing to try and cash in on.