Fantasy Football Profile: Kenyan Drake
It seems like every year, we’re duped into believing that some second-half superstar from the prior season is going to deliver the same way going forward. I don’t blame you for that, it’s how we’re built. Just think about it – Trent Richardson, Stevan Ridley, Knowshon Moreno, Zac Stacy, Justin Forsett, Andre Ellington, Jeremy Hill, Jay Ajayi… the list goes on and on, but that’s just over the last handful of years.
Kenyan Drake is the player who most are discussing as potentially the next running back to be added to this list. After totaling just 204 yards on 43 carries (which was still a rock-solid 4.74 yards per carry) over the first seven games, Drake blew up over the final nine games of the season, racking up 619 yards on 123 carries (5.03 YPC) with three touchdowns with another 232 yards and a touchdown on 29 receptions through the air. What led to him getting that job, though? An injury to not just one running back, but two of them. On top of that, the Dolphins signed Frank Gore in free agency and then drafted Kalen Ballage in the fourth-round of the draft, leaving you to wonder how Drake should be valued in 2018.
GAUGING THE TALENT
Let’s start by addressing the talent in the room. Drake is a former high third-round pick who was playing behind Arian Foster and Jay Ajayi in his rookie season, which never gave him a chance to showcase what he could do. Remember, a high third-round pick is quite a bit of equity for an NFL team to use on a running back. Yes, Ballage was drafted in the fourth-round, but he was at the tail end of it, and he’s a player who wasn’t even starting on his college team and is known as more of a pass-catching specialist than anything. He’s not going to steal the job away from Drake this year, I can promise you that.
As for Gore, it’s a questionable signing to say the least, as was the signing of Danny Amendola because the team had already acquired Albert Wilson to presumably play the slot role that used to be occupied by Jarvis Landry. Gore has averaged just 3.77 yards per carry over the last three years, is now 35 years old, and is starting over on a new offense. Still, what would the Dolphins want with a 35-year-old veteran who is rapidly declining, and on a team that is not going to be in contention? My guess for both him and Amendola is to be a veteran presence on a team with some young talent.
THE WORKLOAD POTENTIAL
Going back to look at the 2017 Dolphins as a team isn’t something I’d recommend doing, as they were likely worse than their 6-10 record suggests. Their offense never hit a groove until Drake started carrying the load, as they won three of their final five games. In those games, Drake averaged 21.6 touches per game, but it wouldn’t have been that way if Damien Williams had been healthy. Prior to him getting the workhorse role, the division between the two once Ajayi was traded was Drake’s 50 touches to Williams’ 47 touches, even though Drake’s were much more productive. Williams signed with the Chiefs this offseason as a free agent, so the Dolphins naturally had a role to fill, which they did with Ballage.
All in all, the Dolphins running backs totaled just 325 carries and 70 receptions, or 395 total touches. Over a 16-game season, that amounts to 24.7 touches per game. Le’Veon Bell himself averaged 27.1 touches in 2017, showing just how incapable it’d be for someone on the Dolphins offense to produce elite numbers, unless, of course, they were winning football games.
Of the 32 teams in the NFL, there were five teams whose running backs combined to total over 500 touches, and all of them were on top-18 scoring offenses. In fact, there were just three teams who averaged fewer running back touches than the Dolphins, and they were the Packers, Seahawks, and Chiefs. While the Packers and Seahawks don’t have a running back inside the top-20 in early ADP, the Chiefs do (Kareem Hunt). The history of low-scoring offenses kills most upside for running backs, as 78 percent of top-12 running backs over the last six years come from top-18 scoring offenses.
So, even if you were to say the Dolphins take a step forward as a team and involve their running backs more, we can’t say more than 420 touches without a change in offensive coordinator or head coach, as they don’t simply change their scheme overnight. In fact, the longer a coach and coordinator are in place, the less they typically run (see my study on that right here). Under Gase in 2016, the running backs totaled 424 touches. Now that we’ve narrowed it down to somewhere in between 380-420 touches, how many of those touches does Drake get?
The elite running backs in the league average anywhere from 70-85 percent of the touches, with the majority of other timeshare leaders falling into the 50-70 percent range. If the Dolphins considered Drake elite, they wouldn’t have signed Gore or drafted Ballage. That’s not to say he can’t win them over, because he can (and should considering the competition). Still, I’ll give Drake a 60 percent share, which would give him a range of 228-252 touches. Of the 18 running backs who totaled at least 228 touches in 2017, only two of them failed to finish inside the top-25 PPR running backs. Those players were Ajayi and Isaiah Crowell.
After doing this profile, I can say that Drake is a better fantasy asset than I initially thought. Even though the projections came in with him as the No. 18 running back, I hesitated to draft him there based on what I knew about low-scoring offenses. But here’s the thing – I’m not going to draft him and expect to get a top-five running back. I’m drafting him with the expectation that he’s going to produce RB2 numbers, which I’m extremely confident in. If you’re someone who’s hoping to hit lightning in a bottle and potentially get an elite running back, Drake isn’t for you. The volume and scoring potential of the offense just doesn’t support what you’re looking for. In the end, there’s a reason many are divided on him, and it all comes down to the type of fantasy player you are. I want touches for my running backs, and Drake should see just enough. My 2018 projection: 215 carries, 925 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns, 31 receptions, 223 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown