Fantasy Impact: Kenyan Drake Signs with Raiders (2021 Fantasy Football)
We haven’t had much news on running backs in free agency, but that changed Thursday afternoon when the Las Vegas Raiders agreed to terms on a two-year, $11 million deal with former Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake. The deal includes incentives that can earn Drake an additional $3.5 million.
UP AND DOWN CAREER
Early in Drake’s career, he was dubbed as a change-of-pace back who’d tallied just 286 carries over his first three seasons in the league while being targeted 131 times during that stretch. In fact, he may not have had that many carries had it not been for an injury to Jay Ajayi. After showcasing what he could do, the Dolphins traded Ajayi to the Eagles.
But even after averaging 4.8 yards per carry in 2017, the Dolphins decided to add Frank Gore for the 2018 season and limit Drake’s touches. This also bled into 2019 where the Dolphins refused to give Drake more than 12 carries in a game over the first seven weeks. They ultimately traded him to the Cardinals where Kliff Kingsbury let him fly. He tallied 123 carries, 643 yards, and eight touchdowns over eight games with the team, and added another 28 receptions for 171 yards through the air.
The Cardinals liked him so much, they placed the transition tag on him for the 2020 season, but his role changed in a big way. He was no longer seeing the 4-7 targets per game he was in 2020. In fact, there were just two games all year he saw more than three targets. He wound up scoring 10 rushing touchdowns, which propped up his overall numbers, but the 3.99 yards per carry he averaged was nearly half of a yard less than his previous career-low. It’s fair to say that Drake’s 2020 season was a massive disappointment.
Hearing that Drake signed with the Raiders was a shock to the whole fantasy world, but not me. We’ve continually watched them add running backs who they thought would complement Josh Jacobs well, particularly in the passing game. It’s funny because the 2020 version of Drake is a lot like the 2020 version of Jacobs. We wondered where the passing-game involvement went. We had the eight-game sample with Drake in the Kingsbury offense. What happened? We had Mike Mayock saying they were going to involve Jacobs in the passing game. What happened? Did I mention that both running backs played at Alabama?
It’s so odd about Jacobs, too, because he was a phenomenal receiver in college. In fact, I said it was one of his best attributes. Well, they decided to give DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard 83 targets in 2019 while Jacobs saw just 27 of them. Then, prior to the 2020 season, they re-signed Richard when he was a free agent, then signed Devontae Booker, and drafted Lynn Bowden. And now, in the 2021 offseason, they add a running back who was heavily-involved with third-down work earlier in his career. It’s clear they aren’t planning on giving Jacobs much more work in the passing game, but is that enough for us to want Drake in fantasy?
We can look at the last two years in the Jon Gruden/Greg Olson offense and see that there’s certainly a pattern of usage with the running backs.
|RB Att||RB Yds||RB TD||RB Tgt||RB Rec||RB RecYds||RB RecTD|
That’s plenty of work to go around for the running backs, as they’ve averaged 485.0 touches per season between them. At this point in time, Richard is still on the roster, though he was limited to just 45 opportunities last year, which doesn’t take out a big portion of the pie. But when it comes to Jacobs and Drake, they may cancel each other out. You don’t pay a running back $5.5-7 million to get 5-8 touches per game. The assumption at this point should be that Jacobs is the primary 1-2 down back while Drake mixes in and gets most of the passing-down work. My guess would be that Jacobs winds up around 250 touches while Drake is in the 175-190 range.
The next issue for the duo to tackle is the offensive line changes. The Raiders will have three new starting offensive linemen in 2021 after they traded Trent Brown, Gabe Jackson, and Rodney Hudson. You wish you could say the Raiders will adapt to these changes, but they’ve shown little competence when it comes to utilizing their players’ best skills, like Jacobs as a pass-catcher, or getting the ball into Henry Ruggs‘ hands close to the line of scrimmage and not using him as just a deep threat. Throw out conventional wisdom with the offensive play-calling here, because it doesn’t exist.
EARLY 2021 PREDICTIONS
The Raiders have two talented running backs in their backfield, but will they know how to best utilize them? There’s enough volume for both to be on the fantasy radar, though efficiency isn’t likely to be kind with a completely rebuilt offensive line. If Jacobs can’t improve his 3.90 yards per carry average in 2021, he’s not going to get anywhere near the 273 carries he got last year. But with that being said, Drake himself is coming off his most disappointing season where he wasn’t used much in the passing game. It’s an odd marriage with these two, and one that plummets their fantasy appeal. Jacobs is likely going to be a mid-to-low-end RB2 who’s reliant on touchdowns. Drake is likely going to be a flex option most weeks who should supply a decent floor if he’s used as the primary passing-down back, but nothing worth getting excited about. In order for both of them to be better than that, we need the coaching staff to maximize their abilities, and that’s just something we haven’t seen to this point.
Way-Too-Early 2021 Projection: 142 carries, 603 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, 52 targets, 39 receptions, 270 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns