Fantasy Football: The Case Against Kenyan Drake
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. I am standing before you today — and by standing, I mean sitting at my desk — to bring to light the concerning, meteoric rise of Kenyan Drake in the fantasy football community. From third-string running back to third-round fantasy draft pick, Drake’s sudden assumption of power is wrought with the telltale signs of corruption and possible campaign fraud.
In the following several minutes, I will attempt to show why Drake is not a rightful heir to the RB2 throne, and why fantasy drafters everywhere need to disassociate themselves with the Miami ball-carrier immediately.
Suddenly the Starter … Or is He?
Most of the fantasy community remembers Kenyan Drake’s torrid finish to the 2017 season when he averaged 4.88 yards per carry and 2.55 yards after contact per carry, both among the best in the league. Not as many people remember that Drake was the third-string running back for the majority of said season.
Even when lead back Jay Ajayi was shipped off to the Eagles, the Dolphins proceeded to pin the starting job on Damien Williams in Week 9. It took a shoulder injury ending Williams’ season in Week 12 for Drake to finally earn his shot at the starting role. And while he performed admirably, head coach Adam Gase’s hesitancy in granting him the reigns to the backfield should be concerning.
Fast forward to the 2018 offseason. Considering Drake’s excellent run as the starter, he should have been a lock for a bell-cow role, right? Apparently, Gase and the Dolphins disagreed. They signed the Unaging One himself, Frank Gore, and added rookie Kalen Ballage in the 4th round of the NFL Draft. Say what you will about Gore’s … advanced … age — the man has missed one game over the past seven seasons and has been a consistent carry-hog over that span. Since 2011, Gore has never averaged less than 15.9 carries per game in a season and ranks 13th among active players in rushing yards per game over that span (68.0). Last year, at age 34, Gore totaled 261 rush attempts for the Colts, falling (just) short of 1,000 yards for only the second time in the last seven years.
Like it or not, Gore is going to get work in this backfield. He and Drake were listed as the co-starters on Miami’s first depth chart release. While Gase said he did it to be a “mean guy” (my translation of a less printable term), it subconsciously suggests a reality that Drake truthers should fear: Gore is not going to go away. To finish as a top 20 running back in fantasy (where Drake is being drafted), you almost certainly need 225-plus total touches. In a backfield that totaled 392 touches combined last season, that’s something like a 57% workload or just about bell-cow status.
Meanwhile, Kalen Ballage also poses a small threat to Drake’s workload. He comes out of college as a top-tier receiving threat at the position, a bit of a surprise to most, considering his 6’2″, 228-lb frame. He totaled 64 catches in his last two years at Arizona State and features mind-boggling 4.46 speed in the 40-yard dash (translating to a 96th-percentile Adjusted Speed Score from PlayerProfiler. It’ll be interesting to see how Gase uses him in the offense, but Ballage could profile as a pass-catching back or simply a change-of-pace option — limiting Drake’s ceiling as a three-down threat.
“But Matt,” says my friend and counterpart in this case, Keaton Denlay, “Gase recently came out saying he hopes to see 15-20 carries and 6-8 catches per game from Drake!” Yes, those were his words. But let’s dive a little deeper into reality.
The Best Back on a Baaaad Team
Apologies to all you Dolphins fans out there, but this team is not good. Last season, they finished 28th in points (16.4 per game), 29th in rushing yards (86.8 per game), 30th in turnovers (29), and 32nd in rush attempts (360) — that’s right, dead last in the category that matters most for Drake. Their defense also finished 29th in points allowed (24.6 per game), raising the baffling question of how they even managed to win six games. For those of you watching at home, that is all #NotGood.
Miami also managed to lose their best players on both sides of the ball: wide receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Their offensive line “improvements” might be considered a small bright spot — but only because they rose from PFF’s 29th-ranked unit at the end of 2017 to 20th heading into 2018. They’re tied for the second-lowest Vegas-projected win total in 2018, with 6.5 — edging out only the Browns, Cardinals, Bills, and Jets. Again, #NotGood.
Circling back to Gase’s comment on his hopes for Drake’s usage, we find a kink in the plan. Gase preceded the touch projection for Drake by setting up an overall target for team plays of 70-75 plays. That’s roughly a dozen additional plays per game over Miami’s 2017 pace (62.2 plays per game), and if they were to hit the “minimum” of 70 plays per game, it would have been the most in the league last season. In other words, it’s not going to happen.
Moreover, Gase’s touch projections for Drake are even more aggressive. Only three running backs reached 20 carries per game (Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, and Leonard Fournette), and literally none reached 8 receptions per game. Even the combined touch “minimum” of 21 per game would be a lofty goal — only seven backs hit that number last season. Unless the Dolphins offense transforms into the Eagles’, and Drake is Le’Veon Bell, it’s simply not realistic. And, believe it or not, Drake is not Le’Veon Bell.
Track Record, Schmack Record?
As is the case quite commonly throughout the fantasy community, we are willing to jump on very small sample sizes and project them forward as gospel. It’s the same reason Deshaun Watson is suddenly the No. 2 QB off draft boards and Jared Goff was “the worst draft bust of all time” after a seven-game stretch as the starter in his rookie year. Less than half a season of good evidence is very shaky ground for fantasy projection. So, rather than throwing out Drake’s entire football career leading up to Damien Williams’ injury, let’s actually evaluate the track record.
Through four years at Alabama, Drake spent not one, not two, not three … but four years as a backup. He played behind T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry for all of college, posting a seasonal high of 92 rush attempts as a sophomore (for reference, that’s #NotGood). Then Drake was taken in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft — to serve as the backup to Jay Ajayi … and Damien Williams. Are you seeing a trend here?
As we mentioned before, it took a mid-season Ajayi trade and an injury to Williams for Drake to finally earn work as a starter. And despite his heavy workload at the end of the season, the man still only has 166 total carries to his name through two seasons in the NFL. Not only that, we even saw a decline in Drake’s production over the tiny window in which he played as the starter last season. In the first three games, he averaged 21.3 carries and 149 scrimmage yards per game, with two scores. In the last two games — as his beginner’s luck wore off — he averaged 13.5 carries and 73.5 scrimmage yards per game with zero touchdowns. Maybe, just maybe, the man is not meant to be a starter?
Listen, Drake is an explosive player and a dynamic big-play threat. He is an excellent weapon that, used properly, can help any NFL team to victory. But, unfortunately, he is not a bell-cow back. And he plays for a terrible football team. Put two and two together and the one thing you won’t get is an RB2 for your fantasy team.
Are you willing to trust this upstart flash-in-the-pan and his dreadful offense over guys like Lamar Miller (less competition, better offense), Jay Ajayi (much better offense), Mark Ingram (suspensions don’t last forever, my friends), or a proven wide receiver like Larry Fitzgerald or Jarvis Landry? I surely am not. It’s your early draft pick to spend, but invest it in Drake and you may find yourself quickly cheated out of fantasy victory.