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NFL Player Profile

How high is Kenyan Drake's fantasy ceiling?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: June 3, 2020, 1:11 am ET

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

The first year of the Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray marriage didn't exactly set scoreboards on fire as expected. The Cardinals were far from awful on offense, but their 16th-place finishes in yards per play and points per game didn't paint the picture of a next-generation air-raid offense.

The good news: Murray certainly flashed throughout his rookie season and deserves the hype ahead of 2020. Also, the offense is already fantastic at running the ball, so even delayed progression from Murray and new No. 1 WR DeAndre Hopkins won't necessarily lead to a porous overall offense.

Enter: Kenyan Drake. The ex-Dolphins RB absolutely balled out in his eight-game audition with the Cardinals and *should* be the undisputed focal point of the offense's run game. What follows is a breakdown on Drake's talents as well as expectations for what he's capable of in 2020.

Drake has always been one of the NFL's better backs

The Dolphins drafted Drake in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He proceeded to split snaps with the likes of Jay Ajayi, Frank Gore, Damien Williams, Kalen Ballage and Arian Foster among others, pretty much never getting the chance to show what he could do with a three-down role other than in the final five games of a lost 2016 season.

There isn't much statistical evidence to suggest that Drake can't be a full-time featured back other than the fact he's never been trusted with this role for an entire season. This was due to Adam Gase and later Brian Flores in Miami, and before them Nick Saban leaned on the likes of Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry over Drake at Alabama.

On a per-touch basis there have been few backs as good as Drake since 2016:

  • 4.77 yards per carry is tied with Henry for the eighth-highest mark among 51 RBs with at least 300 carries over the past four seasons.
  • Posted middling tackle-breaking numbers in 2018-2019, but average of 4.29 yards after contact per touch in 2017 is the third-highest single-season mark in PFF's database.
  • Average of 5.47 yards per touch ranks 16th among 66 backs with at least 300 touches over the past four seasons.

The man has been making defenders look stupid for the better part of the last half decade.

Kenyan Drake

2019 marked the first time in Drake's career that he had more than 200 touches in a season. He responded with career-high marks in rush yards (817) and rush scores (8) while also catching at least 50 passes for the second straight season. Don't expect his top-tier efficiency to go anywhere despite the extra touches inside the Cardinals' brilliantly-schemed run game.

The Cardinals' run game is incredibly efficient

Attempting to stop the Cardinals on the ground in 2019 was borderline impossible for opposing defenses. Overall, they joined the Ravens and Titans as the only three offenses to average at least five yards per carry. This was accomplished thanks in large part to Murray's dual-threat talents. The Cardinals averaged a league-high 3.3 yards before contact per rush in 2019 (Pro Football Reference), joining the Ravens (3.2), Panthers (3.1) and 49ers (3) as the only offenses to average at least three yards per rush.

The Cardinals operate the most-similar attack to the Ravens as any offense in the league. Only the Ravens (271) utilized more RPOs than the Cardinals (185), and they were the only two offenses with triple-digit rush attempts off RPO-designs. They joined the Rams, Ravens, Eagles and Chiefs as the league's sole offenses with at least 140 play-action pass attempts.

The fit for Drake inside of the Cardinals' nearly-exclusive shotgun offense couldn't be better: Drake has averaged a full yard and a half more per carry in shotgun (5.2) compared to under center (3.7) during his career. Only the Ravens utilized a more shotgun-heavy offense in 2019, so don't expect the Cardinals to stop playing into Drake's strengths.

And why not consistently utilize the threat of either Murray or Drake to make defenders second guess themselves? These types of play designs regularly force defenses to decide whether they'd rather collapse down on Drake or keep contain against Murray. Neither option is appealing.

The Cardinals didn't make a habit of asking their RBs to run when numbers weren't in their favor. Overall, David Johnson and Drake joined Devin Singletary, Joe Mixon and Damien Williams as the league's only RBs to run against eight-plus defenders in the box on fewer than 10% of their attempts last season (Next-Gen Stats).

Somehow the Cardinals put together such a great run game despite the presence of a below-average offensive line. The 2019 Cardinals ranked 21st in adjusted line yards per rush and 26th in adjusted sack rate (Football Outsiders). Yes, pressure and sacks tend to be more of a QB stat than an indictment on the offensive line; Murray took a league-high 48 sacks even though he had PFF's longest average time between receiving the snap and getting taken to the ground. They return four starters from last season after re-signing both LT D.J. Humphries and RT Justin Murray, but continued growth and investment in the unit is needed. Houston OT Josh Jones marked just the second time the Cardinals used a top-three round pick on an offensive lineman since 2016.

Add it all together and ...

Drake is anyone's idea of a top-10 fantasy RB

Kingsbury said he'd prefer to have *three* RBs to deploy during the regular season, but this looks a lot like Drake's backfield if the second half of last season was any indication of what is to come:

  • Week 9: 19 combined carries and targets, 84% snaps
  • Week 10: 17, 64%
  • Week 11: 23, 90%
  • Week 13: 18, 79%
  • Week 14: 14, 66%
  • Week 15: 23, 75%
  • Week 16: 28, 81%
  • Week 17: 16, 96%

Overall, Drake worked as the PPR RB4 during Weeks 9-17.

With that said: Chase Edmonds was balling out himself during the first half of the season before battling a hamstring injury for basically the last eight games of the year. The disparity between their respective average draft position makes Edmonds a solid value as one of the league's more-underrated handcuff options that has a feasible chance to earn an every-week role without injury.

Of course, the Cardinals aren't paying Drake $8.5 million to sit on the bench. His ceiling is as a true three-down back, and Arizona's decision to not add a RB until the seventh round adds more evidence to the idea that they have every intention of feeding him touches.

And why shouldn't the Cardinals feed Drake the ball? He was nothing short of fantastic in 2019.

I currently have Drake ranked as my PPR RB9, but it's fair to rank him as high as No. 6 in fantasy formats of all shapes and sizes. Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara each have too much history of excellence in their respective offenses to pass on in favor of Drake, but the likes of Derrick Henry, Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, Nick Chubb and Josh Jacobs all figure to have less pass-game work than Drake if things work out in his favor. Additionally Drake's run-game usage *should* be higher than plus-receiving backs like Austin Ekeler, Miles Sanders and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

The biggest potential concern for Drake is Edmonds having a larger role than anticipated. The Cardinals gave Drake a boost of confidence this offseason, but the one-year transition tag is hardly the same as a long-term deal. Drake's ceiling inside of the 2020 Cardinals' offense is as a true top-five fantasy RB ... like he was during the second half of the 2019 season. There is perhaps a lower touch floor than some of his fellow backs going in the same ADP range, but Drake also possesses a higher ceiling than this group thanks to his proven receiving usage.

Don't be afraid to take a chance on talented players with new-found workhorse roles, particularly when they're set up to thrive in a RB-friendly offense like the Cardinals. It's impossible to treat Drake as anything other than a top-10 RB in 2020, and he has the upside for so much more.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.