With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at a third-year Miami Dolphins running back looking to follow up a strong finish to last season.
The Dolphins have essentially been a below-average football team during head coach Adam Gase’s two-year tenure. While they finished 10-6 and made the playoffs in 2016, they outperformed their expected win/loss record (based on points scored and allowed) by 2.4 wins, meaning they were more like a 7-8 win team. Last season’s squad went 6-10 with an expected record of 5-11. Since, the Dolphins have largely sacrificed talent in favor of culture, but they still have one player that is the apple of many a fantasy investor’s eye: Kenyan Drake.
Drake is Hard to Tackle
We’ve only witnessed 166 carries from Drake since he was drafted by the Dolphins in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but only Mark Ingram (4.98) has averaged more yards per carry than Drake (4.96) since.
Drake demonstrated raw rushing ability for most of 2017, and was finally unleashed during the Dolphins’ final five games, turning in RB8 numbers in PPR over that span.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 6, 2018
Overall, Drake finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 back in Elusive Rating and Breakaway Rate, and no one averaged more yards after contact per rush (4.39). He also finished No. 11 in PFF’s pass protection grades while catching 32 passes, proving to be a competent three-down back.
There’s little evidence that suggests Drake can’t function as a productive full-time back in an NFL offense — the only problem is he might not be afforded that opportunity again.
Will Gase Employ a Committee Backfield?
There wasn’t much opportunity to go around in Miami during 2016 and the early parts of 2017, when Jay Ajayi worked as the featured back. And once Ajayi was shipped to Philadelphia at the 2017 trade deadline, Drake was still stuck in a committee backfield until the undrafted Damien Williams suffered a shoulder injury in Week 12.
Kenyan Drake is def talented, but worth remembering it took Jay Ajayi getting traded AND Damien Williams getting hurt before he assumed a workhorse role in 2017.
Dolphins have since released Williams, but signed Frank Gore + drafted Kalen Ballage in Rd 4 pic.twitter.com/mYC1JVhR3a
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 6, 2018
Gase isn’t immune to handing a single back a featured workload — Ajayi racked up 260 rushes along with 35 targets during his breakout 2016 campaign — but signing Frank Gore and using a fourth-rounder on Kalen Ballage indicates that the team felt they needed more at the position.
As recently as June, running backs coach Eric Studesville wouldn’t name Drake the starter. Beat writer Armando Salguero believes the backfield will be decided in a training camp competition. Gase himself dismissed the idea of feeding one player 20-plus touches a game in March, per DolphinsWire:
“We’re really not ever looking to be a team where one guy has 20 to 25 carries … We kind of want to spread it out. We like using multiple backs. We started doing some things with other guys like moving Jakeem (Grant) into the backfield every once in a while. Kenyan has done a better job of taking care of his body and getting himself ready for games.”
The Dolphins might start Drake. They might not. It’s certainly a positive that he’s proven capable of being a dominant fantasy player when given a workhorse role, but it’s far from guaranteed that his usage will be what it was during the final five weeks of 2017.
Another question for Drake is just how high his ceiling is on what could be a potentially anemic Dolphins offense.
Miami’s Offensive Outlook is Bleak
Miami’s troubles start at the line of scrimmage. Their offensive line ranked 30th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards metric last season, and only right tackle Ja’Waun James managed to rank among PFF’s top 25 linemen. Still, Dolphins backs consistently made something out of nothing behind the patchwork unit: Miami has ranked top-four in Open Field Yards per carry over the past two seasons, but Miami has also been in the bottom three in percentage of attempts that gained zero or negative yardage, per Football Outsiders.
Twelve backs had at least 50 carries behind an offensive line that finished bottom-five in Adjusted Line Yards per rush last season, and while 11 averaged 4.3 or fewer yards per rush, Drake led the group with 4.8, proving to be an efficient runner despite a below-average offense — which has consistently been what Gase’s units have been unless Peyton Manning is under center.
The curious case of Adam Gase.
With Peyton (2013-2014): 34 PPG, 315.8 pass yards, 114.3 rush yards, 21 games with 30+ points, 10 games with 40+ points
W/o (2015-2017): 20.4 PPG, 222.9 pass yards, 105.5 rush yards, 10 games with 30+ points, 0 games with 40+ points
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 7, 2018
One of the only reasons for optimism is the return of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who played the best football of his career in his first year under Gase in 2016 before missing all of 2017 with a torn ACL:
- Tannehill without Gase (64 games): 29-35 win/loss, 61.9% completions, 6.9 yards per attempt, 3.8% touchdown rate, 3+ touchdowns in 12.5% of games
- Tannehill with Gase (13 games): 8-5 win/loss, 67.1% completions, 7.7 yards per attempt, 4.9% touchdown rate, 3+ touchdowns in 23.1% of games
Of course, the best football of Tannehill’s career produced only the league’s 17th-ranked offense in points per game in 2016 (22.7). Featured backs have historically struggled to provide top-tier value and consistency on offenses with below-average quarterbacks or offensive lines, something that appears like a near certainty in Miami this season.
Drake has the talent to stand out in any backfield committee, but it seems unlikely he’ll be immediately handed the keys to the offense. A potentially brutal offense could make an uptick from his average of 11 touches per game from Weeks 9-12 negligible in the long run. Being drafted as the PPR RB22 as of this writing, Drake carries a low floor and questionable ceiling.
Pictured above: Kenyan Drake
Photo credit: Timothy T. Ludwig – USA TODAY Sports