One of the most compelling moments of the Cardinals’ “sensational” 32-30 win over the Bills, was when Kliff Kingsbury handed the ball back to RB Kenyan Drake on the very first chance he got—-after Drake had run the wrong way on a play that resulted in a sack, after he incurred a false start penalty during the very next drive and then after he fumbled on the first offensive play of the second half after the defense had done a superb job forcing the Bills to punt on their first possession of the second half. The score at that time was 16-9 Bills.
I don’t know about you, but it reminded me of David Johnson’s fumble last year. Thus, it had me wanting Kliff Kingsbury to ride Chase Edmonds for the rest of the game.
To be completely honest—-Drake’s fumble reminded me of why I was never comfortable with him, since the game at Seattle when he scored on a long TD and turned that play into a Jerry McGuire-esque “show me the money” moment.
No one has to lecture me about how players deserve to get all the money they can. I just don’t like the way some players go about it.
I felt the same way when David Johnson held out of mandatory mini-camp in 2018. Johnson had been on the IR for 15 games in 2017. A new head coach and OC were on the scene—-and DJ made the mini-camp all about him, after missing 15 games the season before.
After Drake’s fumble versus the Bills, I couldn’t help but think about how after DJ somehow finagled his 3 year $39M from Steve Keim (when Keim could have waited a year to assess DJ’s 2018 performance and then get a stronger, more accurate feel for his true market value), it was clear that DJ had put on weight over the off-season and was not showing any real glimpses of the shifty and explosive player he was in 2016.
Likewise, after Kenyan Drake finagled the $8.4M transition tag from Steve Keim, he too put on weight during the off-season and has not looked quite as quick and athletic as he was last year—-to the point where ESPN last week during their mid-season article about the surprise (good and bad) players on every team, selected Drake and had this to say about him:
Drake was the fourth-highest-graded running back in the NFL from his debut with the Cardinals in Week 9 of the 2019 season through the end of the regular season. A league-high 34% of his carries went for a first down or touchdown over that stretch. It seemed like he had found a fit in Arizona’s offense, but the results this season have not been the same. Just 24% of his carries have gone for a first down or touchdown, and Drake has been a complete nonfactor in the passing game, with only seven receptions on 127 routes all year. At this point, it has become a 1A-1B situation with Chase Edmonds for the Cardinals at running back.
However, Kliff Kingsbury was not wavered one iota in his belief that Kenyan Drake is custom made to be his lead RB. Which is why, when some of us would have liked Kingsbury to bench Drake after the fumble the way Kingsbury benched DJ after his fateful momentum changing fumble at Tampa Bay last year, Kingsbury made the emphatic statement to KD, “I got you,” by handing the ball right back to him the first chance he could.
As we well know by now, Kingsbury and DJ never quite clicked. In some ways it felt strange because if there ever was a dual purpose running and receiving RB that should have been a nifty fit in the K-Raid, DJ possessed all of the attributes—-that is, if he could gain a swift command of the 3rd offense he had to learn over his past 3 seasons, for the second time without Bruce Arians in his grill.
Last year, after DJ and Chase Edmonds had suffered injuries, when Steve Keim traded what turned out to be the 5th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft that the Cardinals received in the Josh Rosen trade in 2019, it was apparent right from the get-go that Keim and Kingsbury had hand-picked Kenyan Drake as the perfect dual-purpose fit for the offense.
From the get-go, Drake came in and in just a couple of practices learned Kingsbury’s offense to the point where he rushed for an impressive 110 yards and a TD versus the 49ers in the Cardinals’ close 28-25 loss on Thursday Night Football. In 8 games, Drake helped to propel the Cardinals’ rushing offense into the top 3 of the NFL during that stretch by rushing for 643 yards on 123 carries (5.2 ave.) and 8 TDs. Plus, he caught 28 passes for 177 yards (6.1 ave.).
Drake’s production thoroughly justified Steve Keim’s and Kliff Kingsbury’s faith in him.
Meanwhile, speaking of finagling, Steve Keim miraculously managed to trade DJ (plus all of his remaining salary), the Cardinals’ 2020 2nd round pick and their 2021 4th round pick to the Texans for WR DeAndre Hopkins and the Texans’ 2020 4th round pick that Cardinals used to select DT Rashard Lawrence of LSU.
My speculation at the time of the trade was that Bill O’Brien when contemplating a trade with Cardinals at the 2020 NFL Combine asked Bruce Arians what kind of a player he would be getting in David Johnson and, of course, BA raved about DJ and likely told OB what it takes to get the best out of him.
Sadly—-and I say sadly because David Johnson is a wonderful person and family man and still a very gifted football player—-DJ has now seen a trail of his coaches get fired or temporarily retire, from BA to Mike McCoy to Steve Wilks to Bill O’Brien. Obviously, DJ was not the sole reason—-but—-one could make the cogent argument that if DJ played like he did in 2016 in 2017 and beyond, maybe BA’s temporary retirement and the other three firings never happen. Coaches often hitch their wagons to their star players—-and when the star players don’t deliver—-this is what can happen.
What was made crystal clear when Kliff Kingsbury gave the ball right back to Kenyan Drake following his three screw ups versus the Bills, is that Kingsbury is still hitching his wagon to Drake.
While ESPN is correct in explaining how Drake has not quite yet lived up to the level of play he provided for the Cardinals last season—-if we put aside his 3 mistakes versus the Bills—-there is evidence to suggest that Drake is now trending in the right direction. Cases in point (his last 3 games):
- vs, Cowboys on MNF: 20 carries for 164 yards (8.2 ave.) during the Cardinals’ 38-10 win. Do yourself a favor and watch this short video.
- vs. Seahawks on SNF: KD converted the key 4th down and 1 that paved the way for the Cardinals’ comeback rally to send the game to OT. Drake hurt his ankle on that play and yet to his credit, he did all he could to plow forward past the sticks—-during the Cardinals’ 37-34 OT win.
- vs. Bills: 16 carries for 100 yards (6.3 ave.), helping the team roar back from a 14 point deficit in the 2nd half during the Cardinals’ 32-30 win.
Think too of how valuable Kenyan Drake would likely have been during the Dolphins’ game, particularly with regard to the team’s numerous short yardage situations.
Perhaps, unlike with DJ, Drake did the right thing by putting on a little more weight. For the first time in his 5 year NFL career he knew he was going to be the lead RB. With how often he is counted on by Kingsbury and Sean Kugler to run between the tackles, he needed to add a little more power to his game.
Most of all, it’s clear by now that KD and Chase Edmonds form a productive and highly complimentary RB tandem.
If KD scores a TD tomorrow night at CenturyLink Field, maybe this time his TD celebration will be about his pride in his teammates and his gratitude to the coach who has believed in him 100% from the start.
K2: “I got you, KD.”