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Was Drake a Mistake?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cardinals traded a 2020 conditional 6th round pick to the Dolphins for RB Kenyan Drake in late October, the team had had won three of its last four games, and with both Chase Edmonds and David Johnson nursing injuries, it made sense for the Cardinals to try to keep the new-found momentum of the running game on track.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury was very excited to acquire a RB that apparently he had scouted as a great fit for his offense. In addressing the media right after the trade was announced, Kingsbury described Drake as “smart” and “explosive”:

To Kingsbury’s and Drake’s credit, with only 3 days to prepare for a their Thursday Night Football game versus the 49ers, Drake made a huge splash in his first game, right from the very first play where he busted through the left C gap for 36 yards. Check the tape:

How’s this for an opening line: 15 carries for 110 yards (7.3 ave.) and 1 TD and 4 catches on 4 targets for 52 yards (13.0) in a 28-25 near upset of the 49ers. Welcome to Arizona, Kenyan Drake!

However, over the next four games, all losses, Drake carried the ball 52 times for 170 yards (3.3 ave.) and 0 TDs. In that interim both Chase Edmonds and David Johnson were now back from injuries, yet Johnson was relegated to 17 carries for 42 yards (2.5 ave.) and 0 TDs and Edmonds, who rushed for 126 yards on 27 carries (4.7 ave.) and 3 TDs versus the Giants in Week 7, was only handed the ball 9 times (16 yards) for the rest of the season.

In a sense, Kliff Kingsbury’s decision to give “K.D.” the vast majority of snaps paid off by Weeks 15 and 16 when Drake helped lead the Cardinals to two impressive victories, rushing for 137 yards (6.2 ave.) and 4 TDs versus the Browns (38-24 W) and for 166 yards (6.9 ave) and 2 TDs versus the Seahawks (27-13 W). In the Week 17 finale in a 31-24 loss to the Rams, K.D. rushed for 60 yards (5.0) and 1 TD.

Yards Rushing Weeks 9-17:

Kenyan Drake: 123 carries for 643 yards (5.2 ave.) and 8 TDs

David Johnson: 19 carries for 45 yards (2.4 ave.) and 0 TDs

Chase Edmonds: 9 carries for 16 yards (1.8 ave.) and 0 TDs

What Kliff Kingsbury revealed during the 2nd half of the season was that he prefers to ride a lead RB. K.D. was his guy.

Typically teams shuffle RBs in and out to keep them fresh—-but Kingsbury was loathe to take Drake off the field.

Now—-thinking ahead to 2020—-it would be difficult for any RB in the NFL to carry the ball 81% of the time for an entire season—-but as high as Kingsbury is on K.D. one gets the sense that Kingsbury would do everything he can to keep K.D. on the field.

To Drake’s credit—-during weeks 9-17, he registered a pass blocking grade of 91.1 (per PFF), the highest of all NFL RBs.

And let’s not forget that Drake is one of the most talented receivers out of backfield in the NFL. With the Cardinals he caught 28 passes on 35 targets for 171 yards (6.1 ave.).

Thus, the numbers look very good for Kenyan Drake as the Cardinals’ featured RB.

So how then could the Cardinals’ mid-season trade for Drake actually be considered, in retrospect, a mistake?

if the Cardinals do not re-sign Drake, then they would have given up the 2020 5th round pick they got for the Dolphins as part of the Josh Rosen trade (for an 8 week rental)—-and because Kliff Kingsbury gave Drake the vast majority of the snaps, the Cardinals’ investment in David Johnson and Chase Edmonds took a back seat to the point where there is now great uncertainty as to just how Johnson and Edmonds figure into the team’s 2020 plans.

In all likelihood, if the Cardinals do not re-sign Kenyan Drake, they will sign another UFA RB and draft another RB, when they had already spent 3rd and 4th round picks on Johnson and Edmonds, a 5th and chose to compensate Johnson as one of the top RBs in the NFL at $13M a year.

Could this be just another of the on-going draft and personnel circling of the wagons that have marred Steve Keim’s tenure as GM and have consistently set the team backwards?

Part of this personnel problem is due to having 3 head coaches in 3 consecutive years—-as each head coach has his own preferences in terms of personnel.

One would think that Kenyan Drake would be very indebted to Kliff Kingsbury for being the 1st NFL head coach to feature him as the bell cow RB. Drake said in this interview with NBC before the Super Bowl that his success in Arizona was thanks to “having the pieces” around hm to help him be successful—-that Kyler Murray creates holes for RBs because teams are reluctant to blitz him and they are so worried about him running the ball, it makes for wider holes for the RB.

But—-given the chance by NBC to offer some praise for Kingsbury and Kingsbury’s offense—-Drake, at least in terms of what he didn’t say—-fumbled the ball.

When asked to describe his former head coaches in single words or phrases—-here were Drake’s answers:

Nick Saban: “perfectionist”

Adam Gase: “mad genius”

Brian Flores: “militant mind”

Kliff Kingsbury: “easy going”

If there ever was a non sequitur—-that’s a good one.

Drake when on to describe Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid as “mad geniuses”...but never gave Kingsbury any serious props. Not one.

Hmmm...the one head coach who put Drake in a star role...

When asked whether he would take into consideration his coaches and teammates in Arizona and the good fit he had in that offense, Drake said that “football is the ultimate team game, so I will consider what teams would surround me with the best pieces, but this is a business and it gives me the opportunity to make a financially secure decision.”

You can see the entire 9 minute interview here, if you wish:

Color me unimpressed.

I felt the same way watching this as I did when Drake (pictured at the top) slung the imaginary money bag over his shoulder after scoring his 80 yard TD—-and made all of the hard work that his coaches (who designed the play) and teammates (who blocked it to perfection) made to spring him loose on that play—-an opportunity to make his Rod Tidwell “show me the money” pitch for free agency.

To be clear—-I do not begrudge players for wanting to get their fair share of the pie—-but Drake said it best when he said that “football is the ultimate team sport” and for him to be so coy about his allegiance to the Cardinals and their investment in him is a major turnoff for me.

My instinct tells me that he already has a good idea of where he wants to play—-and it’s not in Arizona. I also have the sense that he doesn’t really care whether he is a lead RB or the utility change of pace RB that “mad genius” Adam Gase made him in Miami.

For a player of his talent not to distinguish himself in 3 12 years as a lead RB in Miami, where his competition at the position wasn’t exactly stellar (save for 35 year old Frank Gore in 2018 whom Drake still couldn’t beat out) is concerning—-and that a head coach like Brian Flores, who very well understands the importance of having talent at the RB position having coached so long with Patriots, would readily trade Drake in favor of handing the starting RB job over to Mark Walton—-yes, the same Mark Walton who has a history of a substance abuse suspension with the NFL and th same mark Walton who was cut one game after Drake was traded when he was arrested on a domestic violence charge—-

—-all of which does not speak very favorably of what Flores saw in Drake.

The Dolphins’ running game was joke.

Ryan Fitzpatrick wound up leading the them in rushing with 243 yards, followed by Walton (53/201/3.8), Patrick Laird (62/168/2.7), Kalen Ballage (74/135/1.8) and Myles Gaskin (36/133/3.7).

Yet, Kenyan Drake didn't emerge as a clear star among that motley unit?

Obviously, Kenyan Drake believes that he is going to cash in on the free agent market. Yet, how many teams are desperate to sign a lead RB? Does any other team in the NFL other than the Cardinals consider Kenyan Drake a lead RB?

Look at the free agent RBs Drake has in front of him with their market values (per Sportrac):

Derrick Henry, 25, $13.8M

Melvin Gordon, 26, $11.7M

Austin Ekeler, 24, RFA, $11.9M

Sportrac has Drake, 26, ranked #4 at $5.5M

The best bet is that Drake will be signed as a complimentary RB for a team like the 49ers and Patriots that likes to go with RB by committee—-in which case—-the best offer Drake will probably get will be in line with what Tevin Coleman got last year with the 49ers:

2 or 3 year deal at $4.2M a year with $5.25M guaranteed.

The Cardinals would agree with that, imo. Beyond that, probably not. Nor should they beyond that. No, Steve, no.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that the 2020 NFL Draft class at RB is talented and deep.

Or that when teams see undrafted RBs like the Chiefs’ Damien Williams and the 49ers’ Raheem Mostert starring in the Super Bowl—-they are just as apt to look for RB bargains.

Would I, or you, or anyone else be over-reacting if we said we don’t really care whether the Cardinals re-sign Kenyan Drake or not?

Sure—-losing this year’s 5th round pick is a bummer.

But—-overpaying at the RB position to a player that doesn’t seem all that grateful to the very team that put the most faith in him, is far more of bummer...

...which unfortunately the Cardinals have been learning recently all too well.