MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The curious case of Kenyan Drake continues to baffle most, but it’s easy to explain why the Miami Dolphins’ top touchdown producer the past few season remains a backup, and is likely on the trading block.
Brian Flores and his coaching staff don’t trust Drake.
And this isn’t new because Adam Gase, Flores’ processor as Miami’s head coach, didn’t trust him either.
Despite the undeniable talent Drake has showcased since his days as Derrick Henry’s backup at the University of Alabama, it’s a challenge to find a coaching staff that has trusted Miami’s 2016 third-round pick because of his free-styling approach.
The main complaint about Drake, who multiple reports say was being discussed in trades talks this past week, is that he deviates from the script too often and freestyles too much.
The controlling nature that fuels NFL coaches frowns on that unless your name is Barry Sanders.
That’s why Kalen Ballage has started the past two games for Miami – including Sunday’s 43-0 loss to the New England Patriots – and gets the majority of the tailback workload while Drake typically enters the field on obvious passing downs.
And this isn’t new.
Two years ago, before suffering a season-ending injury Damien Williams started over Drake after Jay Ajayi was traded away.
Last year, Gase trusted Frank Gore to handle the first- and second-down workload because the future Hall of Famer kept the team in favorable down and distances, and used Drake in a pass-catching role before Gore suffered his season-ending injury.
Ballage had a better offseason and training camp than Drake, who missed all but one week of the preseason because of a foot injury. But it hasn’t translated to games that count considering he’s averaging 0.6 yards on his nine attempts.
Drake gained 19 yards on six carries Sunday, and led the team with five receptions for 29 yards.
Now the biggest question surrounding Miami’s struggling offense, which produced 184 yards against New England, is whether getting Drake more involved is the quick fix Chad O’Shea’s unit desperately needs?
“Obviously I feel like I’m most dynamic when I have the ball, and I get touches and go out there and make plays that spark the offense,” said Drake, who has gained 1,389 rushing yards on 296 carries, and 806 yards on 101 catches in his career. “But being a complete running back doesn’t just include getting the ball and making plays. It includes pass pro(tection), and getting attention to yourself so other players can make plays. That’s just part of the game and we have a long way to go.
“When you barely have 100 total yards of offense in a game I don’t see you winning many games,” Drake added. “We have to play better ball. As simple a fix as it sounds, we have to go out there and make sure on every single down you’re playing good football. Hands are where they need to be. Eyes are where they need to be.”
When asked if he’s comfortable being viewed as a third-down back, Drake stiff armed the question with the same humility he’s had since his rookie season, reminding the media he’s no diva who demands the football.
“I’m comfortable putting this team in position to win games. I haven’t started legitimately since high school,” Drake said. “Regardless of the situation the coaches see fit for the team to be at their best, I have to go out there and put myself in the best position to maximize opportunities to help this team win games. My touches come when they come, and when I get on the field, I put everything together.”
So why save Drake? Why limit his touches?
Unlike Xavien Howard and Jakeem Grant, who each got a contract extension before playing out the final year of their rookie deals, Miami hasn’t made an offer to Drake this year.
Jesse Davis got a contract extension even though Miami had him locked up for another two years.
But Drake’s left in this play-for-pay situation?
It probably has something to do with the Dolphins not wanting to pay a hefty signing bonus to a player they plan/think/hope to move in this yard sale since the Dolphins could probably acquire a late-round pick, or a player they target for Drake and his expiring contract.
Despite what the Dolphins are saying, NFL sources acknowledge that Miami’s been holding a yard sale on the team’s talent for months, going all the way back to the NFL combine, and Drake is indeed available.
It’s likely that the teams calling general manager Chris Grier about Minkah Fitzpatrick, whose agent has been given permission to shop around for a trade, have inquired about Drake.
Why wouldn’t they considering he’s scored 16 touchdowns during his four seasons in Miami, and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Plenty of teams can use a weapon like him.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins have never felt comfortable with Drake, and this season’s circumstances probably won’t alleviate those concerns.