Will Kenyan Drake Turn it Around in Fantasy?

This year, Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake was being drafted in either the second or early third round. Most of the people who drafted him have him as either their RB2 (and second-most important player) or even their RB1.

Thus far he has disappointed, coming in at a rank of RB35 after the first quarter of the season (4 games). He’s averaging 9.6 PPR points a game and has scored a total of 38.4 points. He’s behind guys like Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson, Nyheim Hines, Myles Gaskin, Antonio Gibson and Jerick McKinnon even though all of those guys were drafted way behind him–and some of them weren’t even drafted at all in 10-man or smaller leagues.

To make matters worse, Chase Edmonds, Drake’s “backup,” is ranked just behind Drake at RB36 in PPR, with 38.2 fantasy points, putting him just 0.2 points behind Drake. Given where both guys were drafted, Drake has been a major disappointment for fantasy owners.

So, will Drake turn things around and live up to his ADP? Or are Drake owners going to have to significantly adjust expectations downward?

Let’s dive into the numbers and see if we can find out.

(Disclaimer: the only thing we dislike about players is their ADP, which is to say we hold nothing against these players and everything against the Fantasy Football Players who valued them incorrectly. Don’t get mad at a guy for not being what you want him to be, get mad at yourself for not valuing his production properly.)

First of all, it’s important to clarify how the “RB1” “RB2” “RB3” etc. stuff works, because while these labels are thrown around a lot, many people are not actually clear on what they mean.

It’s all dependent on the size of your league. For instance, in a 10-man league, a QB1 would be a guy who finishes top-10 in a given week. In a 12-man league, a QB1 would be a guy who finishes top-12.

Since most leagues start two running backs, in a 12-man league you’d ideally have two guys inside the top-24 as your starting RBs. An RB1 would be a guy who finishes top-12, an RB2 is a guy who finishes top-24, and an RB3 is a guy who finishes top-36. In a 10-man league, an RB1 is a guy who finishes top-10, an RB2 finishes top-20 and an RB3 finishes top-30. I’m sure you get it by now.

If your league has one flex position, then in a 12-man league you would ideally not be starting anybody–whether running back or wide receiver–outside the top-36. Now obviously guys miss weeks and this impacts their season-long rankings, so this is why we rank guys week-to-week.

According to FantasyData.com, Drake was being drafted in PPR leagues as the 12th-ranked running back, meaning in a 12-man league he was considered a low-end RB1 coming into the season. The fact that he’s now a low-end RB3 (ranked as the 36th-best RB in PPR) is not an ideal scenario.

So why was Drake ranked so high coming into this season? Probably because he won a lot of people championships last season, quite honestly. He finished last season as the RB18, according to ProFootballReference.com, which was pretty good considering he was being drafted last year as the 35th-ranked running back. (It’s interesting that his ADP last year almost perfectly matches his performance this year.)

Kenyan Drake is in his fifth NFL season at the age of 26 (usually still within an RB’s prime), which makes him unusual because usually guys like him who see big jumps in ADP from year to year are second or third year guys. “Late-bloomers” aren’t unfathomable, but they are out of the ordinary.

When he was traded from Miami (remember, early last year they were considered one of the worst teams of all time) to Arizona after week 7, he went from a situation that saw him averaging 55% of the snaps to a situation with the Cardinals where he was averaging 79% of the snaps at RB.

In his six games in Miami he was averaging 3.7 yards per carry (YPC), 7.8 rushing attempts per game, 29 rushing yards per game, 5.5 targets per game, 3.7 receptions per game, and 29 receiving yards per game. He had zero TDs on the year and was clearly not the featured back.

In his eight games in Arizona, however, he was suddenly a different player, averaging 5.2 YPC, 15.4 rushing attempts per game, and 80.4 rush yards per game. His receiving numbers were actually slightly worse than they were in Miami: 4.4 targets per game, 3.5 receptions, 21.4 receiving yards per game. However, I’m sure fantasy owners were more than happy to make that tradeoff given the big jump in rushing numbers.

He had 8 rushing TDs on the season, and all 8 of them came after he was traded to Arizona. He finished the year without any receiving TDs.

In terms of fantasy points, he was averaging 9.5 PPR points per game in Miami, and 19.6 in Arizona.

However, the Arizona number is skewed by the fact that he had 8 TDs in 8 games, which implies an average of 1 TD a game. But he did not average a TD a game in Arizona: in reality, while he did get a rushing TD in his first game in Arizona, he didn’t have any his next 4 games, and then, in week 15 against the Browns, he had 4 rushing TDs despite having just 1 on the season prior to that. In week 16, he had 2 rushing TDs, and in week 17, he had 1 (depending on your league you may not have even benefitted from this if your championship was week 16). So all but 1 of his 8 TDs came in the final three games of the season.

In weeks 15+16, Drake had his two best games of the season: 22 rush, 137 yards, 4 TDs, 1 reception for 9 yards. And then the following week, 24 carries for 166 yards, 2 TDs, 3 receptions for 18 yards. That comes out to 39.6 PPR points in week 15, and 33.4 in week 16. He probably won a lot of people championships in those two weeks.

On the season he had 214 PPR fantasy points, with 73 of them in those two games. That’s 34% of his season total coming in two games. He played 14 games last season, meaning in his other 12 games he only averaged 11.8 PPR points a game.

He only had one other game over 100 rush yards: week 9, his first game in Arizona, where he ran 15 times for 110 yards, 1 TD, and had 4 receptions for 52 yards (26.2 PPR points). You add in this game to the other two (weeks 15+16) and he had 46% of his total fantasy production on the season come from just three games. That is not ideal. That means in his other games he averaged just 10.4 fantasy points.

It’s starting to look more and more like the hype over Drake was a product of a few good games, and some more data will underscore this. Outside of the three games he had 100+ rush yards, his 4th best rushing yard total on the season last year was 67 yards. He had more games with 40 or fewer rushing yards than he did with 41 or more rushing yards (8 to 6). He only had 4 games over 5 yards per carry, and he had more games with 4 YPC or less than he did over 4 YPC (again, 8 to 6).

In terms of receiving, he was more consistent. His high in receptions in a game was 6 which he did three times, and his high in targets was 9, which happened once (he had 7 twice). His receiving yardage high was 52 on the season. Overall on the season, he averaged 4.9 targets, 3.6 receptions and 24.6 receiving yards. This is decent for a running back in a vacuum, but not when the rushing numbers aren’t elite. And he had zero receiving TDs last year. Guys like Alvin Kamara can get away with having so-so rushing production because they get tons of receptions and receiving yardage.

Now, while it’s fair to point out that nearly half of his fantasy production last season came in just three games, it’s also fair to point out that those three games happened, and they cannot be fully discounted. However, the point I’m trying to make is that in fantasy, people are looking for consistent production, not sporadic greatness, especially in a top 2-3 pick.

Kenyan Drake has never been a true workhorse back in his career. Last year was a career-high for both carries (170) and yards (817). He’s never rushed for 1,000 yards in a season in his career. In no way does this mean he can’t improve and do so this year, but with Drake we have a larger body of work to compare him to than other guys who were drafted near him this season. Drake, again, is in year 5. If a guy has been in the league for four years and never rushed for 1,000 yards, it’s probably less likely he has a breakout season in year 5 than it is for a guy who has only been in the league for one or two seasons. Fantasy managers largely overlooked this during draft season.

So how does Drake compare to running backs drafted around him this year?

Guys comparable to him in terms of ADP: Joe Mixon, Austin Ekeler, Miles Sanders, Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones and Josh Jacobs.

I want to take a look at advanced stats because they paint a better picture of a guy’s individual performance rather than his team. A guy could be playing well when he gets opportunities, but whether due to bad game script, playcalling, line play or whatever else, he just isn’t producing in fantasy. Advanced stats help us pick out these guys.

There’s three advanced stats in particular I want to look at:

  1. Yards after contact (tells us how good he is at breaking tackles and fighting for extra yards)
  2. Yards before contact (tells us if his offensive line is good or bad)
  3. Broken tackles (this one should be obvious)

When we run the numbers, we can see that it’s not so much an offensive line problem for Drake. His average yards before contact this season is 2.5, which is right around all his comparable guys. The only guy with a higher YBC than Drake is Sanders at 2.6. Jones and Ekeler are tied with Drake at 2.5.

But Drake’s yards after contact stat is the worst of all those guys: just 1.3 yards after contact. He and Joe Mixon (1.7) are the only guys among all those players below 2.0 yards after contact. For comparison, Josh Jacobs’ line only gets him 1.7 yards before contact, but Jacobs averages 2.0 yards after contact. Nick Chubb, who is a total beast, averages 3.6 yards after contact, which is by far the best of all these guys. Behind him is Aaron Jones, also a beast, who averages 3.2 yards after contact.

When we look at broken tackles, Drake is averaging 11.2 attempts per broken tackle, which is better than only Miles Sanders (17.0) and Joe Mixon (38.5). Aaron Jones and Nick Chubb both break a tackle every 8.1 attempts, while Josh Jacobs (6.9) and Austin Ekeler (6.1) are the top two guys in this group at breaking tackles.

In terms of receiving efficiency, it’s almost not even worth discussing this with Drake because he only has 5 receptions on the season. The only guy with fewer is Nick Chubb (3) and Chubb left his fourth game early with an injury. Before he got hurt, Ekeler had 17 receptions. Jones has 15, and both Mixon and Jacobs have 13 apiece. Sanders has 9 on the season (remember, Sanders missed week 1).

So Drake’s advanced stats aren’t very great. What we were looking for was something like we found with Josh Jacobs: e.g. well below average yards before contact, but decent yards after contact. But we found that Drake’s YBC is basically right around the average of the other guys if not slightly better, yet his YAC is the worst of the bunch. And he’s not breaking tackles like the other guys. He’s not being used much in the passing game, either.

Drake is getting the carries, too. He ranks 7th in the league with 67 rushing attempts. However, in terms of yards-per-carry, he ranks 34th among running backs at just 3.8. Now it’s worth pointing out that he’s only slightly behind Zeke and Derrick Henry in yards-per-carry (both at 3.9), but the difference is, Derrick Henry gets far more carries plus all the goal line work (whereas Kyler vultures a lot of the goal line TDs) and Zeke is far more involved in the passing game.

It’s unlikely the Cardinals give Drake more rushing work considering he’s inefficient with the high level of carries he’s already getting. I don’t see them giving Drake too many more carries from inside the 5 because from what I’ve seen of the Cardinals, Kyler Murray does a great job of finding the end zone with his feet close to the goal line.

The only path I can see for Drake to start producing more in fantasy is for him to be more involved in the passing game. Last season he had 50 receptions, the season prior he had 53. This season he only has 5 which puts him on pace for just 20 receptions this year. Even in 2017, his worst receiving season outside of his rookie year, he had 32 receptions. I think we can expect him to get more involved in the passing game. But I’m not sure it’s going to be enough to overcome his lackluster rushing production.

If you own Drake, I’d look to trade him after he has a big game or two. But they have to come soon, because the longer he goes without a big game, the more it will look like an outlier when he does have one.

This week he plays at the Jets, which is a favorable matchup for him. Then he’s at Dallas, another favorable matchup. Three weeks from now he’s home vs. Seattle, which is another exploitable defense (although moreso in the passing game).

If he can’t get anything going in the next three weeks, it might be time to readjust expectations and give up any hope that he’ll live up to his ADP.

People who drafted him in the 2nd or 3rd round this year did so knowing that in order to live up to ADP, he would have to be markedly better in year 5 than he had ever been in years 1-4. The question with Kenyan Drake was always, “Was the Kenyan Drake from the last three games of 2019 the real Kenyan Drake, or was the real Kenyan Drake the guy he was in his 59 career games prior?”

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