Running back Jay Ajayi had one of the best seasons ever for a Miami Dolphins runner in 2016, his second year in the league. Ajayi finished with 1,272 yards on the ground and eight rushing touchdowns.
As the season went on and small, nagging injuries began to mount for the former Boise State star, there was some concern that Miami was relying too heavily on its second-year back. The answer to easing some of the burden may already be on the roster.
Kenyan Drake, a rookie last year from Alabama, got the third most carries among Miami tailbacks behind Ajayi and Damien Williams. Williams has been a reliable piece for the Dolphins, but the argument could be made that Drake needs a bigger role in 2017.
While Ajayi is a complete back with a chance to be a star in the NFL, Drake is an explosive player who is probably versatile enough to use in a number of ways.
Last season, Drake had three touchdowns on 55 touches. They included touchdown runs of seven and 45 yards and a 96-yard kickoff return that served as the game-winner in a 27-23 win over the New York Jets.
For Miami in 2016, Drake averaged a team-high 5.4 yards per carry. Drake isn’t the type to get the tough yards, but he is another home run threat in the backfield.
Adding tight ends Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano to the mix will only help the Dolphins as far as pass-catchers go, but that’s an area where Miami is strong. What the Dolphins aren’t there however, is deep. That’s another area where Drake can help.
Last season, Drake caught just nine passes, but that’s not bad considering he was targeted just 10 times. Drake is a player that the Dolphins could split out wide and get man-coverage match-ups with linebackers out in space. Considering the Miami offense is one that likes to operate from the shotgun and with three and four skill players out wide, Drake is the perfect compliment back.
Historically, running backs have been an important part of the passing game in Adam Gase offenses. In his final season in Chicago, Matt Forte had nearly 400 yards receiving. In 2013 when Gase was the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, Knowshon Moreno had 548 yards receiving.
Williams was Miami’s best receiver out of the backfield last season with 249 yards and three touchdowns, but Drake might be more of a big play threat. We’ll see how Gase and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen utilize his talents in year No. 2.
Mike Ferguson is a sports writer and reporter for several publications and the Pro Football Spot lead writer for the Miami Dolphins. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson