The Raiders raised some eyebrows when they signed running back Kenyan Drake to a two-year contract last month. With pressing issues on defense and Josh Jacobs coming off two straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, Drake was viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity.
Within the Raiders’ building, though, there is a belief that Drake has untapped potential that, if realized, will help diversify their offense and enhance their efficiency.
In structuring his contract in such a way that the bulk of his two-year, $11 million cap hit takes effect in 2022 rather than 2021 — Drake counts $3 million against the cap this year compared to $8 million next year — they aren’t compromising their ability to address current needs.
The conviction is equal parts belief in Drake’s skill set and how their offensive system is an ideal match to utilize his strengths.
All of which was articulated to Drake in a pitch from Raiders coach Jon Gruden that Drake said was “head and shoulders above everybody in terms of interest in my ability to kind of come in and be a playmaker in a lot of facets of the game.”
Not just as a runner — Drake has 3,130 yards on 695 carries and a healthy 4.5 yards per carry average across six seasons — but also as a receiver.
His ability as a receiver has been tapped into at various stages of his career, although an uncertain quarterback situation during his four years in Miami and the manner in which he was utilized in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense in Arizona sometimes curtailed that part of his game.
For his career, Drake has 169 catches for 1,244 yards. His most productive seasons came in 2018 and 2019 when he totaled 103 catches for 822 yards and five touchdowns in 22 games with the Dolphins and eight games with the Cardinals.
The 30-game sample could be a preview of how the Raiders plan to use him, especially the 57 snaps he played while lined up out wide and the 44 snaps he lined up in the slot. His use as a wide receiver, coupled with his receiving work out of the backfield, resulted in 603 plays in which he ran a receiving route over those two seasons.
The 2018 use in Miami is of particular note. That season of Drake’s 53 catches 23 resulted in first downs.
Drake has been targeted 212 times over his career and quarterbacks have a stellar cumulative 98.4 passer rating when throwing to him.
The Raiders also hope his career work in the red zone — 23 touchdowns on 113 touches, including 11 scores on 38 touches from 2018 to 2019 — could help elevate a Raiders red zone touchdown percentage that ranked 23rd last year at 54.24 percent.
But it is the versatility he brings that they believe can add a new dimension to their offense.
In today’s NFL, the ability of offenses to change pace throughout a game and even during a series is a critical component in attacking opposing defenses. Drake’s versatility as running back and wide receiver will allow the Raiders to go uptempo and maneuver him throughout the lineup without having to worry about making substitutions.
Going fast also means challenging the defense to match up with the appropriate personnel. The Raiders are counting on that to create mismatches in which Drake, lined up in the slot or out wide, is working against slower linebackers.
Gruden outlined that vision to Drake throughout the process of signing him.
“Just being on the field in a multitude of ways, playing receiver, playing running back,” Drake said. “Just having the ability to kind of use my versatility as a weapon in the open field is something that really spoke to me.”
While Jacobs is the clearly established lead back for the Raiders, expect Drake to be heavily leaned on in conjunction with his fellow Alabama alum and in lieu of him at times. The latter being an important distinction as it will help Jacobs, who has missed four games over the last two seasons due to injuries, better manage a regular season that has been extended from 16 games to 17.
“To kind of share that role with Josh,” Drake said. “And him being obviously such a capable back, I feel like it spells success for this team.”