As expectations for Jay Ajayi continue to grow following his record-breaking 2016 campaign, there appears to be fewer opportunities for second year running back Kenyan Drake.
Adam Gase has expressed his desire to increase Ajayi’s workload to 350 carries in 2017. The additional carries would be a near 35 percent increase from last season’s 260 carries. Ajayi is also a much improved pass catcher which means he’ll be relied upon on third down as well.
The Dolphins spent a third-round pick on Drake in the 2016 NFL draft, but Ajayi is firmly entrenched as the Dolphins’ starting running back.
Gase acknowledges that Drake and Ajayi have different skill sets. However, getting Drake to be a better overall running back is Gase’s primary objective.
“We got to be ready to go if … Jay [Ajayi], he takes a lot of hits. He’s basically our workhorse,” Gase said. “The rest of those guys have to be ready to go at the drop of the hat. They have to be able to do everything. For us to have two guys backing Jay up that do have a strength in the passing game for sure.
“But they are good runners. It’s more about getting consistency and understanding the importance of every little detail. Sometimes when you’re a backup, you can lose that, and it takes a professional to do the job right consistently. Really, that’s his [Kenyan Drake’s] biggest challenge is being a consistent guy for us.”
It is evident that the Dolphins view Drake strictly as a backup and return specialist at this juncture, but his talent suggests he should be more involved in the offense. If the Dolphins are wise, they’ll find ways to get Ajayi and Drake in the game at the same time this season.
One way to get Drake in the game would be to allow him to be the fourth wide receiver in the offense and place him in the slot in 2×2 alignment. The Dolphins would also be well served placing him in the backfield with Ajayi in a split back formation.
If Gase and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen would like to get creative, they could also use a three-back formation featuring Drake and MarQueise Gray as the upbacks with Ajayi still in the game as the deep back.
Three-back formations are also conducive to power schemes which the Dolphins ran effectively on occasion last season. Adding a new wrinkle to the playbook with formation and personnel could yield more yards on the ground for the Dolphins in 2017.
Tyreek Hill has reinvigorated the NFL’s pining for versatile playmakers, which is why Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel were highly coveted in this year’s NFL draft. At 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, Drake is bigger than the aforementioned players and could offer similar position flexibility.
Drake has talent that is deserving of more playing time and it would behoove the Dolphins to get him on the field more often this season.
The Dolphins were ranked 31st in the NFL in first downs in 2016. If they hope to pick up more first downs this year, they can ill afford to let a player with Drake’s skill set continue to sit on the bench as a mere backup.