Fantasy Fins: Will Kenyan Drake rise to occasion in lead-back role for Dolphins?

Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) gives a stiff arm to New England Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Can Kenyan Drake be a complete, every-down, lead running back in this league? Post colleague Joe Schad asked that very question in a story a few weeks ago. And it looks like we’ll finally get a chance to find out Sunday against the Broncos.

The Dolphins traded Pro-Bowler Jay Ajayi to the Eagles on Halloween. That left Damien Williams as the apparent lead back, but he went down with what appeared to be a painful shoulder injury last week against New England. So it’s Drake, the second-year back out of Alabama, who’s next up.

A number of relatively unknown running backs have come out of nowhere to put up solid fantasy numbers this season: your Tarik Cohens of the Bears, your Chris Thompsons for Washington, your Alvin Kamaras of the Saints, your Jerick McKinnons in Minnesota, among loads of others.

Why can’t Drake be next up on that list, too?

Earlier in the season, the former third-round pick seemed like a perfect fit for the Fins as “a shifty, speedy, change-of-pace back,” as Schad called him.

Schad pointed out Drake’s excellent yards-per-carry average, a team-leading 5.4 last season and a Dolphins-best 4.8 this year. But “can he be a complete inside-outside back?”

“Drake will need to prove he can stay healthy, prove he can be trusted to protect the football and prove he can be a consistent blocker.”

He’s been solid on the health front so far, but that’s with just 75 career rushes to his name. (By comparison, Jay Ajayi totaled 76 in his first four games of the 2017 season.) Can Drake average 4.8 yards a run when he’s getting 25 touches a game? We won’t know until he gets the opportunity.

Still, fantasy football gurus won’t care much about Drake’s health or his blocking, as he’s likely little more than a temporary injury replacement at this stage of the season. The fumbling, on the other hand, does matter.

Drake has lost two fumbles this year — both of them in costly situations against the Raiders and Patriots — on just 42 carries, an issue he knows must be addressed quickly if he wants to continue to see the ball.

“I’m my own worst critic, so any time I put myself in a compromising position, whether that’s pass blocking or fumbling, I’m always gonna be way harder on myself than anybody can be on me,” Drake told Jason Lieser earlier this week. “I take it very personal when I do lay the ball on the ground, so two times is already two times more than I ever want in my entire career.

“But being a running back, you have to understand that sometimes those plays happen. You’ve gotta have a short memory and move on.”

The Dolphins have worked this week on protecting the ball. And coach Adam Gase’s expectations for Drake remain high.

“He wants to be what we expect him to be,” Gase told reporters, “which is a guy that can help us move the chains in the run game, be extremely effective in the pass game and knows what to do in protection. … [We] need him to come along as quickly as possible.”

And with Williams and Senorise Perry (concussion) likely sidelined, the only other running back on the active roster is undrafted rookie De’Veon Smith out of Michigana “thumper” who has yet to see the field in a regular-season game.

That means Drake is likely to see plenty of the ball in the coming weeks, both on the ground and in the passing game. And with Miami largely out of the playoff hunt, there’s no reason not to give the youngster a shot.

Will he rise to the occasion fantasy-wise? There’s only one way to find out.

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