Stats prove it: Miami Dolphins’ Kenyan Drake is third-most elusive RB in NFL

Kenyan Drake celebrates his 42-yard touchdown run against the Broncos by imitating LeBron James’ pregame chalk toss. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Anyone who watched Kenyan Drake pull off two 42-yard runs and a 66-yarder last season could see he was a running back making the most of his first real chance in the NFL.

Now, there’s a better — and objective — way to quantify it.

And what it says about Kenyan Drake makes you eager to see just how good he can be for the Dolphins in 2018.

Writing for NFL.com, Matt Harmon compiled a list of the NFL’s 10 best backs at avoiding tackles. No, Drake didn’t make the list, because he didn’t have enough carries to meet Harmon’s minimum 175 attempts.

If he had? At the current level of elusiveness? Drake would have ranked third, behind only Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara.

The list was compiled using the NFL’s “Next Gen Stats.” Although some of those stats can be over-the-top geek-intensive, the numbers employed here are relatively simple. Using computer chips placed in players’ shoulder pads, it measures yardage gained after defenders get within a yard of the ballcarrier. This can be via broken tackles, shiftiness, whatever.

Keeping in mind the league average is 3.66 yards, Hunt led the NFL at 4.63, followed by New England’s Dion Lewis at 4.44.

But Drake’s average was 4.55, trumped only by Hunt and Kamara’s 4.76 among regularly used rushers (although Kamara’s attempts also didn’t meet the 175 minimum).

This gives Adam Gase something to think about as he retools an offense he called “garbage” at one point last season. Not only must Gase find the right run-pass balance when Ryan Tannehill returns, but he also needs to keep Drake’s skills in mind when shopping for desperately needed offensive line help.

Interestingly, Jay Ajayi, who was abruptly shipped to Philadelphia in an October trade that gave Drake his opportunity, ranked seventh on the elusive list at 4.0 yards. That might surprise some because Ajayi’s powerful running style is the first thing that comes to mind when you watch him, but Ajayi spent considerable time last offseason working on his start-stop shiftiness and burst.

Harmon also points out that the elusive stat doesn’t do justice to Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, who’s obviously one of the best in the league. Bell’s patient style, hovering behind the line of scrimmage while spying a hole, doesn’t lend itself toward big numbers in this metric. That’s why Bell’s 3.71 was barely above average.

Finally, there’s the case of Kiko Alonso’s favorite running back, LeSean McCoy of Buffalo. McCoy’s number was 3.96 a year ago, but he plummeted to 3.29 this past season, one of the largest drop-offs measured. Alonso can be one of the quietest players you’ll ever meet, but if he wanted to throw shade at McCoy, there’s his ammo.

The top 10

1. Kareem Hunt, KC 4.63

2. Dion Lewis, NE 4.44

3. Derrick Henry, TENN 4.09

4. Jordan Howard, CHI 4.06

5. Mark Ingram, NO 4.04

6. Ezekiel Elliott, DALL 4.0

7. Jay Ajayi, PHIL 4.0

8. Marshawn Lynch, OAK 3.99

9. Todd Gurley, LAR 3.97

10. C.J. Anderson, DEN 3.96

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