(Note: Today begins our summer-long series in Daily Dolphin spotlighting key members of the team individually. In addition to reliving highlights and lowlights of the past season for each, we’ll provide analysis and criticism, plus take a look at how each player fits — or doesn’t fit — into the team’s plans for 2018. We begin with a vital part of the offense who I think will have a big year, running back Kenyan Drake. — Hal)
RB Kenyan Drake
Height, weight: 6-1, 211
Experience: Third NFL season, all with Dolphins
Acquired: Third-round pick in 2016
Contract: In third year of four-year, $3.3 million rookie contract
Stats: Started six of 16 games; had 133 carries for 644 yards (4.8 average) and three TDs; also caught 32 passes for 239 yards and 1 TD
Notable moments: Ran 66 yards for TD vs. Panthers. … Had 120 yards vs. Broncos. … In home victory over Patriots had 114 yards rushing and 79 receiving.
Straight talk: Adam Gase probably meant it. Then again, maybe he was just trying to light a fire. Either way, while talking about Drake this spring, Gase said he was “a guy that’s really looking to bust out.”
If the Dolphins are going to improve over last year’s 6-10 record, it’s a must.
Drake knows it, too. You can tell by the way he’s carrying himself compared to when he arrived as a luxury third-rounder, a guy behind Jay Ajayi and Damien Williams on the depth chart whose primary contributions were going to come on special teams.
“Honestly, it was just about growing up one day,” Drake said. “Everybody has to take that step necessary to be the man that they want to be. Obviously, I’m nowhere near where I want to be, obviously, as a man, as a football player, because I feel like the sky’s the limit for me and for this team in general.”
Gase once half-jokingly said there were times he wanted to hurt a young Kenyan Drake, who might take a handful of steps forward and then “test me.” Thankfully, a couple of years of growth, added responsibility and the arrival of one of the true professionals in this sport, Frank Gore, give the Dolphins a wise choice as one of the NFL players primed for a breakout year.
“I think he’s matured a lot, whether it be (with) the playbook or just him personally,” Gase said. “When you’re in this league, after you get through that first year, in the second year sometimes there’s a little bit of a feeling-out process. You’re trying to figure out who you are.
“You’re starting to get older and you really realize this is a job and it’s different than college. I see a different guy in the way he prepares (and) knowing the situation he’s coming into this year. It’s been a good process to watch his maturity level on and off the field.”
Drake is fully aware of the big picture, acknowledging there are “people looking up to me.” Given his obvious physical gifts — speed and elusiveness chief among them — he’s in perfect position to stake his claim toward a handsome second contract with a solid 2018.
Prospects for 2018
Over the final five games, he rushed for a league-best 444 yards and averaged 4.9 per carry. He also had 150 receiving yards.
For what it’s worth, that projects to roughly 2,000 all-purpose yards.
Don’t underestimate the arrival of Gore, who might see more action than fans expect despite Drake being the featured guy. That actually should be beneficial for Drake — just picture him, with his quickness, being fresh in the fourth quarter as visiting teams are wilting at Hard Rock Stadium.
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