The Las Vegas Raiders drew some criticism by signing Kenyan Drake, but he could be the key to the offense during the 2021 NFL season.
At the start of Jon Gruden’s second tenure as Raiders head coach, he famously said he “wanted to throw the game back to 1998”. While this may have been a case of Gruden hyperbolizing his fascination with old-school football, it’s been clear that the veteran head coach still loves to run the football.
In fact, in both 2019 and 2020, the Raiders ranked amongst the top in the league in rushing attempts.
Gruden’s love for establishing the run was heightened by the fact that he chose Josh Jacobs in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft, at a time where the running back position is being devalued. However, what really punctuated Gruden’s desire to run more was the signing of former Arizona Cardinal lead back Kenyan Drake to a 2-year/$11 million deal.
Gruden and the Raiders were heavily scrutinized for their decision to sign Drake to such a lucrative deal, and rightfully so. They already have a Pro Bowl running back in Jacobs as well as a capable backup in Jalen Richard. The capital put towards Drake could have gone towards the defensive side of the ball or the offensive line.
It’s also worth noting that the team could have signed or drafted a solid backup running back for a fraction of the price. However, Gruden’s love of Drake is a key to understanding the Raiders offense in 2021.
It’s pretty evident that Drake is a solid running back. Drake has a career average of 4.5 yards per attempt, which is a very productive number, especially for a now-backup running back. Furthermore, it is important to note that Drake has never crossed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his 5-year career.
Drake might be an overqualified backup, but he’s simply a solid No. 1 option as well.
Raiders to use Drake in the Joker Role
What makes Drake so important to the Raiders offense this season is his complementary skillset to No. 1 option, Josh Jacobs. Drake is a skilled receiver who figures to see plenty of time at receiver, playing the infamous “Gruden Joker” role previously held by Raider greats Derek Carrier and Lynn Bowden Jr.
Drake is also clearly capable of running the ball. Drake can be seen as insurance for Josh Jacobs.
Jacobs made the Pro Bowl in 2020 but his yards-per-attempt dropped from a stagger 4.8 to a mediocre 3.9. While Jacobs rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2019, he actually had less yards than he did in 2018 in two fewer games and 31 fewer attempts.
Jacobs regressed and really hurt the Raiders offense at times, while former backup Devontae Booker played well. In fact, Jacobs had six games in 2020 where he averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry. Drake will be the guy to get the carries when Jacobs struggles.
This is also coupled with Jacobs having dealt with injuries in both of his professional seasons.
Jacobs is clearly the starting running back for the Las Vegas Raiders. However, we know Gruden loves having multiple capable running backs and Kenyan Drake provides the offense with just that. The Raiders offense has always looked its best under Gruden’s play calling when the running game is rolling.
The Raiders redistributed their funds on the roster this season and the offensive line lost some major pieces. Adding Drake is a bet that they can offset those losses.
The Las Vegas Raiders have used plenty of high draft capital on the cornerback spot, and they continue in that trend in a recent 2022 NFL Mock Draft.
Drake will provide the Raiders offense with rushing, receiving, and Jacobs insurance. For the Raiders and Quarterback Derek Carr to be successful in 2021, they need the Kenyan Drake addition to pay off and add another dangerous element to a top offense.