Scouting the Senior Bowl: Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama

kenyandrakeKenyan Drake is probably best known for the gruesome leg injury he suffered five games into the 2014 season against Ole Miss.  It was about as bad of a broken leg as you’ll see in football, and it created serious doubt as to whether he’d be able to regain the impressive form that he displayed during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Drake accepted his invitation to the 2016 Senior Bowl after a senior year that answered most of the injury-related questions.  While he wasn’t as explosive or confident of a runner this past season, he’s still an intriguing option at the running back position because of the likelihood that his best football will be played in 2016 and beyond.

Drake finished this past year (excluding Alabama’s National Championship game) with 76 carries for 407 yards and 1 TD.  He averaged 4.8 YPC, which is a far cry from his pre-injury seasons.  His best year was in 2013 when he had 92 carries for 694 yards and 8 TDs, averaging an eye-popping 7.5 YPC.  His Crimson Tide career totaled 232 carries for 1,494 yards and 18 TDs, with a career average of 6.4 YPC.   Drake was also a viable receiving threat, especially in ’15.  He set career highs as a receiver this season with 27 catches for 255 yards and a TD.  For his career, he had 44 catches for 549 yards and 4 TDs.  Drake brings added value on special teams, returning 14 kickoffs for 309 yards (with a long of 40 yards) this year.  He was a heavily recruited high school talent, earning praise as a 4-star recruit.

Physically, Drake is unofficially listed at 6’1″ and 210 lbs.  Much like his backfield running mate Derrick Henry, Drake is on the taller side for running backs and it shows in his running style.  In fact, I have more concerns about Drake’s pad level than Henry, despite the fact that Drake is roughly two or more inches shorter.  Athletically, Drake is nice blend of speed and quickness.  He’s at his best running outside the tackles where he can turn the corner and get moving upfield.  He’s likely to test really well at the Scouting Combine, which should generate a lot more buzz than his tape necessarily warrants.  Drake doesn’t always appear to be in control of his athleticism, at times looking “crazy legged” and panicked.  That concerns me, especially for NFL play where decisive and efficient steps are a prerequisite for success at running back.

As a runner, Drake offers a nice change-of-pace skill set.  As I said above, he possesses really good speed and an explosive burst.  He won’t be relied on to convert in short yardage situations, as he lacks the pop or power behind his pads to grind out the tough yards.  He hits the LOS with a higher-than-desired pad level and doesn’t really fight for the extra yard.  That said, if the hole is there, Drake will burst through it and record an explosive play.  Nearly 10% of his runs this year went for 12 yards or more, indicative of his ability to move the chains in a hurry.  He won’t make a living on inside run plays, but he’ll carve out a nice role by giving a workhorse a breather.

His tape proves that he can be an asset as a receiver out of the backfield, which I believe will be his best attribute on the next level.  He reminds me of Charles Sims (from a value/role perspective); Sims has proven to be a competent and capable alternative to Doug Martin, but appears to lack the natural running instincts needed to be an every-down guy.  Drake is cut from the same cloth.

The key in determining Drake’s overall value is whether you think his 2015 tape is who he is, or if he’s likely to gain even more “juice” once he’s further removed from his injury.  I reviewed Drake’s film from this year and the previous two to determine if he was clearly a step slower post-injury.  I don’t think he was.  But I do think he was a bit more hesitant which is a natural occurrence after an injury as severe as his was.  I think Drake will be a lot more confident on his legs next season, which is why he should see the field sooner than his role with Alabama this year would suggest.  That said, I don’t think he’ll emerge as more than a pass-catching option in a RBBC setting, which is why he’s likely to be a mid-to-late Day 3 pick.