GLENDALE, Ariz. — Kenyan Drake has a better grasp of the Arizona Cardinals offense this season. When the running back was traded to the Cardinals last season on Oct. 28, Drake just wanted to figure out what to do. By season’s end, he began to understand the “why” behind plays. And this offseason, he has taken an even deeper dive.
“I was able to kind of start from, I guess, scratch and just get the meat and potatoes behind the ‘why’ of a lot different plays,” Drake said. “It gave me a better outlook, and I can keep my vision from being narrow to what I got to focus [on] instead of the whole entire offense.”
Being thrust into a starting role midseason on a new team in a new offense isn’t easy, running backs coach James Saxon said, yet Drake managed to run for 643 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games with the Cardinals.
Equipped with a one-year tender worth $8.3 million and a better understanding of what he’s supposed to do, Drake will be the Cardinals’ primary ball carrier.
“His running style, the explosiveness, being dynamic in space, he’s up there with anybody in the league,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “And now it’s just about mastering our system, where he can get those pre-snap keys and, kind of, take that next step as being an expert on our system.
“We’re just all fired up to watch his progress in Year 2 in the same system being the featured guy.”
Saxon described Drake’s role in 2020 as being a “prime tool for this offense” and “the guy that’s going to stir the drink for us.”
“He’s the one that’s going to set the tempo,” Saxon said.
Understanding the “why” of the Cardinals’ offense will help Drake do that. That’ll translate into getting deeper into the nuances of the plays and could be the difference between a 1,000-yard season and an 800-yard season.
“It allows you to play a little bit faster, a little bit freer because now you trust the people around you, because you know that you’re just not this one part that’s doing this one mechanical thing,” Saxon said. “There’s a reason why you’re doing that one mechanical thing that encompasses everybody else, and that’s where he’s been this offseason. It’s going pretty well.”
Drake rushed for a franchise-record 5.23 yards per carry last season, but his impact will be felt in the passing game as well. He had 28 catches for 171 yards with the Cardinals and another 22 catches for 174 yards with the Miami Dolphins before the trade.
He had 103 catches in the past two seasons — 10th most in the NFL among running backs.
“I’m excited to continue to head in the right trajectory in that department, especially with getting a better grip on the playbook this year from the passing-game perspective,” Drake said. “Just getting a little more trust in [quarterback] Kyler [Murray] and me and my ability to go out there and be one-on-one against a linebacker, safety and win that matchup more times than not.”
Drake takes pride in being a versatile running back, Kingsbury said. The two talked this offseason about training to improve Drake’s receiving skills. Drake sees himself as part of the new wave of running backs who can run routes out of the backfield and pound the ball up the middle. In an ideal world, he may soon approach the hallowed 1,000-1,000 club for rushing and receiving yards in a season.
“I’m the type of person that always felt like my game was that type of game,” Drake said.
He has the hands, the speed and the size to be a complete route runner, Saxon said. Drake can run downfield or underneath routes. He can be a linebacker’s nightmare. His versatility has set him up to be a “major part” of the Cardinals’ offense, one that, unexpectedly, ran the ball more than it threw last season.
While the next step for Drake this season is more wins, he said, he’ll also be in a position to produce more individually than he did in his breakout half-season a year ago.
“My expectations haven’t changed from the first time I got here,” Drake said. “I was able to go and have immediate success with help from the people around me. And this year is no different. It’s going to be an even a better situation, in terms of getting Install 1 through whatever, and with the support cast around me, I feel like personally, I can have a lot of success.”