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Cardinals Must Decide Whether To Run It Back With Kenyan Drake

Emergence of Chase Edmonds allows for options in backfield

Running back Kenyan Drake is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent for the second straight offseason.
Running back Kenyan Drake is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent for the second straight offseason.

As backward as it may seem with an Air Raid-infused coach, the Cardinals' success the past two years has been tied closely to the success of the rushing attack.

In the second half of 2019 and the first part of 2020, the ground game was rocking, and so was the team.

However, that efficiency dissipated down the stretch of Kliff Kingsbury's second year in charge, as did the Cardinals' playoff hopes.

It seems imperative that the ground game nears a Ravens-like level of success for the Cardinals to have a dominant offense in 2021. Kyler Murray brings the mobile element at quarterback, but it's unknown who will sidle up next to him.

Kenyan Drake got his long-awaited shot as a bellcow running back in 2020, and the results were mixed. The pending unrestricted free agent averaged 4.0 yards per carry, down from 5.2 in his eight games with the team in 2019.

Drake wasn't much of a factor in the passing game, although he did have 10 rushing touchdowns and only missed one game. He finished with 239 carries for 955 yards, falling just short of the 1,000-yard threshold Drake wanted to surpass.

"Since he has been here the past two seasons, he's done a tremendous job," Kingsbury said the day after the season. "He has been healthy and brings explosiveness to that position. I've been really impressed with Kenyan and what he's brought."

The Cardinals paid Drake $8.4 million last season after using the transition tag on him. However, between Drake's statistical decline and the emergence of Chase Edmonds, a similar valuation for 2021 seems unlikely.

While acknowledging that the declining salary cap is unfortunate for all free agents this offseason, Drake didn't delve much into his personal situation in early January.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Drake said. "I have a great team behind me in SportsTrust (Advisors) that will do their due diligence and make sure everything goes according to plan when we get there."

Edmonds averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2020 and had 53 catches for 402 yards and four touchdowns. Beyond DeAndre Hopkins, he often seemed to be the Cardinals' most explosive skill athlete.

Edmonds is listed at 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds, so it is fair to wonder if he could withstand the rigors of getting 15-to-20 carries per game after averaging less than five per contest in his first three seasons.

In the game Drake missed this year, Edmonds amassed only 70 yards on 25 rushing attempts against the Dolphins, a 2.8 yards-per-carry average. Then again, Edmonds absolutely dominated the Giants in 2019 with a 27-carry, 126-yard, three-touchdown performance, and was a workhorse during his four-year college career at Fordham.

Edmonds will certainly be a major part of the Cardinals' plans for 2021. Youngsters Jonathan Ward and Eno Benjamin are also on the roster, and based off the track record of running backs in the NFL, GM Steve Keim could always just rely on a stable of fresh legs to get the job done.

If he wants a veteran to pair with Edmonds, it could mean the return of Drake, or a free agent addition.

Dating all the way back to college, Drake never got his shot to be a starting running back, but that changed over the past year-and-a-half.

"People are always going to doubt what they don't see or what you can't prove," Drake said. "Now coming into this year, I was given the opportunity to run the ball a lot more."

Did Drake do enough to warrant long-term bell cow status, either with the Cardinals or another team? Time will tell.

"He's been productive and scored a bunch of touchdowns for us, so we'll kind of see what that thing plays out," Kingsbury said.

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