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A Patient Man: Kenyan Drake's Wait Paying Off With Cardinals

Running back finally earns leading role in backfield

Running back Kenyan Drake carries the ball against the Browns during last weekend's win.
Running back Kenyan Drake carries the ball against the Browns during last weekend's win.

When he was a top recruit looking for his college, Kenyan Drake had a plenty of offers, and the knowledge he could've gone just about anywhere and been the lead running back.

He chose Alabama, where the assurances of a heavy load and the spotlight was anything but certain.

"I wanted to go to Alabama because I knew it was going to test me, mentally, physically, emotionally because of all the talent and the process they have there," Drake said. "It set me up for where I am now."

Indeed, lodged behind Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, Drake had to be patient with the Crimson Tide. He had to be patient after being drafted by the Dolphins, and coaches there always finding someone else they thought should get more touches in the backfield. He was patient after being traded to the Cardinals earlier this season, knowing starter David Johnson was injured and would be back soon, ostensibly to take back his spot.

Two 100-yard games into a six-game stint with the Cardinals, Drake doesn't have to be patient anymore.

"He's been waiting to show what he can do and be kind of the focus point of an offense for probably seven years," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

Drake had 137 yards rushing and four touchdowns against the Browns, and now has 417 yards on 87 carries – a 4.8-yard average – since arriving in Arizona six games ago. He's added 22 catches for 130 yards. Yet, had Chase Edmonds not gotten hurt after Johnson was already down, Kingsbury said, Drake probably wouldn't have been a trade target.

Instead, Drake has locked down not only the starting role but the bulk of the work – not that he's much interested in celebrating his patience paying off.

"It's bigger than me," Drake said. "The game is not about any one individual player and whatever specific accolades he can accumulate. Not a lot of people get this opportunity. Maybe when I am 60 years old I can look back and think, 'I had fun' or whatever, but right now I am focused on the task at hand."

It is a big-picture view that not every player has.

"I for sure had to learn it," Drake said. "Everyone has to grow up one day."

For him, it was his stint at Alabama, where Yeldon and Henry – and horrible leg and ankle injuries as a junior – limited his touches. When Drake was a senior, Henry had already solidified himself as a star, winning the Heisman with 2,219 yards rushing on a whopping 395 carries. Drake got the leftovers, with 77 attempts for 408 yards (adding 29 receptions.)

It made it easier with his time with the Dolphins, when he battled for snaps with Jay Ajayi, Frank Gore, Mark Walton and Kalen Ballage.

"His situation is unique because when you look at some of those running backs he was behind in college, you're talking Heisman Trophy winners/first picks of the draft-type talent," Kingsbury said. "It's tough to keep your head about yourself and stay focused and know who you are and how good you can be. That's the most impressive thing about him – he never lost sight of that."

Drake said he had a "great time" in Miami, lauding his coaches and teammates, and the decision to distribute playing time among running backs only served to put him in the position he's in today.

"I don't really regret anything," Drake said. "Everything, good or bad, is a learning lesson.

"I feel like, sometimes, you have to bet on yourself, and I guess that's where I am now."

Free agency beckons in March. Kingsbury noted that Drake's jump in touches and production has worked out well -- "Timing," Drake acknowledged, "is everything" – and it would be hard to believe at this point the Cardinals wouldn't want to try and keep him around.

Given Johnson's contract situation, and the $10.2 million in guaranteed salary Johnson has for 2020, the running back situation as a whole has to be sorted out by General Manager Steve Keim. But Drake knows how to be patient. He's done it for a long time.

On a recent Instagram post, Drake wrote "You don't sit back and contemplate the future when you are in the middle of it."

"That's what I am doing right now," Drake said. "Being where my feet are, or whatever cliché you want to add to that. I'm focused on the things I need to do now so when that time comes I can put myself in the best scenario. I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch."

The Cardinals delivered stuffed animals to patients at Phoenix Children's Hospital on Tuesday.