This is the second in The Advocate’s position-by-position series taking a look at players who could be an option for the Saints in the NFL draft at the end of April.
One of the Alabama running backs in the 2016 NFL draft is a bona fide star already, a Heisman Trophy-winning battering ram expected to be a feature back again at the next level.
The other Alabama running back in this draft is out to prove he’s the same type of player.
Kenyan Drake, who spent his time in Tuscaloosa as the change of pace to T.J. Yeldon and then to Derrick Henry, adamantly believes he’s more than the lightning to somebody else’s thunder.
“I want to be an every-down back, so I want to have my versatility showcased in all different levels,” Drake said at the NFL scouting combine. “I’m fast, but I also have power, too.”
Drake’s task in this draft process has been proving that belief to NFL teams without a whole lot of proof on film. Due to Alabama’s loaded backfield, Drake never logged more than 92 carries in a season.
In Lane Kiffin’s offense, Drake instead played the role of the home-run hitter. With the 247-pound Henry sometimes logging as many as 40 carries in a game, Drake was used as a lightning bolt, a burner who tested defenses on the perimeter.
And he excelled in that role. Drake averaged 6.4 yards per carry in his career, 12.4 yards per reception and piled up 23 touchdowns.
Whether he can be more than a third-down back in the NFL remains to be seen.
Measured at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds at the combine, Drake has a thin frame, and he battled through several injuries in his career at Alabama. A broken leg and dislocated ankle ended his junior season prematurely; a broken right arm, cracked rib, concussion and a quad contusion limited him as a senior.
The ankle injury, a gruesome, freak play against Ole Miss, was the worst.
“I just wasn’t sure the time that I was going to be out; I’d never had an injury of that magnitude before,” Drake said. “So it was just getting through it on a daily basis, it wasn’t going to be a two-, three-month thing, it was going to be almost a year thing.”
Drake fought his way back into the lineup after injury.
But teams also have to figure out if he’s left his off-the-field issues behind him. Drake was suspended twice at Alabama — the first time for a violation of team rules, the second after an arrest for trying to cross a crime scene to get to his car — but bounced back from both mistakes.
“I just like to complement that by being in a leadership group my junior and senior year, being asked to go to media days,” Drake said. “(Alabama coach Nick) Saban really put his trust in me to be a real valuable teammate and leader on the team this past season.”
Despite all the questions, Drake has enough all-around talent that an NFL evaluator told The MMQB’s Peter King earlier this week that the former Alabama back is a first-round talent.
There’s no doubt that Drake can fly. Drake posted the third-fastest 40-yard dash time among running backs in Indianapolis at 4.45 seconds, and his explosiveness showed up in the broad jump and 20-yard shuttle.
Even if he doesn’t get a chance to be a feature back right away, Drake will likely be able to step in right away and help an NFL offense the same way he did at Alabama.
His better-known partner from the Crimson Tide backfield is sure of it.
“Dynamic player, very versatile,” Henry said. “Can play running back and receiver and can make a lot of plays.”
Only time, and the team that drafts him, will tell how many chances per game Drake gets to make those plays.