To say Josh McDaniels loves running backs who can catch out of the backfield is an understatement. In the Las Vegas Raiders new head coach’s kitchen, receiving backs are the pepper to his salt. It’s a necessary ingredient to what McDaniels is cooking up.
Fortunately for the Silver & Black’s new offensive architect, McDaniels doesn’t have to look very far to find a tailback who can run routes and catch passes as there’s already a prime in-house candidate: Kenyan Drake. While there was contention just how much he was used when Jon Gruden was the Raiders play caller, the 28-year-old running back is a multi-dimensional ball carrier who is adept at catching the rock, too.
All McDaniels and his staff have to do is turn on the Week 6 tape of Drake torching the Broncos defense for beauty of a 31-yard second-quarter touchdown to see how versatile and explosive an asset the running back can be in the Raiders’ air attack. It was a route out of the backfield run with conviction and pure speed allowing Drake to torch defenders before hauling in the dime from quarterback Derek Carr for the score.
In 12 games for the Raiders this past season — a year cut short by injury — Drake caught 30 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown. His heaviest involvement in the passing game came in Week 9 against the New York Giants as he caught six passes for 70 yards. On the season, Drake also got 63 totes for 254 yards a pair of scores as the backup to starting running back Josh Jacobs.
Drake’s speed, vision and pass-catching ability will play well in the McDaniels’ crafted Raiders offense in 2022. While his stat sheets don’t reflect a true receiving back profile, the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Drake can fill the role that Brandon Bolden did in 2021 when McDaniels drew up all the New England Patriots’ plays and James White in previous seasons.
Bolden finished the 2021 regular season with 41 catches for 405 yards and two touchdowns (adding 44 carries for 226 yards and a score). Bolden was heaviest involved in the Pats’ passing game in Week 7 against the New York Jets, hauling in six passes for 79 yards and an end zone visit.
Before Bolden, it was White who was the primary receiving back. Before his 2021 season (three games) was cut short by injury, White was a staple of McDaniels’ offense in New England. From 2015 to 2020, White saw 492 targets and he hauled in 364 of those passes for 3,161 yards and 25 touchdowns. His 2018 campaign was his banner year as he caught 87 passes for 751 yards and seven touchdowns. This past season, White appeared well on his way to another solid year as he caught 12 passes for 94 yards in Week’s 1 and 2 before hitting injured reserve.
While Jacobs will likely get more involved in the passing gamer as RB1 — something Gruden promised would happen but never materialized — there will be snaps for Drake to get work in as both pass catcher and ball carrier out of the backfield. The 280 snaps he saw for the Raiders in 2021 (35 percent) may be the norm or see an increase under McDaniels as Bolden got 342 snaps (31 percent) for New England in 2021 while White averaged 420 snaps from 2015-2020 (41 percent).
Don’t discount McDaniels prior knowledge of Drake, either. As New England’s offensive coordinator, the new Raiders head coach saw Drake in the AFC East twice when the running back was a Miami Dolphin from 2016 to parts of 2019. And got to see how explosive the tailback can be in the Miracle in Miami game in December of 2018. Drake was the one who housed the backward pitch for the 69-yard touchdown as Miami dropped New England 34-33 as time expired.
The only drawback that comes with Drake is his 2022 salary. With a cap number of $8.25 million ($2.5 million base salary, $5.5 million roster bonus, $250,000 in additional bonus), the halfback may be too rich for the new Raiders’ blood at that number. Jettisoning Drake would leave a dead cap hit of $5.5 million (pre-June 1 or post-June 1 designation) although a trade would leave no dead money. But at that $8.25 million number, it would likely make a swap prohibitive.
Unless the Raiders can restructure Drake’s deal, smart money is No. 23 remains on the roster for 2022 as a solid choice for RB2 and the main receiver out of the backfield. The only other viable receiving back the Raiders have is Jalen Richard, but he’s an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The 28-year-old saw his snaps decrease tremendously this past season and gradually since a 2018 campaign that saw Richard catch 68 passes for 607 yards.