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Cardinals considered Kenyan Drake as free agent before trade, GM says

Running back Kenyan Drake #41 of the Arizona Cardinals dives into the end zone past Richard Sherman #25 and D.J. Jones #93 of the San Francisco 49ers for a touchdown during the first half of the NFL football game at State Farm Stadium on October 31, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

It became crystal clear Thursday night that Kenyan Drake has the juice to produce with his new team.

Four days after joining the Arizona Cardinals by way of a trade from the Miami Dolphins, the running back accounted for eight points and 162 yards on 19 touches against the San Francisco 49ers.

Arizona’s decision to part with a conditional draft pick — it will be a fifth- or sixth-round choice — in exchange for a half-season rental of Drake is significant. It shows general manager Steve Keim didn’t want to suck up any losses while running backs David Johnson and Chase Edmonds recovered from injuries.

Keim wanted the production to remain level.

The trade for Drake, however, creates an interesting ecology in the personnel department. Who gets touches and where if and when Johnson and Edmonds return from ankle and hamstring injuries, respectively?

Keim only added to the running back situation when he told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf on Friday that he was interested in acquiring Drake in the 2020 free agency period.

“We did our homework on him and more than anything, I think organizationally we felt like he was the perfect fit for this scheme, a guy who could get isolated in space, had tremendous footspeed, straight line explosiveness, caught the ball extremely well out of the backfield,” Keim said. “He was somewhat a mirror image of the guys we currently have but also brings some other skills to the table.”

Just last week, Keim said he and director of pro scouting Adrian Wilson discussed their team potentially targeting Drake.

“When the opportunity presented itself for the trade with the Dolphins, we certainly jumped,” Keim added.

Why the Cardinals would float adding a potential starting running back in free agency when they already have two more-than-capable backs is curious.

That said, the fit makes sense.

Drake, like Johnson and Edmonds, brings a dynamic pass-catching ability that he showcased Thursday with four receptions for 52 yards on four targets. He also flashed impressive speed on his 36-yard burst to begin the day for Arizona’s offense.

“It’s wide open, the way that Kyler (Murray) spreads the offense out, how they they go with the tempo. Just to be able to hit the holes that are there … I didn’t have to do too much,” Drake said after the 28-25 loss to the 49ers.

“I just played ball, saw what I saw, ran the ball where I needed to, just like how they told me it was going to be like in practice.”

The fourth-year pro doesn’t know how many touches will be available when Johnson or Edmonds return. He certainly doesn’t know what’s in store after the season ends.

But the longer Johnson and Edmonds sit out, the more opportunities he’ll have.

It creates an interesting storyline that will develop as Drake attempts to build a market for his upcoming free agency. The narrative gets especially unique if the Cardinals see reason to consider re-signing him despite their already talented running back room and their bigger roster holes to plug.

“I was excited for the opportunity to come here and help this team win games,” Drake said. “Like I said, my ultimate goal is to do that. Everything else will take care of itself. I pride myself as a player to make the most out of every situation that I can be in.

“My whole motto this whole week was regardless of what I had on my plate, my goal is to eat. That’s what I’m gonna do.”

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