Today the Arizona Cardinals traded a 6th round pick for Kenyan Drake. That pick, according to Ian Rapaport, could become a 5th rounder conditionally. Drake’s 25 years old, holds a career average 4.6 yards per carry, and most importantly, we know he can play. I’ll always take a certainty over a maybe.
We don’t keep good enough track of draft “hit rates” in the NFL, but in 2015 Forbes tried. They tracked all players selected in the 2010 NFL draft for five seasons. Of all players to start at least 80 games (qualifying them as a “starter”) only 4.4% were from the 5th round, and just 1.9% were from the 6th round. For perspective, 67% were from the 1st round. So, the 6th and 5th rounds are a total crapshoot. I’d rather spend either of those picks on a 25-year-old player that’s proven themself in the league already.
But, why did Keim make this move in the first place? There’s always a motive. Do you eat toast because there’s bread in the pantry? Maybe. But it’s more likely because you’re hungry.
The first, and to me more likely scenario is that with Chase Edmonds sidelined with a hamstring injury, and David Johnson out with ankle problems, Steve Keim wasn’t comfortable rolling with newly-signed backups Alfred Morris and Zach Zenner going into a short week against the 7-0 49ers. But, for a team that’s clearly destined for the bottom of the NFC West anyway, why such urgency? Two reasons. First, because this is a developmental year for Kyler Murray. It’s smart not to let the team around him tank. Second, Keim could feel pressure to produce more than three wins this season. The Cardinals still have to play the 49ers and Rams twice and the Seahawks in Seattle. The winnable games left (Buccaneers, Steelers, Browns) aren’t all that winnable. With pressure to win, and uncertainty surrounding the timeline of the Edmonds and Johnson injuries, it’s better for Keim to play it safe and trade for Drake.
The second scenario is that trading for Kenyan Drake is preemptive to dealing David Johnson. Nobody wants to talk about it, but David Johnson has a cap hit of $9 million this year, $14 million next year and $12 million in 2021. He missed all but one game in 2017, he was bottom ten in yards per rush in 2018 (3.6) and he’s only averaging 12 rushing attempts per game this year. Now, he’s hurt again. By the way, the Cardinals are at the very beginning of their rebuild. They don’t have a chance at competing in their own division for at least two years if all goes well, and by then David Johnson will be 29. It’s smart business to trade him now, while the NFL still views him as a top 10 back.
Any way you slice it, this was a good move for the Cardinals. The most egotistical thing an NFL GM can do is to believe that their 6th or 5th round draft selection has a better chance to contribute than a player who’s already proven themselves in the league. The Cardinals have an immediate need at running back, and Kenyan Drake has at least played in games this season, unlike Alfred Morris. And maybe, finally, Keim is getting ready to part ways with one of his landmark successes in the draft, David Johnson. The trade deadline, by the way, happens October 29th at 1 pm Pacific.