Dolphins Running Backs; Improvement or Regress in 2019

KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 24: Running back Kenyan Drake
KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 24: Running back Kenyan Drake /

A year ago the Dolphins weapons were considered a top 5 unit. A year later two of Miami’s trusted players are gone. The running back unit added a rookie and a veteran to replace Jay Ajayi. Is that an upgrade or downgrade?

What the world happened to our running back situation.

I remember the start of last year perfectly. ESPN had the Dolphins offensive weapons ranked as a top 5 unit. We had Tanny coming back, Parker making the next step, Jarvis continuing his solid career, and Jay Train being a top 5 rusher.

What a ‘train’ wreck.

Ryan went down, Parker never took the next step, Jarvis’ lack of following the game plan ran him out of town, and Jay’s attitude ran him out faster. For Dolphin fans, this is not a new narrative. We have had player after player disappoint, coaches come and go, and big money free agents underachieve. We have had our hearts broken with glimmers of hope: The wildcat tuna year, Gase’s first year, and last year’s 4-2 start. We desperately want to see the ship turn, but it never seems to.

This year we see a different backfield. Old father time Frank Gore is in town accompanied with his physical clone, rookie Ballage from Arizona State. Kenyon Drake, the Patriot killer… aka the Red Coat, is still with us and if he stays healthy, he will get carries and catches. The big question is, did our unit get better or worse from last year.

When Jay was traded, my manager, who’s an Eagles fan, was ecstatic. Visions of big yardage runs danced in his pre-Christmas mind. When explaining Ajayi to him, I found myself being disappointed with what he was in my view. A bruising running back that avoided running down the middle, bounced everything outside, and didn’t have great hands or blocking skills. He is the baseball equivalent of home run hitter who strikes out 3 times a game and can’t field a ball.

Sure enough, Jay split carries in Philly and had a few big runs. He was gifted a Super Bowl ring and now the world thinks he got the better of the Dolphins. The pick we got for him turned into his potential replacement, Ballage. Time will tell what Ballage turns into, but he was drafted a round ahead of Jay and has far less wear and tear than Ajayi did out of college.

That’s not to say that Ballage will have Ajayi production or that Ballage will even see carries this year. It’s just the result of a slightly over-rated running back with attitude issues and was presented in an inaccurate way by the press and your standard fan. My manager never came to work gushing about a Jay Ajayi game and Jay never carried the Eagles to a win. He was merely a split carry back with big run potential.

The Dolphins now have Frank ‘Social Security’ Gore, Ajayi’s replacement, Drake, and Jay’s return price, Ballage. Ballage will be super hard to predict since he has a small sample size in college and was splitting carries. His production was inconsistent, yet, he definitely has the body to be an NFL back. He will be third string and may steal goal line carries when the opportunity arises. However, I expect Ballage to learn during Gore’s one year contract.

More from Phin Phanatic

Gore and Drake will split carries and have different things they can offer. Drake has elite speed, great hands, and above average run blocking skill. Gore is not as fast or agile as Drake, but is fundamentally solid. He blocks and catches well and what he lacks for in speed, he makes up for in strength. He will be a great compliment to Drake and barring a sizable tick downwards, should produce well.

Depth is a concern. Supposing Gore is not going to be quite the same runner he was last year, and Ballage is not ready to take a good chunk of carries, Drake going down could be a concern.
The biggest takeaway from the turnover of Ajayi to Drake/Gore is playbook openness. Gase can do lots more as far as passing plays. These running backs catch and pass block much better than the Ajayi era. This leads me to believe that Gase was not afraid to walk away from Jay when he traded him.

My personal desires for this running back group is to see maturity and fundamentals. If Drake stays healthy, we know his potential. His skill set is much more diverse than Ajayi’s, and he can change games like he did against the Patriots. With a season under his belt and a solid veteran coming in and showing what proper work ethic looks like, we may see Drake take a giant step this year. If he does… sheesh.

Gore will bring a work and study ethic unlike anything our running backs have seen. He is part of the culture change that Gase is confident will take over. Frank is not here to produce huge numbers, his job is to teach the two young guns that Jay Train era is over. You don’t pout and whine when the game plan goes away from you and you grind when you don’t have the ball. I love this move considering what we paid Gore.

My prediction for the running backs is a better unit than last year. Considering the fact that Ryan is better than Cutler (please don’t even try to fight me on this) and the O-line looks much better on paper, we should surprise people with run production.