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REWIND 2018: Studying Alvin Kamara’s 2017 – Top Talent or Touch Monster? (Plus, a Bonus Rewind)

Date:
June 19, 2018 9:32 PM
May 30, 2018 8:00 AM
— Our offseason ‘Rewind’ reports are where we look at an individual player’s previous season(s) of work–analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a ‘blip’ performance, or signs of future greatness…or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do two per week in the offseason. —

-- Our offseason 'Rewind' reports are where we look at an individual player's previous season(s) of work--analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a 'blip' performance, or signs of future greatness...or signs of a mega-bust approaching.--

The #1 angst my football clients have with me from 2017…I didn’t see Alvin Kamara coming. Otherwise, nothing but love…but I digress.

I was dismissive of Kamara’s talent, in general. I liked the Saints situation for his PPR, but I did not foresee anything close to what happened with him in 2017. I was pushing Samaje Perine and D’Onta Foreman ahead of Kamara in dynasty rookie drafts.

If I had to do it over again, obviously, I’d take Kamara highly in the 2017 dynasty rookie draft. Today, Kamara is trading as one of the top 5-6 RBs in fantasy…one of the most beloved fantasy assets going into 2017, and I missed it for the most part. All that is grounds for a ‘Rewind’ study.

How did I miss Kamara by so much? I want to know. More importantly, and usually the premise of most ‘Rewinds’ – did I really ‘miss’ on the scouting? Was last season a blip, and should you sell now?

I went back through Alvin Kamara’s 2017 output and game tape, an isolated study to try to get a feel for his 2017 season…to see what I missed, or if I see trouble ahead.

In the case of Alvin Kamara…it all comes down to, to some degree, the 2017-18 playoffs. And I’ll get there in a moment to explain. First, a summary of Kamara…the talent…

After re-watching his 2017 work -- I think Alvin Kamara is a ‘good’ not ‘great’ talent. Better than I scouted coming out of Tennessee, but not as good as the pedestal he’s being put on today. He’s a ‘C’ grade runner of the ball and an ‘B+’ receiver.

Over his last five games last season, including playoffs, Kamara ran the ball 10.8 times per game for 37.2 yards…3.44 yards per carry. Kamara is not a power runner nor is a speed burner…he’s very shifty and clever – he’s a smart 7-10 carries a game RB, and NOT a 15-20+ totes work horse. Anyone who thinks Kamara will dispatch Mark Ingram and take over all the touches and become a fantasy god – they are out of their minds. Even with Ingram out for 4 games to start 2018…Kamara will be in a split role with someone.

I isolated the last five games of rushing results on Kamara because it was the time frame I felt opposing teams adjusted more to what the Saints were doing, and the game plans were being built around stopping Kamara in all his forms…and his last five opponents did slow him down some, for the most part. He’s ‘slow down-able’ because he’s not an extreme power runner or high-end speed merchant. He’s OK, as a runner.

Where Kamara ‘wins’ is in the passing game, and he’s not a radical pass catcher…he’s not David Johnson, a guy who could be an All-Pro WR if he wanted to be. Kamara is ‘good’ in the passing game but got ‘great’ touches – ‘great’ as in the amount and the type of play/pass setups for him. The Saints committed to Kamara as a short pass game weapon, and they executed – bubble screens, quick outs, wheel routes. They got an elusive, 215+ pound RB out into the open. Credit to Sean Payton – he put Kamara to work…and defenses had no answer…until they did.

Kamara was put in a perfect situation…the future of football, however long it takes the numb nut, antiquated NFL coaches to convert to it – the future is getting RBs out in space and letting them use their size-speed ‘advantage’ (for more than 1-5 touches a game). For some of these ‘great in space’ guys, their advantage is blazing speed. For others, for a stretch, like Kamara…it was his size overwhelming DBs trying to cover and stop him on the loose. You don’t want 215-pound Kamara banging between the tackles fighting 250-330 pound monsters. You do want him out in space taking on 180-205 pounds DBs. Credit to Sean Payton – that’s exactly what he did, and he didn’t stop.

The Carolina Panthers, in the playoffs, shut Kamara down. Why? In part, because Luke Kuechly was shadowing him, not a 200-pound safety.

In the first two weeks of the 2017 season, the Chicago Bears used Tarik Cohen in a similar way as Kamara. Cohen caught 16 passes on 21 targets in Weeks 1 and 2…8 catches each game. Cohen averaged 90.5 total yards from scrimmage per game and was averaging a robust 6.6 yards per carry. It was exciting and effective…and then they just stopped using him as much. It was so successful…and yet later-to-be-fired-for-their-incompetency John Fox and O-C Darrell Loggains just stopped using Cohen and went elsewhere with the passing game – a passing game made up of worse-than-practice-squad WRs in 2017.

Cohen is a far superior receiver compared to Kamara, superior in every way…hands of gold and an excellent route runner – Cohen could be an All-Pro WR.

Cohen is a tougher, quicker runner of the ball than Kamara despite being smaller in stature.

In 2017, Cohen got the reigns pulled but Kamara got a constant, proper workload and became a star.

I’m not interested in debating Kamara’s talent grade. I’ll not win a ‘Cohen is better than Kamara’ debate, today. Those could be fun and/or useless debates…but all I care about, for fantasy, is whether Kamara is going to get the golden touches again.

I think the answer is unequivocally, “Yes.” And that’s all the scouting that matters here.

If Kamara is getting 7-10 carries and 7-10 targets per game in 2018…he’s going to easily push 75+ total yards from scrimmage each game and have a chance to score his share of short distance TDs as a run-pass option. Alvin Kamara on the New York Jets…would be an RB2-3 who we don’t think a ton about. Kamara with Sean Payton’s commitment – he’s an RB1 for sure. So was Mark Ingram last year.

Kamara is good…he’s a ‘B+/C+’ talent depending upon which touches you’re looking at. But he gets ‘A++’ touch counts and set ups, so he’s an ‘A’ projection for PPR fantasy. I think Kamara could dip a bit in 2018 because as I mentioned earlier – when defenses started to focus on him late in the season, he was stopped/limited more than he was during his midseason breakout, but he’ll rack catch counts regardless.

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Remember when I mentioned ‘the 2017-18 playoffs said it all’ about Alvin Kamara? As well, recall that the title of this piece had ‘bonus’ in it. Here’s how I tie those two things into the Kamara ‘Rewind’…

When the Saints defeated the Panthers in the first round of the playoffs last season, Kamara had 1 catch, 10 carries for 23 yards, and rushed for a score…a pretty flimsy game. On the other side of the field, Christian McCaffrey caught 6 passes for 101 yards and 1 TD, he also ran for a poor 6 carries/16 yards…but, still, the receiving tally was golden.

Christian McCaffrey had a better playoff game than Alvin Kamara…by a mile. No one really cared…Kamara was still the belle of the ball. Football society has deemed McCaffrey is cute but Kamara is ‘the man’.

We all believe McCaffrey is a better receiver than Kamara, in its purest sense, right? Even national analysts do. McCaffrey is a better athlete overall, right? Anyone can see that from the Combine results. McCaffrey is as good/better a runner…and was certainly much more acclaimed in college as a runner.

If McCaffrey is a superior receiver, athlete, and equal to/better than runner versus Kamara…then why is Kamara going as highly as the 1.01 in redrafts but McCaffrey’s that backend RB1/high RB2 guy that is just a PPR guy and we worry he won’t get the targets in the future? If any team made a move to turn more things/carries over more to their ‘PPR guy’ this offseason…it was Carolina not New Orleans. Why don’t we see McCaffrey/2018 as having Kamara/2017 fantasy upside?

If you answer, because of the ‘touches’ -- then we agree with my original premise on Kamara – it’s the touches, not the talent question so much.

In Kamara’s second playoff game, he faced/lost to Minnesota…and their electric RB Jerick McKinnon. Kamara had so-so, but better numbers in that game. McKinnon had similar touch counts, just not the game plan/set up for success like Kamara. McKinnon used more as a traditional RB…and Kamara used as a creative weapon all over.

We all agree McKinnon is the better athlete than Kamara. There are not many better athletes in football than Jerick McKinnon. I argued all 2017…McKinnon could be Kamara+ if he got the same count and smartly designed touches. McKinnon is a better interior runner, a much faster runner than Kamara and equally solid as a receiver. Why don’t we see McKinnon/2018 as equal to Kamara/2017? Because we aren’t sure JMK will get the touches.

Again, all the Kamara arguments are about touches…because he loses the talent debates, and it’s not that he’s not talented…it’s just there are 20-30 guys who could have had Kamara’s year if they were put with Sean Payton. McKinnon could for sure. Thus, here comes the bonus ‘Rewind’…

I watched Jerick McKinnon tape as well as the Kamara tape for this segment. McKinnon is clearly the better, more explosive RB…he just is. He has Le’Veon Bell’s patience. David Johnson athleticism. We forget Jerick McKinnon benched like an O-Lineman at his Combine (32 reps). McKinnon is a monster waiting to be unleashed…and now goes to an equal to/more innovative head coach than Sean Payton in Kyle Shanahan, and the 49ers have cleared the RB depth chart decks to use McKinnon as the main guy.

You could pay full price for Alvin Kamara, or you could buy the better version at a discount…Jerick McKinnon.

Mike Zimmer killed McKinnon’s upside potential with his stifling offense. Kyle Shanahan saw the opportunity and paid a mint for it this offseason. He didn’t do so to use him like Zimmer…as a backup/split role traditional RB.

One more bonus…Tarik Cohen may be better, all around, in the ‘Kamara role’ than any of them. He’s a better receiver than all of them, including McCaffrey. He’s an explosive, physical for his size runner. What if Bears new head coach Matt Nagy puts Cohen in that same ‘Kamara role’…as a weapon moving all over the field and taking 7-10 carries and 5-10 targets per game?

A lot of rookie RBs are being described as ‘he’s their Kamara type’. Kudos to Sean Payton. Anytime you make a player a ‘type’ teams want to copy, you’ve done good as a coaching mind. He was also the author of ‘he’s their Sproles’. Like ‘he’s a Jordan Reed type tight end’ (Sean McVay) or ‘he’s a Wes Welker type’ (Belichick). Who cares about the rookies as much when there are existing, talented RBs built to do the same as ‘Kamara’, and who might be getting ready to get the same creative touches in 2018…and do ‘Kamara’ as good/better?

Kamara deserves his high ranking because we KNOW Payton is committed. However, I see a lot of commitment and talk moving towards McCaffrey-McKinnon-Cohen this offseason. I might have missed the call on Kamara, but I plan to make up for it with 1-2-3 of my proposed alternatives.

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>