With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at how the New Orleans Saints’ second-year star running back will follow up one of the best rookie seasons of all-time.
The Saints went 7-9 in 2014, 2015, and 2016 thanks in large part to a porous defense that couldn’t ever get future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees the help he needed. Things changed in 2017, as the emergence of game-breakers such as pass rusher Cameron Jordan and cornerback Marshon Lattimore helped New Orleans finish the year ranked eighth overall in DVOA. But the biggest story was the out-of-the-gate explosion of rookie third-round running back, Alvin Kamara, who managed to put together one of the most efficient seasons the position has ever seen.
Kamara Is a Three-Down Stud
The Saints started the 2017 season with a three-headed committee at running back featuring Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and Kamara. Peterson was mercifully traded to the Arizona Cardinals after four weeks, setting the stage for Ingram and Kamara to take over fantasy football for the final 12 weeks of the season.
- PPR RB rank: Kamara No. 1, Ingram No. 4
- All-purpose yards: Kamara 1,551 (first), Ingram 1,245 (fifth)
- All-purpose touchdowns: Kamara 12 (tie-first), Ingram (tie-first)
When all was said and done, Kamara and Ingram had overtaken Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman as fantasy’s premier backfield committee. While Ingram finished the season with 110 more carries than Kamara, Kamara received 29 more targets and was the preferred passing-down back.
Life in the league’s fourth-ranked scoring offense lead to plenty of fantasy-friendly opportunities for both, as they were two of just five backs with at least 12 red-zone targets. Ingram was the preferred goal-line back, but his nominal lead (19-13) inside the 10-yard line indicates the Saints weren’t exactly dying to get Kamara off the field near the end zone. In fact, Kamara had 3-0 edge over Ingram in carries at/inside the 5-yard line in the Saints’ two playoff games.
It’s impossible to overstate just how efficient Kamara was with his touches:
- Yards per carry: 6.1 (first)
- Yards per touch: 7.7 (two)
- Breakaway (15+ yard) runs: 11 (seventh, per PlayerProfiler)
- Breakaway run rate: 9.2% (first, per PlayerProfiler)
Kamara joins Barry Sanders and Jamaal Charles as the only rookie backs over the past 25 years to average over 6.05 yards per carry in a season (minimum 100 carries), only Reggie Bush managed to catch more passes over that span.
As of this writing, NFL experts Sean Koerner and Chris Raybon have Kamara ranked as the No. 6 overall player in our 2018 fantasy football rankings (and Matthew Freedman has him ranked “only” No. 11).
Kamara checks all the boxes of an effective featured back:
- Early-round draft pick
- Young with moderate size
- Excellent vertical and broad jump marks
- Elite quarterback and strong offensive line
None of these attributes figure to change entering 2018.
Payton and Brees Virtually Guarantee an Elite Supporting Cast
The Saints’ all-time winningest coach and quarterback joined forces in 2006 and have proved to be just about unstoppable for the better part of the 12 years since:
Saints ranks in offensive yards and points during Sean Payton/Drew Brees era
2006: 1st, 5th
2007: 4th, 12th
2008: 1st, 1st
2009: 1st, 1st
2010: 6th, 11th
2011: 1st, 2nd
2013: 4th, 10th
2014: 1st, 9th
2015: 2nd, 8th
2016: 1st, 2nd
2017: 2nd, 4th
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 3, 2018
Payton has become notorious for hardly supplying the media with detail regarding his running back committees over the years, but regardless, the team has still proven capable of enabling more than one viable fantasy back: The Saints have had multiple running backs finish top-32 in PPR points per game seven times under Payton.
The Saints’ newfound ability to play defense in 2017 helped them gain more leads, which in turn allowed Brees to carry a lighter load on offense. His 536 pass attempts were the second-fewest of his Saints career (and he posted a NFL-record 72% completion rate while leading the league with 8.1 yards per attempt). Yes, he’ll be 40 by this time next year, but there isn’t much evidence to suggest a drop-off is coming.
The 2017 Saints also owned the No. 2 offensive line in both Adjusted Sack Rate and Adjusted Line Yards, per Football Outsiders, and all five starters will return for 2018. Aside from some shuffling at tight end and wide receiver, the only change in the offense from last season to this season could be an increased workload for Kamara.
Kamara’s Workload Has Room for Growth
Not only did Kamara have to deal with Peterson wasting carries for the first four weeks of 2017, but he also missed most of Week 14 with a concussion. By the end of the season, 36 running backs had more carries than Kamara (though he joined Christian McCaffrey and Le’Veon Bell as the only backs with at least 100 targets).
However, Ingram has been suspended for the first four games of 2018 after testing positive for an illegal substance. While that doesn’t figure to turn Kamara in 30-touch-per-game back, it would also be surprising if the likes of Trey Edmunds or Jonathan Williams directly replaced Ingram in the offense. A modest uptick in carries for Kamara was expected even before the suspension, especially considering he received two more total carries than Ingram in the two playoff games.
Ultimately, it’s hard to keep Kamara off the field because he’s usually the best player on the field.
Has there been a LB in the history of mankind capable of covering Alvin Kamara on an option route? pic.twitter.com/RtwULmOcNC
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 21, 2017
Spending a high fantasy pick on a committee back can be scary. Still, the Saints afforded 15.5 touches per game for each back from Week 9 to Week 17 last season (excluding the aforementioned Week 14). Considering Kamara’s fantasy-friendly role and excellent supporting cast, he’s more than worthy of his mid-first-round ADP.
And if even Kamara is somehow able to improve upon his ability in Year 2? He could be the No. 1 player in fantasy.
Pictured above: Alvin Kamara
Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports