This is the 169th installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.
Earlier this week I put out a piece on the DFS merits of NFL prospect evaluation. It’s important for DFS players to know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge.
In this piece I want to explore the edge I’m talking about by taking a look at Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
Kamara Is the Offensive Rookie of the Year
With 1,094 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games, Kamara is the runaway frontrunner for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
He has been so successful as a first-year player that in Week 13 he’s not only more expensive than backfield partner Mark Ingram, who has out-touched him 202-132, but he’s also the most expensive running back on the main slate at DraftKings, where he leads the position with six Pro Trends in our Models and a 17-20 percent ownership projection. It might seem absurd for a guy who isn’t even the lead back on his team to see his salary jump from $3,500 in Week 1 to $8,400 now, but the price hike is more than warranted. With 20.4 DraftKings points per game, Kamara trails only Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Le’Veon Bell at the position — and two of those guys aren’t in the slate. Additionally, Kamara leads the position with a massive +8.11 Plus/Minus; coming in second is Chris Thompson, who had a +4.32 in his injury-shortened 10-game run. But here is what’s most impressive: Kamara is the only regular player in the NFL with a 100 percent DraftKings Consistency Rating; on FanDuel that number is 90.9 percent, as he missed salary-based expectations in Week 1 by literally 0.03 points.
Kamara isn’t just the Offensive Rookie of the Year. To date, he’s the DFS MVP of the 2017 season. Even though he’s on the lesser end of a backfield timeshare, he’s been amazingly productive almost regardless of game script and circumstances. He’s a free-standing player in that he has little correlation (positive or negative) with his teammates. If Ingram has a big game, Kamara still hits value. If quarterback Drew Brees has a big game, Kamara still hits value. At home, on the road, winning, losing, first down, third down, whatever: Kamara gets his.
Alvin the Agnostic
How is it possible for Kamara to be a game script- and teammate-agnostic player?
- He gets the ball on all downs.
- He is explosive.
It’s not surprising that Kamara has gotten the ball on third downs (17 receptions, six rushes), as the Saints made clear shortly after drafting him that they intended to leverage his pass-catching skills, but his usage on early downs has been surprising to some. He entered the league with a reputation as a glorified change-of-pace/passing down-only back, but he has 102 touches on first and second downs. Kamara is already a complete back.
As for his explosiveness, I think it’s apparent that he won’t continue to rush for 7.1 yards per carry or catch passes for 10.0 yards per reception. Kevin Cole of Predictive Football notes that Kamara has exceeded his expected fantasy output by the NFL’s widest margin (72.2 points). In fact, among all non-quarterbacks his +33.1 and +39.1 differentials as a runner and receiver are both league-high marks. In terms of actual points added, Kamara leads all non-passers with 23.7. He’s the only player with at least 10 points added as both a runner and receiver. That’s beyond Hall of Fame-worthy production. There’s almost no way Kamara will be as efficient in the future as he has been to this point. For good reason, Adam Levitan was bearish on Kamara on the Week 13 Daily Fantasy Flex pod.
So regression is coming for Kamara. It’s the statistical equivalent of death and taxes. He might not, however, regress as much as the intelligent observer would expect. In his three active seasons of college ball, Kamara averaged 6.7 yards per carry and 9.9 yards per reception. He’s historically been a high-efficiency player. Even when he regresses, he’s still likely to outperform league-average per-touch expectations, because he’s #good.
He’s much better than many evaluators thought he would be.
The Rookie #DraftTwitter Hated Nine Months Ago
Even though I’m currently the No. 2 in-season NFL ranker at FantasyPros (
humble brag), I’m wrong a lot. For instance, my shoes almost never match my belt. Most of the time I don’t even wear shoes.
I make mistakes. My house is made almost entirely of glass, as if I’m a villain in an ’80s movie. If you want to through stones at my domicile, go for it. I can’t even spell the word “throw” correctly.
Here’s the point: Lots of draftniks, fantasy experts, et al. — some of whom are the sharpest people around — have missed horribly on Kamara. Before the draft they didn’t think he had the ability to run in the NFL. When the Saints traded up for him, they thought the Saints gave away too much and failed to address other positions of need. (I’m looking at you, Sports Illustrated.) They passed on him in dynasty drafts because the Saints already had Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram. They ranked him too low in redraft leagues because they assumed he wouldn’t get consistent touches. They didn’t play him early in the season because he had limited upside. And even as he’s torn up the NFL since the Peterson trade, they haven’t rostered him because he’s due to regress.
Bottom line: Lots of fantasy experts didn’t evaluate Kamara before the NFL draft. Instead, they relied on the word of other experts — and many of the experts who did pre-draft analyses of Kamara were wrong in their evaluations. Because of this, the market as a whole was slow to recognize Kamara’s promise — except for the people who evaluated him as a prospect and were correct in their assessments. These people had a significant edge to start the year.
Another Instance of Not-So-Humble Bragging
Here’s what we had to say about Kamara in our 2017 NFL fantasy preview:
The Saints selected Kamara near the top of the third round with the 67th pick, trading away a seventh-rounder and 2018 second-rounder for the right to draft him. The presumptive back of the future in New Orleans, Kamara has the potential to contribute right away and is the Zero RB option in this backfield. Although Kamara didn’t run the ball much in his two years at Tennessee, he was frequently used as the pass-catching complement to the incumbent big-bodied grinder Jalen Hurd, amassing a 74-683-7 receiving line. Before Kamara balled out in the preseason, people held his lack of rushing production as a Volunteer against him, which was ridiculous:
- It’s hard to say that a guy who averaged 988.5 yards and 12 all-purpose touchdowns per year in his first two seasons of major conference action isn’t a good player.
- Before transferring to Tennessee, Kamara tore up the junior college ranks in nine games as a redshirt freshman at Hutchinson Community College, rushing for 1,253 yards and 18 touchdowns while adding 224 yards and three more touchdowns through the air.
- The season before playing at Hutchinson, Kamara was with Alabama and slated to be the Crimson Tide back of the future, but a preseason knee injury forced him to redshirt. After clashing with the coaching staff, he decided to transfer.
- As a high school senior, Kamara was a top-five running back recruit in 2012.
It’s probable that Kamara can run the ball — and while he picks up the nuances of running in the NFL he’ll likely contribute as a receiver. With good size (5’10” and 214 lbs.) and burst (131.0-inch broad), Kamara is an upside player whose value in dynasty leagues is almost certain to rise over the next year.
[Insert here a GIF of Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura humping the air.]
Never End an Article with a Rhetorical Question
In the end, is it so surprising that a running back with good size and athleticism from the Southeastern Conference is having a great rookie season on a historically productive offense after he averaged 104.7 yards and 1.36 touchdowns per game across his three-year college career?
Probably not — which is why NFL prospect evaluation has a lot of DFS value.
The Labyrinthian: 2017.74, 169
Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian. Previous installments of the series can be accessed via the series archive.