EDITOR’S NOTE: Before we begin this article, I would like everyone reading to knock on wood for this one. I wrote a similar article on my website on Kareem Hunt, and while he’s still great, the run blocking has gotten worse and has suffocated him. I may have jinxed his season, so I hope it doesn’t happen with the player in this piece.
We now return to your regularly scheduled article.
Guy Who For Some Bizarre Reason Makes Bets Where If He Loses He Has To Eat A Basketball, A.K.A. Jonathan Kinsley
Drew Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks in football history. What can you say about him that hasn’t been said? The way he operates quickly, moves his feet quickly, and his accuracy have all been first class ever since he became a member of the Saints.
It’s also been noted how Brees has been forced to carry the team for years without an actual running game or defense. And with the Saints missing the playoffs since the 2013 season, it seemed like a lousy way for an all-time legend to go out and end his career.
Or so we thought.
After an 0-2 start, the Saints rode an eight game winning streak to the top of the NFC South. Although they lost last week to the Rams, they still look to be in position to clinch their division and return to the playoffs for the first time in four years.
It’s no secret why New Orleans is suddenly good again. The defense is no longer one of the worse units thanks to pieces like Marshon Lattimore, Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins and Ken Crawley. Brees to this point has put together another quality season, Michael Thomas remains a great wide receiver, and of course, the awesome running back duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara makes for the most explosive backfield in the NFL.
Kamara in particular has gotten significant attention week by week for his superstar production, and make no mistake his quality of play backs up those stats, as he’s been nothing short of phenomenal. Through 11 games the Tennessee rookie has 77 carries for 546 yards, five touchdowns, and a league leading 7.1 yards per attempt. On the receiving end, He’s caught 54 passes for 548 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 10.1 yards per reception.
In total, Kamara is fifth in total yards from scrimmage with 1,094 thus far. He’s the first player since Herschel Walker in 1986 to post 500 rushing and receiving yards in his first 11 games, and is the first non-quarterback to average 7.0 yards per carry through the first 12 weeks of the season since the NFL merger.
This has all been earned. Along with Ingram, Alvin Kamara has finally given Drew Brees a dominant run game to lean on. And in a loaded rookie RB draft class, Kamara has had the most momentum so far.
Saying Kamara deserves the Offensive Rookie of the Year is underplaying his value. At his point he should also be considered an MVP candidate.
When I think of MVP candidates, two things come to mind: 1) Playing at an otherworldly level, 2) Transcending the situations you’re put in by making everyone around you better. Quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson have made everyone around them better regardless of the supporting casts they’re given.
When it comes to running backs, Le’Veon Bell has always elevated his offense line with his patience. The Saints’ run blocking has been excellent, but when it hasn’t, Kamara’s still been able to carry the unit. When the team traded Adrian Peterson to the Cardinals, it allowed Kamara more playing time and opportunities to polish his game to make him a perfect companion to Ingram.
As the season has progressed, Kamara has relied less on the Saints blocking and more on his skill set carrying the load. And wouldn’t you know it, #41 is extremely talented.
This 3rd and 7 screen only goes six yards, but that’s not what should be the focus. The play should be stopped dead in its tracks behind the line of scrimmage for a tackle for a loss. It should have been, but when his teammates failed him, Kamara transcended his situation.
Kamara is one of the more nimble backs in space. He’s able to recognize the linebacker sprinting towards him and cuts inside. He bounces off his lineman, avoids another tackle, and gets the ball one yard short of the first down. The following play, Ingram got a first down on a huge run, so Kamara’s efforts were crucial to setting up that 4th and 1 call
Kamara’s athleticism as a receiving back also stands out. On this play, he runs a basic out route. Against the linebacker, he stutter steps, then uses his acceleration to push off, burst and create separation. As he gets the ball the linebacker tries to bring him down. As Kamara is about to fall to the ground, he holds his balance by putting his right hand on the turf and pushing himself up.
The result of this play is a first down run and a lot more. By now you may have caught on that Kamara is both elusive and difficult to tackle. Where Ingram is a more traditional power back, Ingram provides as the slippery, change of pace back with a little power added in.
It also goes without saying that Kamara is extremely versatile, and can be used in the slot or as a vertical pass catcher, as seen above. His ball skills aren’t exactly on the same level as fellow rookie Christian McCaffrey, but he’s still very effective nonetheless in this aspect.
But for as good as Kamara has been, he saved his best last week against the Rams, where he officially cemented his status as a phenomenal athlete. Below, I’ve highlighted what I consider to be his three best runs from that game.
This play is another simple screen pass. Your garden variety back would be stopped well short of the line of scrimmage, but Kamara manages to make not one, not two, not three, but four Rams defenders miss. The right guard (#67) doesn’t get to the defensive back in time, but Kamara’s insane athleticism in space allows him to elude him. He then breaks the tackles of #25 and #93, then breaks the ankles of #95.
It’s a beautiful, intelligent run that bails out the protection and gives the Saints a first down that initially looked like a tackle for a loss.
Again, Kamara gets a screen pass from Brees. the outside linebacker (#98) spots that Kamara is the target right away, but the back is able to get the outside leverage. He somehow manages to escape being tackled by two defenders as he escapes the line of scrimmage. He inside jump cuts #22, no doubt forcing him to get medical attention, then lowers his head and bull dozes his way out of another tackle.
The result of this improbable run is yet another first down, again on a play that was supposed to be stopped at the line of scrimmage.
For a change, this play is a positive yardage pass that would be stopped short of the first down with a regular back. Kamara clearly isn’t regular. The rookie is really smart here. He understands the inside linebacker (#26) is hot on his trail and will meet him once he catches the ball. As he catches it, he stops his motion, causing the ILB to miss him.
Once this happens, Kamara spins and bursts into the open field, finishing this play off with an Ezekiel Elliot-esque hurdle over another defender.
Alvin Kamara has been a sensation, helping change the identity of the Saints offense by adding another dimension to its style. He’s provided one of the more elusive players of the year, combining this trait with hard running that allows him to break tackles, and of course his speed and route running are both really good as well.
To exclude Kamara from the MVP race is doing a disservice to what he’s done to this point. While his 7.1 yardage total is inflated, that’s not something you can point to Kamara and say he won’t be as good or regress. His numbers may, but the impact he’s had for New Orleans won’t go away any time soon. Turning small plays into massive ones is something the rookie has done more and more as the weeks have passed, allowing him to carry his blocking, play calling, and even Brees himself.
Offensive Rookie of the Year is a great honor, and Alvin Kamara deserves this. He also deserves to have a case for MVP.