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Dynasty Value: Time To Sell High On Alvin Kamara?

Dynasty Value Alvin Kamara 2018

Before the 2017 season, Alvin Kamara was not viewed as the dynasty dynamo he is now. Kamara was not a ballyhooed first-round pick to the likes of Saquon Barkley, but rather a running back that resided in a split backfield at Tennessee, in which he never amassed more than 143 touches in a single college season. The Saints traded up in the draft to snag him in the third round (67th overall) by sending both their 2018 second-round pick and 2017 seventh-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers. Kamara was walking into training camp behind the incumbent co-starter Mark Ingram and newly signed Adrian Peterson. While Sean Payton spoke highly of him during camp with comparisons to Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, as Adam Gase has proven on numerous occasions, glittering coach speak during that time of year is as familiar as a historical Jeff Fisher seven/eight-win season. Karmara started off third on the depth chart, but after the Adrian Peterson trade in week 5, he exploded onto the scene; finishing the season as the fourth-ranked running back in standard scoring, and third-ranked running back in point per reception leagues.

Is Kamara the next Jamaal Charles?

Alvin Kamara burst onto the NFL scene averaging 6.0 yards per carry on 120 rushing attempts to the tune of 728 rushing yards. That type of elite level efficiency has conjured frequent comparisons to Jamaal Charles who remains the gold standard of running back efficiency. During his five full, healthy seasons in the NFL, Charles totaled 1,170 carries, 6,416 rushing yards and reeled off a clip of 5.48 yards per carry. Even when looking at his career in its entirety Jamaal Charles still has managed 5.4 yards per carry over his ten-year career. To put that in context, over the last 25 years, only Jamaal Charles and Bo Jackson have totaled 500 or more career carries with per carry averages of 5.0 or better (both sit at 5.4 yards per carry).

Jamaal Charles stands alone regarding what he has been able to accomplish from a rushing efficiency standpoint over the length of his career with consideration to the sustained volume. To compare Charles to Alvin Kamara is premature at best and more likely inaccurate. What Kamara was able to accomplish in his rookie season was not only impressive but extremely rare in its rite. Kamara stands as one of only five players over the last 25 years to average 6.0 yards per carry or more on at least 120 rushing attempts. Can Kamara repeat his strong rookie season and continue his dominant performance in 2018? Yes, it is possible. Is it probable? No.

Below is a snapshot of Alvin Kamara’s rookie season versus elite* and above average* standards for the position over the last five seasons. Based off these findings, Kamara will be hard pressed to sustain this level of proficiency in his sophomore season much less for his career.

Yards per carry Catch rate
Kamara 6 81%
Elite 5.08 82.76%
Above Average 4.89 80.11%
(Elite: Top five finishes for metric averaged Above Average: Top ten finishes for metric averaged, both over a period of five seasons, for yards per carry all RBs with 120+ carries included in the sample, for catch rate all RBs with 50 or more targets included)

What is Kamara’s role in 2018 & Beyond?

After Adrian Peterson’s early season trade, excluding week 14 when Alvin Kamara left the game early with an injury, Kamara played 11 full games last season. During those games, Mark Ingram and Kamara operated as the lead dogs for New Orleans Saints, as they will in 2018. Below is the breakdown of Kamara’s workload during those games (weeks 6-17, week 14 omitted) on a per game basis as well as that volume extrapolated out to full 16 game season.

Rushing attempts Targets Receptions Total Touches
Total 104 70 59 163
Per Game 9.45 6.36 5.36 14.81
16 game pace 151 101 86 237

Before breaking down future role and dynasty stock for Kamara, the history of Sean Payton’s offenses and usage of the running back position must be examined first.
The Saints most recent fantasy mighty mouse before Kamara was Darren Sproles. Over his three seasons for the Saints, Sproles averaged 101 targets which coincidentally was the exact total of targets for Kamara for the 2017 season. Where Kamara and Sproles differ is their involvement on early downs. Kamara during his rookie season totaled 120 rushing attempts which far surpassed even Sproles highest rushing carry total of 87 attempts. Kamara’s closest historical comparison in Sean Payton’s offense based on run game role, pass game involvement, and the overall workload is Reggie Bush.

Per Game Attempts/Gm Targets/Gm Touches/Gm
Alvin Kamara 2017 9.45 6.36 14.81
Reggie Bush 2006 9.7 7.5 15.1
Reggie Bush 2007 13 8.1 19.1
Reggie Bush 2008 9.6 7.3 15.8
Darren Sproles 2011 5.4 6.9 10.8
Darren Sproles 2012 3.69 8 9.5
Darren Sproles 2013 3.5 5.9 8.2

The 2006 season, considering personnel and division of the workload is the closest comparable to the current Saints roster. During that year, Deuce McAllister totaled 244 rushing attempts to Reggie Bush 155 attempts; McAllister had 36 targets to 121 targets for Bush. Ingram is a better pass catcher than McAllister and is utilized more in the passing game, but the early down work split is nearly identical.

The adage “’those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” definitely applies here. After operating as the workhorse back for much of 2007, Reggie Bush struggled with knee injuries to close out 2007 and for much of the 2008 season. After those seasons, Sean Payton cut Bush’s workload the following two years. Alvin Kamara is Sean Payton’s shiny, updated version of Bush. While considering Kamara also carries a knee injury history with him, Payton looks to have learned his lesson and will utilize both of his talented backs similarly as he did in 2006. While Kamara will never be the 200-250 carry three down bell cow, that does not mean that he is still not a very valuable fantasy asset. Last season showed that was not the case.

Time to Buy In or Cash Out?

Considering Alvin Kamara’s youth, production, an offensive-minded head coach, it must be time to buy buy buy in dynasty, Right? Not necessarily. The tired dynasty montage is “it’s all about price.” While this is true, the real question is not only price but future production and situation.

With Drew Brees under center for the next season or two, Alvin Kamara will be in an explosive offense that should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard. The concern is what does the quarterback position look like beyond that for the Saints and Kamara? If or when the Saints draft a quarterback, history has shown that potential and talent do not ensure that the heir apparent becomes a franchise passer. For a running back that derives much of his value from the air this is a legitimate worry.

As outlined previously, Alvin Kamara’s rookie season was exceptional and following it up with an encore performance will be daunting. Kamara’s primed for regression in year two. One of the most difficult statistics to predict and count on yearly are touchdowns. Over the past five seasons, only seven backfields have supported two running backs each scoring eight touchdowns or more. If Kamara and Mark Ingram’s performances in 2017, as well as Devonta Freeman & Tevin Coleman, are eliminated then the number drops to four. In 2014 Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis both surpassed the eight touchdown mark, but this situation does not fit the mold of a split backfield. Davis filled in for Charles as the workhorse after he was lost to injury, so only three circumstances exist in the last five years that fit the criteria of a split backfield supporting two running backs exceeding this threshold.  If this trend of touchdown scarcity holds then Ingram or Kamara or both will dip below eight touchdowns this upcoming season. Ingram dwarfed Kamara in goal-line carries 12 to four and remains the safer bet to exceed that total between the two of them.

If Alvin Kamara were to keep up his 16 game pace in 2018 in efficiency, but his touchdowns dwindle to seven, his fantasy standing will suffer. That projected point total would have left him as the seventh-ranked running back in point per reception leagues in three out of the last four seasons. Kamara would have still been an RB1 but not a top three running back. Kamara should remain productive, but as the fourth running back drafted in dynasty startups, his price tag is at an all-time high.

Alvin Kamara should be packaged and dealt for any of the running backs ranked above him at the moment, ie. Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, or Le’Veon Bell. Another consideration is netting a running back coming off an injured or depressed statistical season such as Devonta Freeman or Dalvin Cook coupled with other assets such as rookie picks included. All of these players mentioned above have higher floors in rushing workload, serve as their teams goal line back, and are involved in the passing game. Dynasty is the fantasy stock market. When the price tag of a player reaches its zenith, owners must strike quickly to cash in, buy the next ascending player, or swap this expensive chess piece into more sustainable long-term value.

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Thanks for reading

Derek Brown

Derek Brown

Derek is a Head Writer and Co-Host of the Fantasy Football 24/7 Podcast. Derek is also a Dynasty Writer for Gridiron Experts and PlayerProfiler.com. Born in Louisiana he is a diehard Saints fan (Whodat). Derek now resides Fort Worth, Texas with his beautiful, football loving wife and three kids.

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