Reasons Alvin Kamara Will Dominate

Chris Allen digs into Alvin Kamara's 2019 performance, his situation headed into 2020, and potential for finishing as our overall RB1 for fantasy.

Running backs taken at the top of the draft have a similar profile. They have a dual skill set and command a significant share of their backfield's touches. Plus, their offenses are at or above the league average in passing rate fueling their targets. Alvin Kamara embodies these traits. He's considered a member of the Top 4 at running back, but he's typically being drafted at the end of the group. It's understandable. The security of a majority rush share and 20% target share is hard to ignore. However, after having the offseason to fully recover from injury and New Orleans pushing for another title, Kamara should be in consideration for a Top-3 performance in 2020. His ADP leaves little room for error, but a lot is working in his favor.


Top Performances Are Hard To Repeat

Christian McCaffrey ended a historic 2019 campaign as fantasy's RB1 with 429 touches. Derrick Henry earned the 2019 rushing title on a stretch of production that set an all-time record. Great players deserve the spotlight and the accolades. However, as history shows, it's hard to sustain past their peak performances.

Years
Player
PPR Point Differential
Touch Differential
2018-2019
-141.7
-92
2017-2018
-11.2
-29
2016-2017
-394.8
-353
2015-2016
-32.3
-70
2014-2015
-259.3
-256
2013-2014
-127.6
-98
2012-2013
-114.7
-69
2011-2012
Ray Rice
-89.5
-54
2010-2011
Arian Foster
-88.9
-61
2009-2010
-120
-56
2008-2009
-103.7
-46
2007-2008
Brian Westbrook
-100.6
-89
2006-2007
LaDainian Tomlinson
-113.5
-27
2005-2006
Shaun Alexander
-234.4
-167
2004-2005
Tiki Barber
11.4
26

You'd have to go back to 2005 to find a former RB1 that saw their fantasy points and touches increase after they topped the running back ranks. Causes included injuries (to themselves or surrounding personnel), increased competition, or simply regressing to the mean. Regardless, assuming the RB1 will continue to be the RB1 has historically been a bad bet. And that's good. It provides a path for someone like Alvin Kamara to move up into the ranks should Christian McCaffrey's production slightly decline. However, the critical takeaway here is the need for touches if Kamara is to ascend into the Top 3.

Volume is a product of talent and situation. Fantasy points are a product of volume. Using just 2019's data as a proxy, we can visualize and quantify the connection between the two.

Correlation between Running Backs and Fantasy Points (2019)

Zoom touches.png

Volume is what drives our confidence in the elite players. It's likely part of why Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley are drafted at their current ADP. However, a player's touch share is intertwined with other factors. Positive/negative game scripts, injuries, trades, or holdouts can change the landscape of a season impacting a player's outlook. But investigating Kamara's true workload and potential in 2020 highlights how he's capable of matching a touch count similar to the players drafted ahead of him.

Kamara Has A Comparable Workload

It's important to look at Kamara's season from two points of view: before and after his Week 6 injury. We can certainly factor in Drew Brees' absence, but there's a clear difference in his deployment after he returned to play. Let's start with Weeks 1-5.

At the start of the season, Kamara was…Alvin Kamara. He averaged 76% of the backfield touches and 18% of the team's receptions. The touch share is especially interesting as Kamara's best five-game stretch in 2018 with Mark Ingram II was 51.9%. With his increased usage, he was competing with the workhorse backs early in the season.

Player
Rushes
Targets
Total Touches
105
36
141
94
20
114
95
18
113
92
16
108
85
21
106
101
3
104
75
28
103

His majority touch share extended into the red zone. He had owned 91.7% of the backfield share and led the team with five targets from within the 20-yard line. Again, he was close to the top performers.

Player
Rushes
Targets
Total Touches
18
3
21
18
1
19
16
3
19
17
1
18
15
3
18
11
5
16

His red-zone targets led the league and part of what kept him in the RB1 conversation through Week 5. Fantasy managers may look at his rush attempts and voice concern, but play-calling is to blame here. New Orleans had the lowest rushing rate (40.6%) out of the teams mentioned in the previous table. In addition, the offense took a slight step back once Teddy Bridgewater became the starter.

Bridgewater piloted the Saints' offense like Brees. Bridgewater's neutral passing rate was 65.9% compared to 62.3% for Drew. Even their red-zone passing rates in neutral situations were similar (59.1% to 65.9%). The issue was Bridgewater's efficiency once they got into scoring range. The Saints' red-zone efficiency dropped from 35.3% to 22.7% in Weeks 3-7. For context, Baltimore, at 31.9 points per game, was at 30.6%. The drop-off at quarterback likely led to a decrease in Kamara's opportunities. With Brees healthy and back in the lineup, Kamara's touches should increase as the offense sees more snaps within the red zone. We just need to make sure he stays healthy, too.

Kamara's high-ankle sprain drastically altered his season. His broken-tackle rate dropped from 0.2 broken tackles per touch to 0.08 after he returned in Week 9. Along with that, his touch share decreased by 19.5%, with a 22.1% drop in his rush attempts in the red zone. New Orleans compensated by slightly increasing his target share from 18% to 20%, but it was clear the injury sapped much of the agility causing much of his downfall in 2019. Assuming health, it's clear Kamara can expect a workload comparable to Barkley, Elliott, and McCaffrey.

New Orleans Has An Elite Offense

It's important to weigh personnel continuity in 2020. The pandemic has erased any sense of normalcy throughout the offseason. The ability to install new schemes or integrate new players is limited. Christian McCaffrey has a new head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback. Ezekiel Elliot has a new head coach. Saquon Barkley has a new head coach, play-caller, and offensive system. Kamara has none of those concerns. Other than the addition of Emmanuel Sanders, the Saints are one of the few teams with all their personnel returning. The same can't be said for the rest of the NFC South. While teams are still adjusting, the Saints will have had their plans in motion giving them an edge early in the season. To boot, their offense is still one of the most potent in the league.

New Orleans has been in the Top 10 for both yards-per-drive and points-per-drive over the last four seasons. Their red-zone efficiency has been at 32.3% during that same period. In addition, their passing rate in scoring position increased to 61.3% in 2019 boosting Kamara's usage as a receiver. The Saints have been a team to target for multiple seasons with increased excitement surrounding the ascension of Michael Thomas. With personnel continuity and strong ancillary additions, the team is well poised to continue their offensive dominance in 2020.

STATS AND PROJECTIONS

Season
Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Targets
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumL
2017
New Orleans
16
120
728
8
101
82
826
5
1
2018
New Orleans
15
194
883
14
105
81
709
4
0
2019
New Orleans
14
171
797
5
97
81
533
1
1
Season
Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Targets
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumL
2020
14.9
189
898
7.1
79
656
3.1
2.3
2020
15.0
180
840
7.5
80
670
3.0
1.0
2020
14.0
195
900
7.0
77
615
3.0
2.0
2020
16.0
193
846
5.0
104.1
746
2.4
3.2

Final Thoughts

Kamara was a top-five PPR running back in 2017 and 2018. He ended 2019 as RB9 after missing three games and having his workload reduced after returning from injury. He's now had the offseason to heal, his quarterback is healthy, and the Saints' offensive line ranked first in Adjusted Line Yards. Sean Payton laid out the blueprint for the touch split between Murray and Kamara early in 2019. His projected workload will keep him in line with running backs selected ahead of him in drafts. His top-three rushing success rate the previous two seasons emphasizes the idea he has the potential to finish as the overall RB1. The market dictates you take Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley ahead of him. But if you own the 1.03 or 1.04 draft slot, don't look at Kamara as a consolation prize. Being tethered to a prominent offense with the talent to earn significant touches is what we look for in the first round. Given Kamara's skills, he'll push for the No. 1 ranking in 2020.


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