Alvin Kamara Makes the Saints Offense a Nightmare to Defend

Despite questions at quarterback and depth at wide receiver, the elite skills of dual-threat Alvin Kamara make the New Orleans offense almost impossible to defend.
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New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was looking to add another offensive playmaker as his team approached the 2017 NFL Draft.

Many people expected the Saints to select a wide receiver to complement Michael Thomas since the team had just traded speedy WR Brandin Cooks.

The best New Orleans offenses had always used its running backs as receiving threats. Dynamic pass-catchers like Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and Darren Sproles gave the Saints an extra dimension that made them even more difficult to defend.

Payton became enamored with University of Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara during pre-draft workouts and interviews.

CREDIT: USA TODAY SPORTS 

CREDIT: USA TODAY SPORTS 

The Saints traded a 2018 second-round choice and 2017 7th rounder to the San Francisco 49ers to move into the early portion of the 3rd round in 2017. With that pick, number 67 overall, they selected Alvin Kamara.

Kamara was underused in two years at Tennessee after transferring from Alabama. He was expected to give Payton the dynamic pass receiving threat at running back they had lacked since Pierre Thomas was released after the 2014 season.

Little was known about Kamara as he entered the NFL. What he's accomplished since entering the league has surpassed the expectations of even the most positive draft experts.

KAMARA - 2017

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Los Angeles Rams defense. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY 

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Los Angeles Rams defense. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY 

Kamara saw spot duty early in his rookie season. Playing behind productive veteran RB Mark Ingram and free-agent addition Adrian Peterson, he was mostly used on passing downs.

After picking up 134 all-purpose yards on just 20 offensive touches in the first three games, Kamara supplanted Peterson on the depth chart. He would provide an electric chess piece for Payton's offense the rest of the year.

Kamara's 1,901 all-purpose yards were third in the NFL in 2017. He also led the league with 6.1 yards per rush.

Despite playing on just 45% of the offensive snaps, he was second on the team in rushing (728 yards), receptions (81), and receiving yards. His 826 receiving yards set a new single-season franchise record for receiving yards by a running back.

Kamara also led the team with 13 offensive touchdowns and added another score on a kickoff return. He was elected to his first of four straight Pro Bowls and won the 2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

KAMARA - 2018

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs the ball against Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis (58). Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs the ball against Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis (58). Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

With lead running back Mark Ingram serving a four-game suspension to start 2018, Kamara showed that he could shoulder the load as the top back.

In those four contests, Kamara scored six touchdowns. He had 275 rushing yards on 56 carries, including his first career 100-Yd outing on the ground. He also had two 100-Yd games as a receiver, catching 35 passes for 336 yards in Ingram's absence.

Kamara led the team with 883 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns on the ground, second in the league, and a new franchise record. His 81 receptions for 709 yards were second only to Michael Thomas on the squad.

Kamara's 18 offensive touchdowns were also second in the league and tied him with Dalton Hilliard for the franchise record. He had at least 100 all-purpose yards nine times during the year.

KAMARA - 2019

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) carries the ball against the Carolina Panthers. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) carries the ball against the Carolina Panthers. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY

For the first time in his short career, Kamara struggled with injuries in 2019. He missed just two games, but ankle and knee ailments limited his trademark explosiveness.

Kamara again led the team in rushing, picking up 797 yards, and scoring five touchdowns. He caught 81 passes, second on the team, but for only 533 yards and a touchdown.

He failed to record a 100-Yd game as a rusher or receiver but had at least 100 all-purpose yards in six contests.

His ‘‘off'' year was still better than most of the league's running backs, and good enough to earn him a third straight Pro Bowl berth.

KAMARA - 2020

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Minnesota Vikings. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs against the Minnesota Vikings. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

With record-breaking All-Pro WR Michael Thomas limited by a severe ankle injury throughout 2020, Kamara once again shouldered the offensive load. 

Kamara, Thomas, and future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees were in the lineup together for only nine quarters last season.

Despite the extra defensive attention, Kamara flourished. He had at least 100 all-purpose yards nine times, with another four outings with at least 90 total yards.

Without Thomas, Kamara took on the brunt of the passing attack. He led the team with a career-high 83 receptions, resulting in a team-high 756 receiving yards. He also paced the team with a career-high 923 rushing yards, finishing just short of his first 1,000-Yd campaign.

Kamara was unstoppable in the red zone. His 16 rushing touchdowns were second in the NFL and broke his own franchise record. He also caught five touchdown passes. His 21 total touchdowns led the league and set a new franchise mark.

Kamara was at his best during a Christmas Day rout of the Minnesota Vikings. He rushed for a career-best 155 yards and had an incredible six rushing touchdowns, trying an NFL record that had been set in 1929.

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) is pursued by Jets linebacker Darron Lee (58). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) is pursued by Jets linebacker Darron Lee (58). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY

After only four seasons, Kamara is already the franchise's all-time leader for receiving yards by a running back with 2,824. He is just two catches shy of passing Pierre Thomas as the franchise's all-time leader in receptions by a running back.

Kamara, who turns 26 in late July, needs just 8 rushing touchdowns to pass Mark Ingram as the franchise's all-time leader in that category.

With 14 total touchdowns, he’ll surpass WR Marques Colston as the franchise leader in total scores.

Proving critics wrong, Kamara has shown that he can take on the load as the team's primary runner. He needs just 928 rushing yards to move into third place on the team's all-time rushing list.

Alvin Kamara is a matchup nightmare for any opposing defense. More than just a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, Kamara can split out wide or come out of the slot and run any route as efficiently as most wideouts.

Kamara, who is 5'10 and 215-Lbs., is rarely brought down by the first tackler and runs with surprising power between the tackles. His elite balance and vision allow him to find the open crease in the defense and explode into the open field.

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) defended by Houston Texans cornerback Bradley Roby (21). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) defended by Houston Texans cornerback Bradley Roby (21). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Brees retired this offseason, opening up questions for the Saints at quarterback for the first time in 15 years. Kamara, along with Michael Thomas and a powerful offensive line, should make the transition to a new quarterback smoother.

Despite the bulk of the defense's preparation, Alvin Kamara's elite versatility and explosive abilities continue to be what makes the New Orleans offense an elite force.


Follow Bob Rose on Facebook or on Twitter @bobbyr2613.

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