Alvin Kamara had one of the most efficient seasons for a RB in recent memory, while the Saints produced two RB1s for fantasy in 2017. Sean Payton has had a history of producing multiple fantasy relevant backs because of a non-primary back getting so many targets in the passing game. While Kamara should be treated as a RB1, his name is consistently in the conversation of being one of the very top picks of the first round in redraft leagues. When looking at his 2017 numbers, we might try to justify it and make assumptions that he will take an even further step forward, but there a few factors to consider before anointing him as a top-3 or top-5 RB come draft time.
Assuming Mark Ingram returns next season, there’s no reason not to expect Kamara to be stuck in a timeshare and to play a similar role as he did last season. Don’t fix what isn’t broken; their styles complemented each other wonderfully, and we know that Ingram is the goal line back in this offense. As far as touchdowns, Kamara scored 13 TDs on 201 touches, which computes to a unsustainable TD rate of 6.4%. With the exception of Dion Lewis, Kamara was the only back who had 8+ TDs who didn’t touch the ball at least 268 times. Lewis’ 9 TDs are skewed; 5 of those 9 TDs came in 2.5 games, after Rex Burkhead and James White got hurt in the Steelers game in Week 14, which left Lewis as the workhorse for that period of time.
When it comes to yardage, Kamara again was very efficient. 22.5% of his runs resulted in 10+ rushing yards, which is the highest percentage by any RB with at least 100 attempts since 2011. #2-5 on this list was Andre Ellington in 2013, Ben Tate in 2011, Bilal Powell in 2016, and Jonathan Stewart in 2011. Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara both had around 200 touches this past season, but Kamara outgained McCaffrey by almost 2 yards per touch, and almost doubled McCaffrey’s TD total. I have a feeling that if they both get a similar amount of touches next year, those end of year numbers will be a bit closer than we think, as Kamara’s numbers regress closer to the mean.
Last years’s numbers by Kamara were even more historically significant. Since the NFL merger in 1970, of all the RBs who totaled at least 100 carries in a season (2,173 RBs), Kamara was #1 in fantasy points per touch last season and #2 in yards per touch. In that same period, there were 9 backs who averaged more than 6 yards per carry, including Kamara. None of the backs who had 100+ carries the following season averaged more than 5 yards per carry. Three notable backs on that list, Adrian Peterson, Barry Sanders, and OJ Simpson all averaged 4.54 yards per carry or less. It isn’t bad, but they didn’t maintain the efficiency that might warrant someone like Kamara a top pick on limited touches. Limited touches will probably be the case for Kamara for the foreseeable future, especially in Peyton’s offense, barring an injury to Mark Ingram; in college, Kamara carried the ball 15+ times in a game just 5 times in his 2 year college career, and had 14 games with fewer than 10 carries. Less wear and tear is great, but keep in mind that he was never used as a workhorse, and we’ll need to see it first before we know he can handle it if called upon.
The point is, even if we expect Kamara to have a slightly bigger workload next season, his TD numbers should trend back towards the league average. The number of TDs and certain efficiency stats such as yards per carry vary greatly on a year to year basis. Since we have only one year of a sample size from Kamara, we should probably not assume that he’ll continue to be an outlier. Jamaal Charles was a similar case, but not everyone turns into Jamaal Charles. If Kamara does it again next season, I’ll have more confidence because of a larger sample size. Until then, I have to assume that he’ll have some regression. Because of the combination of him being a great talent, his 2017 production, and fear of missing out, a lot of people will take him near the top of the first round. I personally can’t spend that type of draft capital on Kamara and depend on him continuing his historic efficiency; snaps and volume have always been the most important stats for RBs when trying to predict fantasy success.