New Orleans Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara, aka ‘AK41’, entered the 2017 season in a very crowded backfield. Incumbent starter Mark Ingram was returning from his first 1,000-yard season as a professional, and Adrian Peterson was signed through free agency shortly before Kamara was drafted in the third round.
In most seasons, the story ends there. Save him for some special teams snaps as a gunner or return guy. But Kamara quickly proved to be an exception to the status quo by impressing coaches and fans in preseason and training camp with slippery open-field running, exceptional receiving skills, and a little power to run through defenders when needed.
Unfortunately, Peterson garnered a fairly heavy workload, and it appeared that Sean Payton and his staff were determined to try to fit him into the scheme. Through the first four games of 2017, Peterson compiled 81 yards on 27 carries. By comparison, Kamara carried 15 times for 83 yards and also 147+ receiving yards. Over the same span, Peterson had 4 receiving yards and no touchdowns while Kamara quietly worked his way into a prominent role with his two TDs.
During the bye week, Payton had clearly seen enough from Kamara to determine that Peterson was expendable and traded him to the Arizona Cardinals.
The addition by subtraction concept worked like a charm, and ‘Rhythm and Bruise’ was born! For the rest of the season, Kamara and Ingram (‘The Law Firm’ is my favorite moniker) went on a tear through some of the best defenses in football. While Ingram was steady and productive on the ground, Kamara proved to be a valuable asset in the passing game, an element missing since Darren Sproles’ departure and Pierre Thomas diminished.
The screen game once again became a thing of beauty with Kamara on the receiving end. The fact that Kamara could also run between the tackles or take it outside made it hard for opponents to guess the play accurately.
Though Kamara topped 100 rushing yards just once all season, he surpassed 50 receiving yards 10 times, truly exceptional for a complimentary running back. On the season, Kamara carried the ball 120 times for 728 yards, an average of 6.1 yards per carry. The silky smooth rookie also caught 81 passes for 826 yards, averaging 10.2 yards per reception.
Kamara knew how to find the end zone as well by punching in 8 rushing TDs and 5 receiving TDs, plus a TD on a 106-yard kick return in the season finale versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An overlooked positive with Kamara is ball-security; as he only lost one fumble on 212 touches, outstanding. He was healthy most of the season as well, only missing most of the Thursday night matchup versus the Atlanta Falcons due a concussion sustained on the game’s first drive.
Alvin Kamara’s hard work was rewarded when he was awarded the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year alongside fellow Saints rookie Marshon Lattimore, who won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Saying the future is bright for Kamara is an understatement; you could argue that we haven’t seen him run at his top speed. It is unanimous that he was the gem the Saints needed to uncover in the draft, and paired with Ingram, Payton has found that 1-2 punch at running back he’s been missing.
Three cheers for Alvin Kamara!