Alvin Kamara is, unquestionably, one of the NFL’s most productive backs. That’s full stop. He’s the fastest player in NFL history to reach 3,000 rushing yards, 3,000 receiving yards and he’s showing no signs of slowing down despite accounting for 37 percent of the New Orleans Saints’ yards so far in 2021.
Conversely, the Saints’ receiving corps is... Less than productive. Saints receivers combined for four catches on 16 targets against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football last week, pushing the DEFCON level to Cocked Pistol for the Saints’ need to find another weapon on offense.
Kamara, however, continues to provide despite defenses doing everything possible to bracket him. While his sense of preservation has drastically increased since his rookie season, his sense of timing in the passing game is what sets him apart. Kamara excels in finding space in option routes and getting himself open, giving his quarterback — whether it be Drew Brees or Jameis Winston — a window to throw into.
This is the easiest way to get Kamara the ball: Make the defense lose him. For those wondering why the Saints repeatedly slammed Kamara into a brick wall on first down in the running game, it’s to set up plays like this. The Saints run a play action and the linebackers are forced to react, allowing Kamara to run a simple sieve route.
It may seem small, but the way Kamara whips around is likely very intentional. The sudden motion will put him in Winston’s peripherals, allowing him to get him the ball. It’s these little touches that make Kamara so good in finding and utilizing space.
The Seahawks were utterly abused when they sat in Cover 2 and it was easy to get Kamara the ball. In the third quarter, the Saints and Kamara truly found their stride. Here it was a simple hitch routes where the linebackers were caught defending grass rather than players.
It’s very apparent here, as he linebackers don’t fan out and the cornerback is stuck in no man’s land. In fact, to nitpick, Winston easily could have floated a pass to Marquez Callaway heading towards the sideline but he went with the safe place. Kamara makes the same abrupt twist back toward the ball and he makes the easy catch.
Where Kamara truly thrives, however, is in the option game. This is his bread and butter, where reaches the head of his route and makes a decision based on what’s in front him. This requires a mind meld with the quarterback, as timing is key in these routes.
Purgatory for a defensive back is meeting Kamara when he squares up for an option route. On this play, he could have gone in or out, so he took where he’d have more room to maneuver. The result is a 31-yard play on a nice dart from Winston out of the break. The option game is Kamara’s most effective tool and he’s been running it since coming into the offense with Drew Brees.
So, why is Kamara so difficult to bracket? Because the Saints do a lot of things to get him open. They’ll hide him with play action, space defenses out for room or allow him to backyard football his way into space. You can make cases for a few running backs as the best receiving backs in the NFL but none of them are carrying the load Kamara is right now.
Whether it’s ideal for Kamara to be getting this many touches is a different conversation, but he’s the best weapon the Saints have right now and that isn’t going to change. Expect to see a heavy dose of him against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, a team against whom he’s had significant success against in the past.