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Why This Year's Alvin Kamara Doesn't Exist

One of the biggest pitfalls of fantasy football analysis is recency bias. Whenever something new or innovative is invented or discovered, everyone is looking for "the next (insert thing) here."

In fantasy football, we constantly chase last year's production at our own peril. Alvin Kamara is coming off the single most efficient season for a running back in NFL history. The Saints drafted him outside the first two rounds, carved out a specific role for him, and set him up to excel, which he did. Naturally, NFL and fantasy analysts alike are looking for this year's version of Kamara.

Unfortunately, he does not exist. Let's find out why.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best NFL Series, MLB Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

The Candidates

Before we get into the specific names, let's establish some basic criteria. We're looking to replicate Kamara, specifically, so the eligible players must have Kamara-like skills. That means they must be rookies not guaranteed to have heavy workloads, be proficient pass-catchers, dynamic in the open field, capable of making defenders miss, and have incredible burst.

A crucial piece of "this year's Alvin Kamara" is that a huge season isn't obvious or expected. Kamara had a 12th round ADP. For those reasons, we can already can rule out Saquon Barkley, Rashaad Penny, Derrius Guice, and Royce Freeman. We can also rule out early down grinder Nick Chubb and sketchy prospect with awful hands, Kerryon Johnson.

Our remaining RBs from the 2018 class are Sony Michel, Ronald Jones, and Nyheim Hines. The biggest factor in Kamara's historic rookie season was not his actual football ability, but rather his usage. We see NFL head coaches misappropriate talent all the time. Sean Payton is one of the elite few that understands how to maximize the talent of his players. He took a good RB prospect and turned him into a great player by using him in a way that played to his strengths. Kamara fell into the pass-catching role in an offense famous for accentuating the pass-catching running back. It was the perfect situation. For that reason, we can rule out Ronald Jones because he is in Tampa Bay with an awful head coach in Dirk Koetter, an awful QB in Jameis Winston, and PFF's 22nd-ranked offensive line entering the 2018 season. Jones was also seldom used as a pass catcher in college with just 4.3% of his team's targets.

We are now down to two. Michel commanded a 10.4% college target share. He certainly has the receiving skills necessary to be this year's Kamara. Plus, he's in New England on a Tom Brady led offense that we know will be prolific. He's got the necessary ability and he is in the right situation. So what's the problem? Opportunity. Now I know what you're going to say - Kamara had an opportunity problem as well entering 2017, trapped behind Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson, and didn't succeed until the Saints finally rid themselves of a completely finished AP. While that is true, what is the path to Michel's opportunity? The Patriots already have a jack of all trades type back in Rex Burkhead, who can run between the tackles, handle goal-line carries, and is an excellent pass catcher. Even if we peg him as somewhat of the "Mark Ingram" of this backfield, Michel is not the Kamara because of the presence of James White. It is White that is exclusively a pass catching back - that's his role and he's done nothing else for his entire tenure in New England. Michel may be just as good, if not a better pass catcher than White, but he is not going to render White obsolete. Michel will be hard pressed to get anywhere near the 100 targets Kamara saw last season. As such, we can cross Michel off the list.

Last, and probably least, we have Nyheim Hines. He definitely profiles as the most Kamara like. Kamara was a third-round draft pick; Hines was drafted in the fourth. Hines saw a 13.7% college target share. He is definitely slated to be the Colts' pass-catching back. Hines has excellent speed, but not quite the same burst as Kamara. Marlon Mack should operate in the "Ingram" role and even if fellow rookie Jordan Wilkins is involved, he's a pure two-down grinder and will have zero impact on Hines' snaps. Unfortunately, Hines is not going to see anywhere near the 120 carries that Kamara saw last season, nor will he sniff the 6.1 yards per carry Kamara averaged as the Colts' offensive line, even with all of the improvements, is still ranked just 17th by PFF, compared to the Saints' sixth-ranked offensive line. An overlooked aspect of Hines' profile is that he stands just 5'8", 198 lbs and is unlikely to be used near the red zone.

Conclusion

The unfortunate reality is that Kamara's historically efficient season is flat out impossible to replicate. It was the perfect storm of a player landing in the right situation at the right time with the right skill set. There are multiple players that have some pieces of the puzzle, but none have them all. Sadly, there will be no 2018 version of Alvin Kamara, as much as we want to believe he is out there waiting to be found.

 

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