Fantasy Football Roundtable: Saquon Barkley or Alvin Kamara?
We know that a lot of running backs are being selected early in fantasy drafts this year. But the thirst for running backs can be best exemplified by the fact that Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara, two running backs who have combined for just one season of NFL experience, are being selected in the middle of the first round.
But despite the uncertainty that comes with Barkley and Kamara due to their lack of a consistent NFL track record, it is understandable that fantasy drafters are selecting them so highly. NFL teams continue to shift more toward a committee approach at the running back position, which makes high-volume backs like Barkley and Kamara that much more valuable.
17) Rushing Market Share by Priority - Team's leading rushers are seeing diminished roles. Secondary and tertiary options see role grow. pic.twitter.com/foHUaP8qD0
— Justin Freeman (@JustinFreeman18) June 21, 2018
If you're picking in the middle of the first round -- say the sixth to eighth pick -- it's a pretty safe bet that Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and David Johnson will be off the board. So if you want a running back with your first pick, the dilemma will likely come down to Barkley or Kamara.
So which of the two should you select?
Well, today we have two numberFire writers are set to defend the player they believe will outperform the other in fantasy football this upcoming season. Matthew Gajewski has joined me (Akash) to debate the merits of the two running backs who are being selected in the heart of the first round, and we each have our own preference.
Let's break it down.
Akash: In terms of carries and targets, Kamara’s role was actually comparable to that of Christian McCaffrey. Saquon Barkley’s coaches, meanwhile, are talking about how he is a three-down back who can handle 25 to 27 touches per game. No skill player overperformed in the touchdown department given his volume in the red zone more than Alvin Kamara did last year, per Mike Clay. He is also bound for some negative regression in terms of yardage, as his 2017 season ranked second in yards per touch. The New Orleans Saints also have the biggest drop in terms of 2017 strength of schedule for fantasy running backs compared to 2018 strength of schedule. In other words, the Saints will be facing a far tougher slate of opposing run defenses in 2018.
Contrasting 2018 projected SoS with 2017 SoS for RBs pic.twitter.com/qcSBsUyIWX
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) April 22, 2018
Matthew: While natural regression is probable, Kamara could finish as a top 5 running back due to an increase in volume. With Mark Ingram suspended the first four games, Kamara should operate as the clear lead back. However, the Saints already started this process at the end of last season, with Kamara out-touching and out-snapping Ingram over their last five games. No stranger to Sean Payton's dog house, Ingram isn't a lock to re-earn his spot on the depth chart. Last season, Payton banished Willie Snead after a suspension, and Payton once benched Ingram for veteran Tim Hightower. Kamara should also benefit from an offensive line that returns all five starters. This unit ranked second in adjusted line yards and fourth in yards created before contact.
Akash: Kamara's role certainly did increase down the stretch. But while many assume it will grow even further with the Ingram suspension, Payton has said that Kamara’s workload will not increase with Ingram out. Even if Payton does relegate Ingram to the doghouse, based on his comments and Kamara's lack of a track record in terms of handling a bellcow role both in the NFL and college, it makes it seem likely Kamara's touches will not significantly increase in 2018.
Matthew: While Saquon may push for the NFL lead in carries, numerous questions surround the New York Giants' offense. First of which is quarterback play after Eli Manning struggled in 2017 and was even benched for a game. Additionally, the Giants have questions up front, with the 24th-ranked offensive line. The giants also play the fourth-most difficult schedule, raising game-script questions for Barkley
Akash: The kind of volume Barkley is projected for, however, is exceedingly rare in today’s NFL, and that could more than make up for concerns about the offense. Moreover, if Barkley looks as explosive as his athletic profile suggests, he could put concerns about the offense completely to bed. That combined with Kamara's expected regression could make their efficiency metrics comparable in 2018, but Saquon will likely see far more touches.
Matthew: While Barkley will surely lead the Giants in touches, the G-Men signed Jonathan Stewart to a $6.9 million dollar deal. General Manager Dave Gettleman showed confidence in Stewart and reunited him with Mike Shula, one of J-Stew's old offensive coordinators. Stewart has ranked eighth and seventh in carries inside the five-yard line the last two years. Additionally, projecting Barkley for insane volume may be a stretch. Last season, only two running backs saw over 80% of their teams touches (Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott) and only four more saw more than 70% (Kareem Hunt, Todd Gurley, LeSean McCoy, and Dalvin Cook, with Cook doing it in a small sample).
Akash: Stewart is 31 years old and is coming off two consecutive seasons in which he ran for less than 4.0 yards per carry, including a 3.4 mark last year. Unsurprisingly, reports on him out of camp have described him as a "plodding running back." While Stewart will get a handful of touches, Shurmur has committed in the past to feeding his workhorse back. The last three running backs to be selected with a top-five pick in the NFL Draft all saw at least 22 touches plus targets per game. Plus, the fact that so few running backs see such a high percentage of their team's running-back touches only makes Barkley that much more valuable.
Matthew: You're probably right that Barkley will see more touches than Kamara, but Kamara finished as the overall standard-league RB4 last year, and his role should grow this year, even if it doesn't grow by a big amount. Payton's comments on not increasing Kamara's workload sounds like coachspeak, at least to me. Kamara quietly took over the lead role down the stretch last year, and it seems like Ingram's suspension may further solidify Kamara's status as the top dog in that backfield. While Barkley is a tremendous talent, he has yet to prove that he can be a big-time producer at the NFL level, something Kamara has done. With more volume than last year and playing in a better offense than Barkley will be, Kamara is the guy to take.
There is a lot to consider when drafting either of these stud running backs as they both have compelling cases. Barkley and Kamara even have the upside to finish as the top back in fantasy if things break right for them.
Kamara's role is expected to grow, but it may not grow by much. And how much of his stellar rookie-year efficiency can he carry forward with the bigger workload? Barkley should get more touches, but he is unquestionably in the worse offense and playing behind a lesser offensive line.
Ultimately, this debate comes down to Kamara's efficiency versus Barkley's projected workload.
Which do you prefer, good volume with great efficiency, or great volume with (potentially) good efficiency? The choice is yours.