Alvin Kamara Can Be This Year's Best Fantasy Football Running Back
He went from undrafted in many fantasy football leagues to a definitive first-round pick seemingly overnight. However, despite his outstanding performance the past couple years, Kamara often finds himself on the outside looking in when it comes to consideration over the number one overall pick in drafts this year.
This is likely due to thinking that his ceiling is capped because he’s not your typical workhorse running back and doesn’t come with the same top-level rushing production that Ezekiel Elliott or Saquon Barkley offer.
Surprisingly, Kamara has never finished with 20 rush attempts in a game, and that type of workload can seem scary owners regardless of his receiving prowess.
That said, I’m here to convince you that Kamara’s ceiling is, in fact, high enough to make him the number-one overall running back and that he should be in your consideration set if you have the first pick in your drafts.
Elite Fantasy Efficiency
It's clear that head coach Sean Payton doesn't want Kamara to bear a heavy workload, but Kamara's efficiency is part of what gives him a huge edge. Kamara can do in 15 touches what a bell cow running back might need 25 touches to do.
In the past two years, Alvin Kamara has scored the most fantasy points for all running backs in a given week seven times. The next closest is Todd Gurley with five weeks over that span, and no other back has more than two such weeks.
To put his efficiency into perspective, Kamara scored 25 more fantasy points (in point per reception leagues) than Ezekiel Elliott did in 2018...on 100 fewer touches! Among running backs with at least 100 touches in 2018, Kamara’s 1.29 fantasy points per touch ranked third behind only James White (1.53) and Tarik Cohen (1.38).
This is down from his league-leading mark of 1.57 fantasy points per touch that Kamara had in 2017, but is an impressive mark nonetheless. Furthermore, neither of the other two running back have nearly the rushing ability that Kamara has. An obvious counterargument to Kamara is that he won’t be able to keep up the level of efficiency he’s had the past couple years, but that was the same argument going into 2018, and he still shattered expectations.
The advanced stats show he was super efficient as well. His Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry fell from 0.28 in 2017 to 0.15 in 2018, but both marks dominated the league average of -0.05 and 0.00, respectively. His Rushing Success Rate was above 47.0% in both seasons; the league average is around 40.0%. His receiving prowess was nearly as game-breaking, too: his Reception NEP per catch of 0.67 was just shy of his 0.70 as a rookie.
From Ingram to Murray
An obvious reason why Kamara’s ceiling has been capped in the past was due to the presence of Mark Ingram. This offseason, the Saints moved on from Ingram and signed former Vikings running back Latavius Murray to fill the backup running back role.
Over the past two years, Ingram has averaged 13.5 carries per game along with 3.5 targets per game (2.8 receptions per game). In games that he started for the Vikings, Murray garnered 15.4 carries per game and just under 2 targets per game (1.6 receptions per game). However, as the backup (which is what his role will be with the Saints), he only got 5.6 carries per game and fewer than one target and one reception per game.
So even as the starting running back for the Vikings, Murray didn’t get that much more attention than Ingram got in his complementary role. I would expect Murray's role with the Saints to be akin to what it was as a backup in Minnesota. We project Murray for 166 carries and just 12 catches.
It’s also important to keep in mind that Kamara has been able to produce at a top-tier level even with Ingram taking touches away, so it shouldn't bother you that the Saints brought in Murray as a replacement. After Ingram returned from his suspension last year, Kamara still ranked fifth among running backs in fantasy points per game and finished the season as the number four overall running back.
Red Zone Usage
Running back carries are not nearly as valuable between the 20s, and where running backs truly make their mark is in the red zone. They’re much more of a threat to produce if being used in the red zone and Kamara's red zone usage is among the cream of the crop for running backs.
In 2018, he recorded 72 red zone touches (catches and rushes, combined), trailing only Todd Gurley's 73 red zone touches. Per Sharp Football Stats, Kamara’s 62.0% success rate in the red zone also ranks sixth among running backs with at least 15 red zone attempts. Returning to his elite efficiency, Kamara scored on nearly a quarter of his touches in the red zone in 2018.
Surprisingly, even with 51 carries inside the 20, Kamara only had 46.4% of the team’s red zone attempts. With just over 25.0% of the Saints’ red zone carries opening up with Ingram’s departure, Kamara surely has the potential to increase his overall share of the Saints’ red zone carries in 2019.
The evidence above shows just how special Kamara is and that he's worth the number-one overall selection in fantasy drafts.
Our projections at numberFire currently have him finishing as the fourth overall fantasy running back, but don't let that make you think he can't finish as the top running back by the end of the year.
With a Hall of Fame quarterback under center, an outstanding offensive line, and less competition for touches, Kamara could become the ultimate feature back that everyone wants him to be, and that would make him well worth the number-one overall pick.