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Alvin Kamara reminds me of Todd Gurley, but not in a good way

Both Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley had amazing rookie years, but will Kamara’s second year follow in Gurely’s disappointing footsteps?

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Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

I’m going to start this article with a disclaimer: Alvin Kamara is a very, very talented running back who will, in all likelihood, have a good statistical sophomore season. It’s not every player who can finish a year with over 100 carries on the ground and average 6.1 yards per attempt. That’s insane. Throw in 13 total touchdowns and you can see why people are so excited to see what Kamara can do for his encore.

And don’t think I’m not excited too. I trust Sean Peyton and Peter Carmichael (the Saints’ offensive coordinator) to continue to build an offense around what Kamara does best and I’m sure there will be a plenty of highlights from him this coming season.

Naturally, all this success has led to quite the hype surrounding Kamara heading into the 2018 season, particularly in fantasy football. His current ADP is seventh overall in standard leagues and sixth in PPR (according to Fantasy Football Calculator). He’s going behind the likes of Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott and ahead of fellow sophomore running backs Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt and every single wide receiver not named Antonio Brown (though even then, Brown is going just one pick ahead of Kamara).

The fantasy community seems fairly certain that Kamara can—and will—build upon his rookie success and continue to become an elite fantasy option.

I on the other hand, am not so certain.

When I see the ADP boost and all the hype that Kamara is getting, I can’t help but think back to Todd Gurley’s sophomore year and how much of a letdown that was following his impressive rookie campaign.

Now, another disclaimer (because what’s the point of an article if you don’t have at least two disclaimers?): If you’ve ever listened to the RB1 podcast, you know Gurley and I have a tumultuous relationship. I drafted him with my first overall pick in 2016, thinking he’d build upon his 1,106 yard and 10 touchdown rookie season and I was getting myself a plug-and-play RB1 who I wouldn’t have to ever worry about again. Obviously that did not go as planned as Gurley’s sophomore season was, in a word, not great from a fantasy perspective. He ended up falling from RB5 in 2015, scoring 189 total points to RB20 in 2016, scoring only 155. Not exactly what you want from your first round pick.

I bring up Gurley’s sophomore campaign not just because I’m a sadist and love to revel in my own misery, but because I see parallels between Gurley and Kamara’s situations.

Increased workload

Both Gurley and Kamara didn’t play every game their rookie year. Gurley didn’t play a game until Week 3 and he started only 12 games in 2015. Even in those 12 games, you could see the toll a full NFL season has on a player as Gurley’s production certainly sputtered towards the end of his rookie season. His workload only increased in his sophomore year as he played all 16 games and touched the ball roughly three times more per game than his rookie season.

Part of Kamara’s effectiveness last year came from not being the lead back. The Saints used him in perfect tandem with Mark Ingram to keep both backs fresh and healthy and to keep defenses on their toes. Ingram’s four games suspension to start the season will likely thrust Kamara into a full time starting role which many are using as justification for Kamara’s ADP spike. I’m not so sure as that will be a huge jump for Kamara in terms of touches per game. He averaged only 7.5 carries per game last year, while Ingram averaged double that (14.4). It will lead to more opportunities for Kamara but he won’t be as fresh for them as he was last year.

Defenses now have a year of tape

It’s a lot harder to prepare for a running back when you have little to no footage to watch in preparation for a game. Defenses clearly had a hard time containing both Gurley and Kamara their rookie seasons partly because they had to learn on the fly how they were being used, their tendencies and how they play the game. Kamara especially was so effective because he was used in a variety of ways to keep defenses off balance. Give credit to to the Saints’ coaching staff for that.

Things will get harder for Kamara and the Saints’ offense now that defenses have a full year of tape to go back and watch. He’ll no longer be an unknown commodity that can catch the league by surprise and teams will start building game plans based around shutting down Kamara instead of treating him as a role player. I’m not saying that was the sole reason for his success—he is an immensely talented running back—but he’s not going to put together another 6+ yards per carry performance.

Ultimately, it’s all about value

If Kamara was consistently going in the second round, I wouldn’t have written this article. However, the top six or seven picks is too pricey for me, especially when players like Fournette or Hunt are still available. Hunt led the NFL in rushing yards, is playing with a “rookie” quarterback this year (meaning lots o’ touches) and has no competition in the backfield. Even with his suspension, at some point Ingram will return to the Saints which will cut into Kamara’s touches yet again. Yes that worked out fine for everyone last year, but that was an anomaly when it comes to running back committees. There’s a reason everyone avoids the Patriots’ running backs. (Except for Sony Michel. Draft Sony Michel EVERYWHERE!!!)

I’ll be watching Alvin Kamara this season closely because he could easily prove me wrong. But I have a sinking feeling that we might be in store for another depressing sophomore season from a young stud running back. At least we know Kamara’s third year is going to be an MVP level performance.

Poll

Do you think Alvin Kamara will go the way of Todd Gurley’s sophomore slump?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Yea, I’m nervous now
    (19 votes)
  • 43%
    Hell no, Kamara bout to rip this league UP!
    (52 votes)
  • 40%
    No, but I don’t think he’ll live up to his ADP
    (48 votes)
119 votes total Vote Now

P.S. Can we cool it with the Saquon Barkley hype as well? He’s currently going fifth in standard leagues, ahead of Antonio Brown and Kamara. I mean, the guy has thighs the size of tree trunks and was absolutely amazing in college, but he hasn’t played a single NFL snap yet. Let’s take a deep breath and wait to see how he looks in the NFL before we go drafting him in the top 5 picks.