Heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, running back was an under-the-radar position of need for the Saints. That’s not to say that the team was weak at the position with Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson, but the team was still lacking the change-of-pace back they haven’t had since the departure of Darren Sproles. That issue was solved when the Saints traded up in the third round of the draft to select Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara.
Coming out of college, Kamara was advertised as a solid pass-catching back with great balance and acceleration. However, Kamara’s play this preseason has shown that he’s capable of being more than a third-down back. Unfortunately for the rest of the NFL, he might be the key to unlocking the Saints offense.
So far, Kamara has been nothing but a highlight reel. Against the Browns, he ran the ball four times for 38 yards (8.8 yards/carry). His most impressive run of the night came after he crashed into a wall of Browns defenders and bounced the run outside for a 22-yard gain.
Alvin Kamara runs into a wall, then bounces it outside. pic.twitter.com/7o4VW2IoAG
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 11, 2017
His performance against the Chargers was even more impressive. On the first offensive play for the Saints, he ripped off a 50-yard run for a touchdown. The play was a tremendous display of good vision, acceleration, and balance.
Alvin Kamara 50 yard TD pic.twitter.com/BxQ50y6FhC
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 21, 2017
Later on in that game, we got to see a small glimpse of what Kamara can do in the passing game. On third-and-one, the Saints called a play-action pass that sent Kamara into the flat. He effortlessly outran the linebacker and glided down the sideline for a 22-yard gain.
3rd and 1 action pass to Kamara for chunk yardage pic.twitter.com/mpFjKxb4Xg
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 21, 2017
The splash plays are great, but the biggest takeaway from the two games of preseason action is that Kamara is so much more than a receiving back. And better yet, he’s seen a lot of action running between the tackles. His 215-pound frame allows him to challenge defenders and break arm tackles from defenders.
Don’t expect to see the traditional Saints offense this year. The Saints are known for being a pass-heavy, explosive offense. They’ll still be explosive, but this year, they’ll be capable of relying on the running backs. There’s no doubt the team will continue to throw the ball as Drew Brees is still the quarterback, but they finally have the pieces needed to rely on the running backs.
It could be argued the Saints have the most talented group of running backs in the league with Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and Alvin Kamara. Ingram is a reliable back who is an underrated pass catcher. The Saints believe Peterson can be the player he was just a few years ago: a powerful runner with the explosiveness needed to break off long runs. And, it appears Kamara will be the home run threat capable of threatening defenses with his rushing and pass-catching ability. There’s no arguing that the Saints have the complementary pieces in the backfield needed to thrive.
One might question why the news that Kamara can be a threat as a runner is such a big deal for a running back. Simply put, if his ability to run poses a threat to defenses, they’ll be unable to predict the play coming. If he was strictly a pass-catching back, his appearance on the field would almost always indicate that Drew Brees was getting ready to throw the ball. The Saints offense has thrived on unpredictability for quite some time, and Kamara only makes them more difficult for opposing defenses to predict.
Sean Payton is one of the best offensive minds in football. He’s an expert at creating mismatches and exploiting them. He’ll be able to create opportunities for the rookie running back out out the backfield and when he’s split out wide. I’d also expect Kamara to reenergize the Saints’ screen game that has been lacking the past few years. His speed, acceleration, and ability to set up his blockers make him incredibly efficient in the screen game.
The combination of Ingram, Peterson, and Kamara should strengthen the Saints’ play-action passing attack. Opposing teams will be forced to respect the Saints’ ability to run the ball, and this in itself will give Brees more opportunities to pick apart the cornerbacks and safeties. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Payton take a few plays out of the Atlanta Falcons’ playbook.
Sometimes, change is good. It’s too early to tell how the Saints new-look offense will perform in 2017, but all signs point to rookie Alvin Kamara being the key that unleashes the offense’s potential.