Alvin Kamara is the 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year. He finished with over 1,500 total yards last year (728 on the ground and 826 yards in the air). He scored 13 touchdowns on offense and added another touchdown on special teams on a 100+ kickoff return. This was done while sharing touches all season with Mark Ingram and having to play behind Adrian Peterson through the season’s first four weeks.
Now, in 2018, it’s just Kamara and Ingram as the primary backs in New Orleans. But with the suspension of Mark Ingram to start the first four games of 2018, it’s the Alvin Kamara show.
So you look at Kamara’s upside, his youth, his role in what is typically a prolific offense, and the idea that he could be even better in his second year, it’s completely justifiable that he’s getting drafted in the top 10, some times the top 5, of fantasy football drafts at this point in the season.
But pump your breaks just a little bit.
If you’re expecting Kamara’s production to increase due to an increased volume, you might want to re-assess. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton has already stated they do not plan on putting all of Ingram’s workload on Kamara’s shoulders during Ingram’s suspension. Instead, look for some combination of Terrance West, Shane Vereen, Jonathan Williams, Trey Edmunds, and Boston Scott to pick up a majority of touches that would have gone to Mark Ingram.
But the main issue isn’t with the expected volume of Kamara’s touches, but how efficient Kamara will be with the touches he gets.
Last year, he rushed for a league-best 6.1 yards per carry. That is absolutely insane. Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers, arguably the best Running Back in the NFL for the past half decade, has averaged about 4.5 yards per attempt in his NFL career.
Kamara averaged over 10 yards per catch last year as well. Bell, a Running Back known to also be productive as a pass-catcher, averages only 8.5.
So if we take Bell’s career efficiency rates of 4.5 yards per rush and 8.5 yards per catch and apply them to Kamara’s total touches last year, he would have instead finished with 540 rushing yards and 688.5 receiving yards (or 1,228 total yards). Instead of finishing with the 24th most rushing yards as a Running Back in 2017, he would have finished closer to 36th. Instead of finishing as the #1 receiving Running Back, he would have dropped to 4th. Instead of finishing as the 6th best non-QB offensive player in 2017 based on total offensive yards, he would have finished as the 27th.
And remember: that’s when we’re using Le’Veon Bell’s efficiency rates of 4.5 Y/R and 8.5 Y/C. If we use someone like Melvin Gordon (3.2 Y/R and 8.2 Y/C), Carlos Hyde (4.2 and 5.8), LeSean McCoy (4.6 and 7.7), or Lamar Miller (4.3 and 7.6), Kamara’s projected production drops significantly.
And then there’s Kamara’s touchdown rate.
With 13 total offensive touchdowns, Kamara scored on one of every 15 rushing attempts and one in every 16 catches, for a total of one in every 16 offensive touches. Compare that again to Bell who scored once on every 36 rushing attempts and once every 43 catches, or one in 37 touches. The player Kamara edged out as Rookie of the Year, Kareem Hunt, scored on one in every 30 offensive touches. Even Todd Gurley, who had an MVP-caliber season in 2017, scored on one 19 offensive touches, and Gurley won’t have to share the backfield with a player of Mark Ingram’s caliber for 12 games in 2018 – still a lower efficiency rate than Kamara in 2017.
So if you use a TD production total of someone like Hunt, a score once in every 37 offensive touchdowns, Kamara would have scored 5 touchdowns on the year.
What does that leave us then, looking at Kamara’s 2017 totals and putting a more realistic (but still elite) efficiency rate to his numbers? He would finish with 120 rushes for 540 yards, 81 receptions for 688 yards, and 5 total touchdowns. In PPR leagues, Kamara would have finished 2017 with 233 total fantasy points. In standard scoring, drop it down to 152 total points.
In reality in 2017, Kamara finished with 299 fantasy points in PPR and 218 in standard. Using 233 PPR points and 152 standard points in 2017, Kamara would have been the #8 RB in PPR and the 12th RB in standard. That’s a late second round pick, not first half of the first round.
And I’ll say it again: that’s using efficiency rates of other elite Running Backs. If you use lesser efficiency rates, Kamara’s production drops to the caliber of a third or fourth round player.
Kamara is good, but is he honestly historically good? Unlikely. That’s not to say he’s going to doom your team by any means, but if you spend a top 5 pick in fantasy on Kamara in 2018, don’t be surprised when he lets you down.