Alvin Kamara is really really good. But in a completely different way from Elliott, Barkley, and Gurley. He’s much smaller than those three at 5’10”, 215 lbs. He’s doesn’t use insane jump cuts like Elliott and Barkley. He doesn’t quite have Barkley’s long speed. And He doesn’t have the bruising power of Elliott or Gurley. But he is really really good at everything. He just has such an amazing feel for the game and is a natural and fluid runner. He is so elusive without being quick that defenders rarely square up for tackles on him. His vision at the second level is like none other and he constantly manipulates the defense with subtle movements. There were three traits (besides receiving) that continually came to my mind while watching Kamara and those will be the basis of my scouting report: Slippery, Balanced, and Nose for the End Zone. He is also a great route runner for a running back.
Slippery and Balanced
Kamara does not show conventional agility very often on tape. You’ll occasionally see a huge juke or spin move, but Kamara’s agility is different. His takes the form of instant changes in speed and tiny changes of direction which keep defenders off-balance and unable to get a read on exactly where he’s going. Watch this play against the Rams and see how Kamara gets to the edge, decelerates and just seems to slip through three defenders like they’re not even there:
Kamara is met at the sideline with three unblocked defenders there, yet somehow gains nine more yards and gets into the end zone. He doesn’t make a huge move, but every step he takes is deliberate and keeps the defenders off-balance. Instead of hitting him head-on with good form, they attempt arm tackles that just don’t have a chance due to Kamara’s balance. In fact, Kamara almost never gets hit head-on with good form. (As an aside, this is very relevant to Kamara’s lack of injury risk. He has yet to miss a game due to injury.) His vision at the second level is also outstanding as he is constantly setting up the next defenders with every move he makes. In all the clips in this piece, notice how rarely he is hit by a defender with perfect form. This is purely because Kamara keeps them off-balance and only gives them the chance to arm tackle which he can run straight through due to his balance. He almost looks like a “buttered-up bowling ball” in the way he just bounces off defenders and keeps moving forwards. Let’s see some more “slippery” runs:
This final run in the slippery section is a bit different, but it’s an absolutely outstanding run. It shows how deliberate his steps are and how great his vision truly is. He makes three cuts to slide through the defense and just manipulates the defense into going exactly where he wants them to while he slides through a different gap than expected.
That run is outstanding. Kamara cuts toward the massive hole directly off #67 but a defender closes quickly. The cut to bounce back inside into a newly opened hole is just so damn smooth. Incredible stuff.
Nose for the End Zone
Kamara is one of the best backs in the league at finding the end zone. His “slipperiness” (is that a word?) allows him to find tiny holes in the line and bounce off defenders. But he also has exceptional leg drive and is able to push the pile across the goal line. His balance on the sideline is outstanding and allows him to tiptoe into the end zone on some plays. And finally he has the speed to get outside and outrun defenders. There’s a reason he’s had 31 touchdowns over the last two years. Check out the tape:
This is where Kamara truly sets himself apart from Elliot, Barkley and Gurley. All three of those guys have put up huge receiving numbers over the past couple seasons, but it’s mostly been out of necessity (check downs) and because of their ability to make plays in space. They are not polished route runners. Kamara is. He could play wide receiver full time and excel at it. I’m excited to watch David Johnson and Lev Bell to compare their well known route running to Kamara’s.
The Saints both split Kamara outside and throw to him out of the backfield. He’s a matchup nightmare for defenses as he can toast safeties and linebackers with his route running and most corners have no chance at tackling Kamara in the open field.
The clips you’ll see will show Kamara beat press coverage and catch a deep pass against Rodney McLeod, as well as show off his polished route running from the slot and out wide. He is truly amazing. Check it out:
Now as great as Kamara is, he is not perfect. It is possible to contain him in the rushing game with disciplined defenders that stay in their gaps and don’t try to read Kamara’s movements. You can see that in some of Kamara’s rushing lines against Baltimore, Dallas, and Pittsburgh where he had a total of 35 carries for 123 yards. He also has yet to handle a full workload for a full season, and could get worn down due to his size. But I would not consider this a sure thing due to his ability to avoid big hits.
Overall, Kamara is just an amazingly fluid and natural runner who excels at all facets of being an NFL running back. The Saints are committed to getting him the ball in space and utilizing his elusiveness to create big plays.