. Unique is a horribly overused term in sports. It does not mean distinctive; it means one of a kind.
But even by that standard, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton separates out what he has seen already from rookie running back Alvin Kamara. The third-round pick out of Tennessee has averaged 6.1 yards per carry with a style Payton can describe, but can’t link to anyone else he’s coached.
“He runs so differently from some of the others I have coached,” Payton said of the balance and change-of-direction that have placed Kamara in the discussion for NFL Rookie of the Year. “He is unique that way. His feet really do not leave the ground. He has some patience to his decision-making. He has this deceptive quickness when he hits the hole. I can’t say that there is someone who comes to mind (historically comparable to) his running style.”
Kamara, who played at Tennessee, is sixth in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,554). He and Mark Ingram share the rushing duties for the Saints, not unlike how the Panthers have looked to use Jonathan Stewart and rookie Christian McCaffrey.
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Like McCaffrey, Kamara is utilized as much as a receiver as he is a runner. However, Kamara has been far more productive as a rusher; McCaffrey averages 3.7 yards running the ball so far.
Kamara has eight rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns, plus a two-point conversion. To place that productivity in perspective, he is one of only four NFL rookies historically to have at least five touchdowns each as a rusher and a receiver. The other three – Doak Walker, Charley Taylor and Gale Sayers – were all elected to the Hall of Fame.
While Kamara was highly recruited out of high school in suburban Atlanta, he was far from a college star. He initially signed with Alabama, but was dismissed in part over a disciplinary issue. After a stay in junior college in Kansas, he ended up with the Vols. He started only eight of 24 games with Tennessee, but tested well enough at the NFL scouting combine to go in the top half of the draft.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees has said Kamara is sort of a hybrid of two former Saints running backs: Balance like Pierre Thomas and explosiveness like Reggie Bush.
Payton said Brees’ analogy doesn’t quite capture what he’s seen of Kamara. Payton pointed to a run Kamara had against the Panthers, specifically.
“You think that there’s no way he wasn’t knocked over (near the end zone) and he finds a way to keep his balance,” Payton said. “Pierre had good vision that way, but they’re two different players here. Three different players (including Bush), really.”