Alvin Kamara, the quintessential all-purpose running back

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Updated: October 3, 2018
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Certain professional athletes have that “it” factor. It’s something that comes naturally, it can’t be taught, and only a few possess it. New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara falls into that category. He’s not normal. And he has superhuman abilities on the football field.

His extraordinary play has continued this season, following his 2017 Rookie of the Year campaign. Kamara has become Drew Brees‘ security blanket, and, at times, his go-to receiver.

Kamara has six touchdowns through four games, five on the ground and one through the air. He’s third in the NFL in receptions (35), behind Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (40) and teammate Michael Thomas (42), who set the NFL record for most catches after four games. Kamara has 627 all-purpose yards and 611 yards from scrimmage, both of which rank first in the league.

The former Tennessee Vol is just as effective as a pass-catcher as he is a runner. He’s the quintessential, all-purpose, three-down running back. And though he shares the backfield with Mark Ingram, who returns from a four-game suspension this week when the Saints host the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, he is more than capable of carrying the load.

During an overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3, Kamara became just the second player during the Super Bowl era to tally 15 receptions while carrying the ball at least 15 times. Those 15 catches were also the most by a running back since 1981.

And if you’re a fantasy guru, he’s also the top-ranked running back in that department so far this season.

“I think history would tell us there have been backs that have been exceptional receivers,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said. “We could go all the way back to the history of the game. Of course, versatility helps when you’re a guy that can do more than one thing, but I think it’s not something that’s cyclical. It’s just trying to find matchups, whether it’s against a linebacker or safety.”

There’s nothing that the 5-foot-10, 215-pounder lacks. He has game-breaking speed and has shown the ability to run between the tackles, something that was questioned when he entered the league.

Case in point: With the New York Giants trailing 26-18 late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, the Saints were in run-out-the-clock mode, looking to lock up a victory. But Kamara wanted to one-up the G-Men. With 2:16 remaining, the second-year back found a gaping hole along the right side of the line and casually outran Giants defenders for a 49-yard score. And for entertainment purposes, he continued his stride into the tunnel, with Thomas running alongside him. The drive just before that, he turned into Stretch Armstrong while making a full extension near the goal line for a four-yard touchdown.

But the process to get to this point of NFL stardom wasn’t an easy one.

Kamara was set to begin his college career at the University of Alabama, which was loaded in the backfield with Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake on the depth chart — all of whom are quality NFL running backs. But Kamara soon after suffered a knee injury which caused him to redshirt his freshman year.

After getting suspended for refusing to practice with the scout team, and Alabama coach Nick Saban kicking him out of practice, Kamara decided to transfer.

He attended Hutchinson Community College — a junior college in Kansas — for a year, following an arrest in February 2014 for driving on a suspended licence. And in just nine games, he accumulated 1,469 total yards of offense and 21 touchdowns. That led to him earning a scholarship at the University of Tennessee in 2015.

In two seasons as a Volunteer, Kamara totaled 1,977 scrimmage yards and 23 touchdowns, respectively, and was selected by the Saints in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. Four running backs were taken ahead of him, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon. With hindsight at 20/20, all of those backs have also shown they can be productive in the NFL.

But Kamara had another dilemma once reaching New Orleans. Yet again, he wound up in a crowded backfield, with Ingram and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson on the squad. But the Peterson experiment didn’t work out, which paved the way for Kamara to be the change-of-pace back to Ingram. He had a combined 15 rushing attempts four games into the 2017 season with Peterson on the roster, but that usage immediately rose once the Saints traded AP to the Arizona Cardinals.

“He was a guy I knew was going to play; there’s no way he’s not going to take the field,” said Peterson, via ESPN. “Just being around him and learning his personality and seeing his work ethic. It was a no-brainer he was going to be there for a long time.”

Since that trade, Kamara has been showcasing his talent weekly. He’s helped transform the running back position, giving it a unique flavor. And giving Brees a youthful toy that enhances the Saints’ offense.

Kamara has proven to rise above adversity and excel at the highest level. Something that always deserves a standing ovation.

An abundance of NFL backs are one of a kind — Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell (when on the field) to name a few — but there’s only one like Kamara. And I can assure you the Saints feel comfortable having the nose ring wearing, dreadlock sporting, superstar running back on their side.

“He’s special,” Payton said following the win over the Giants. “He works at it.”

Josiah Turner

Josiah is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sideline Sports Report. He has written for ESPN.com and is currently a digital editor at the SEC Network. He has covered the Washington Redskins for FanSided, and he has also covered high school basketball for Rivals.com and the Mechanicsville Local newspaper. Josiah is from Chesapeake, Va., and a college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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