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New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) walks off the field after the Saints defeated the Carolina Panthers in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018. The Saints defeated the Panthers, 26 - 31.

Advocate Staff photo by SOPHIA GERMER

MINNEAPOLIS — A few moments after the New Orleans Saints used their second-round draft pick on free safety Marcus Williams, general manager Mickey Loomis started working the phones.

Loomis wasn't the only one. Three more Saints staffers started working the phones, desperately trying to trade back up for another prized prospect.

The target? Alvin Kamara, the versatile running back from Tennessee who was named Offensive Rookie of the Year at the NFL Honors awards show Saturday night, joining fellow running backs George Rogers (1981) and Reuben Mayes (1986) as the only Saints to win the award.

"You kind of get caught up in the season, you don't really get time to pat yourself on the back — but when the season is over, you realize what you've done," Kamara said. "I've kind of had the time to look back and be like, yeah, I made some history."

About 30 minutes after Kamara's award was announced, teammate Marshon Lattimore was presented with the Defensive Rookie of the Year, making the Saints the first team since the 1967 Detroit Lions to sweep the Rookie of the Year awards. 

Back then, it was also a running back (Mel Farr) and a cornerback (Lem Barney) — and when Lattimore appeared in the interview room Saturday, Kamara was with him, reveling in a moment they've talked about together all season. 

"It came up in the media a lot," Lattimore said. "We just knew we had to turn up a little bit and we'd get it. ... Dream come true."  

Landing both players, along with standout tackle Ryan Ramczyk and Williams, required the Saints to make a deal. 

New Orleans struck out for more than 20 picks, until the San Francisco 49ers agreed to trade their third-rounder, No. 67 overall, for the Saints' second-round pick in 2018 and their 2017 seventh-round pick.

"We tried most of the teams between, call it 45 and 67," Loomis said. "Looking for a deal so we could trade to get him."

But not even New Orleans realized how valuable Kamara would be this season. Saints coach Sean Payton fell in love with Kamara's receiving skills during a pre-draft visit to Tennessee, a Vols team that had used him mostly as a third-down option and change-of-pace to starter Jalen Hurd.

Kamara's pure ability as a runner was still something of a mystery, a reality Payton admitted several times during the regular season.

"I am going to be honest with you: The vision (for Kamara) right away was that 'Joker,' third-down (back), that player that you put in space and move around," Payton said. "There was not much evidence of his running ability inside and outside because he was splitting carries."

New Orleans quickly found out what Kamara could do. On the first play of the Saints' preseason game against the Chargers, Kamara burst through a hole in the middle of the line and raced away with an eye-popping 50-yard touchdown. 

All of a sudden, the Saints had a problem: New Orleans had added Adrian Peterson in free agency to a backfield that already included Mark Ingram, and the idea was that the two veterans would handle the bulk of the rushing load while Kamara did his work in the passing game.

Kamara's explosive ability ruined that plan when he sealed the Saints' season-saving win over Carolina with a 25-burst down the right sideline. Two weeks later, New Orleans traded Peterson to Arizona, in large part to clear the way for Kamara, who promptly took the NFL by storm. 

"When Mark called me after Adrian got traded and told me that it was time to go to work, we just started stringing game after game together," Kamara said. "And then I just knew it was going to be special."

With Peterson out of the way, Kamara and Ingram teamed up to be the most productive tandem of backs in NFL history. No pair of teammates at the position had ever racked up more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage: Kamara finished with 1,554 yards, and Ingram added 1,540, numbers that made the pair the first teammates to make the Pro Bowl together at the running back position since Jim Otis and Terry Metcalf of the old St. Louis Cardinals performed the feat in 1975.

More importantly, the veteran and the rookie were inseparable, tied together so tightly that they conducted all postgame interviews together in the second half of the season. 

"Man, I wish he was here," Kamara said. "He's a big reason why I'm here. A great teammate, a great friend, a brother to me, a great mentor. I came in and he showed nothing but love to me and helped me with anything I needed, whether it was on or off the field. ... Our friendship off the field helped us on Sundays."

A magnetic, fun-loving personality known for wearing a nose ring and a gold grill on his teeth during games, and for chomping down Airheads at every opportunity, Kamara's devil-may-care approach endeared fans almost as much as his play. 

And his play matched the personality.

Kamara led all NFL rushers by averaging 6.1 yards per carry, racking up 728 yards on just 120 attempts. He caught 81 passes for 826 yard while serving as the No. 2 receiving option for Drew Brees. He also returned a kickoff 106 yards for a score in the season finale and scored 14 total touchdowns — second in the NFL to Rams running back Todd Gurley's 19. 

His body of work was impressive enough to rise to overcome stiff Rookie of the Year competition from Kansas City back Kareem Hunt, another third-round pick who led the NFL with 1,327 yards rushing and finished third in the league with 1,782 yards from scrimmage, and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was brilliant before tearing his ACL. 

Turns out all of those phone calls paid off more than anybody could have expected.

"He’s been fantastic," Loomis said. "That’s an understatement, right?"

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.