The Saints offense has always been at its best when Sean Payton has a running back who can move around the field and dictate matchups.
It started with Reggie Bush, then came Darren Sproles. New Orleans hoped to recreate the magic two seasons ago, but C.J. Spiller never materialized as hoped. On Friday, New Orleans bet big that Alvin Kamara can be the next player to fit the mold.
Quibble with the compensation if you wish. The Saints gave up a second-round pick next year and a seventh-round pick this season to acquire the 67th pick from the San Francisco to select the running back out of Tennessee.
But there’s no question the theory of what Kamara could be in this offense is appealing. And if it works, he could be worth the price.
His statistics tell the story of who Kamara is as a player. Appearing in 11 games last season, he rushed 103 times for 596 yards (5.8 yards per carry) and scored nine touchdowns. He also caught 40 passes for 392 yards with another four touchdowns.
Seeing his ability in both phases of the offense, it’s no wonder he agreed when asked if his game is similar to the two satellite backs who served in this offense before him.
“I think it’s pretty similar,” Kamara, who also returns punts, said. “Those guys catch a lot of balls and did a lot of things with their versatility. I feel like I am kind of the same type of player. Just versatile and able to catch and run the ball well. Just excited to see how it will unfold.”
There should be some confidence in this pick, and there’s a reason the Saints traded up to get him. Payton personally worked out Kamara leading up to the draft and had the back run several routes for him during the workout. The team knows what it's getting.
The rest shows up on his film. Kamara had 143 touches last season and induced 49 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. That kind of elusiveness should also serve him well if he's asked to return punts.
His ability to run outside the tackles and catch passes should help him blend in well with the other running backs, Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson.
Those two players should serve as more traditional backs, running between the tackles, while Kamara will compete with Travaris Cadet as the so-called third down or satellite back. Ingram also can run screens and some under underneath routes. Blended, New Orleans should have a group of running backs capable of doing several different things.
More importantly, Kamara gives the Saints a player who can help dictate matchups in the passing offense and cause defenses to make decisions in how to defend against him. Players with his skills can help disguise the offense's intentions and make it hard for defenses to determine which package to use based on who is in the huddle.
Once lined up, defenses often have to make the decision to allow a potential mismatch by putting a linebacker on the back during passing plays or to drop a safety down. And few coaches create those situations better than Payton.
“That’s been a key element in our offense over the last 11 years,” general manager Mickey Loomis said. “Sean and our offensive coaches have a great ability to take advantage of the type of talent that Alvin and the predecessors here have had. To fill that role with a player of his caliber, we’re pretty excited about it. Obviously, we were. That’s why we traded up to get him.”
It wasn’t defense, but there was a need at this spot. Maybe it was just a want, but sometimes those desires have worthwhile purpose.
The position has been important to this offense for a long time, and the production hasn’t been there since Sproles left town. Now, New Orleans has a player at the spot who should be able to unlock some additional elements in the offense.