Name: Alvin Kamara
Position: Running Back
Class: Redshirt Junior
Games Watched: 2016: vs Vanderbilt, vs Kentucky, vs Georgia, vs Alabama
Overview: Native of Norcross Georgia. Top-rated running back in the nation coming out of high school, rated as No. 42 nationally. Invited to the 2013 All-American game. Committed to Alabama in 2013, before redshirting and transferring to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. Ran for 134 yards/game with 18 touchdowns in 2014. Rated a 5-star JUCO college transfer, Kamara committed to Tennessee. Had only 210 carries in two years Tennessee, for 6.2 yards/carry and 16 touchdowns. Also had 683 receiving yards, with 7 touchdowns.
Tennessee used Kamara a lot flying round the outside, and you can see why. Kamara has the open-field speed, agility, and change of direction to make men miss, and to get to the outside before a cornerback has shed his blocks. He’s even got a functional spin move! He’s the kind of runner that pundits refer to as a “weapon” because of the big-play threat every time he gets an inch of space.
That change of direction keeps defenders off balance, but even so Kamara has both hip-wiggle (see the Kentucky game) and sheer brute force (see the Vanderbilt game) to break tackles in college, but you suspect that wiggle will pay dividends more in the pro game, especially because it tallies with his big-play threat.
As far as the bread-and-butter of the pro game goes, Kamara has vision through the middle to find some of the smaller holes, as well as the bigger ones. Against Alabama he was so effectively cut off going outside that the middle became his only option, and he did some efficient work. He’s also an acceptable receiver, running a decent wheel route and lining up in the slot – though on the latter of those he’s not yet savvy enough to put himself in the space he needs to make the most of his skillset.
One other thing to consider is Kamara’s workload. You don’t normally see college workload as a strength, right? Well, Kamara worked in a dual-back system. So he had fewer carries. As highlighted at Gridiron Now, teams might actually view that as a positive. The theory is, his body may have broken down less than if he were a bell-cow, featured, contact-seeking back. Might not work in practice, but it’s a reasonably solid theory.
Evaluating college running backs is the new evaluating college quarterbacks, right enough. Tennessee’s spread system leads to two problems evaluating Kamara. The first is that I counted a grand total of one pass block in all four games. That was a telegraphed, though effective, chop block. If a team’s going to draft him as a three-down back, there’s a leap of faith required to assume he’ll pass-block. He might, but the dearth of evidence is the issue.
Dearth of evidence due to spread offense also counts because of the lack of stacked boxes he faced. Because the Tennessee Volunteers have receivers out far and wide, opponents won’t cram the centre of the line. So, there’s more space for runners, so in theory it’s a little easier. Add into which Kamara has a dual-threat quarterback, and he’s playing in a good system for a running back to put up yards-per-carry.
Look. The NFL has talented and experienced evaluators. I am not one of those. Kamara’s a microcosm of layman scouting issues, because you’re projecting whether he has skills that’ve never been tested. Kamara might turn out to be a great blocker, and determined runner through the middle. Or he might end up like a rich man’s version of Jalen Richard or Antone Smith.
I think he’s got enough grind between the tackles to ultimately get some bell-cow work, and I think he can do well in the NFL. But interviews will be important to see if he understands how to pick up blitzes, any basic theory behind how to block. If he’s not ready to get 50%+ carries in the first half of the season, I don’t think he’s a first-round pick. And if, like me, you’re nervous about how someone’s going to go from a part-time college role into the NFL, I’m too cautious to grade him in the second-either.