Alvin Kamara: A Lesson in Self-Scouting

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Alvin Kamara is really good. And I knew it.

That’s not meant to be a brag; it’s meant as a reminder to myself. I’m happy for Kamara, and the success he’s had on the New Orleans Saints. Coming out of the University of Tennessee, Kamara was a polarizing prospect. He was a classic “shooting up draft boards” prospect late in the process after a stellar combine. The knocks on him were his lack of experience, ball security issues, and a perceived lack of durability. He started just eight games in college, and never as the full time number one player. He did not once get 20 carries in a college game, and had just five games with over 15 carries. He missed a few games due to injury and his smaller frame led to some worry over his durability.

But his tape was electric, and I thought he could succeed at the NFL level.

Watching his tape from Tennessee for the Inside the Pylon Draft Guide I saw a player with balance, explosiveness, the ability to generate considerable yards after contact, and elite passing game potential as a receiver. I valued him late in the first round after my tape work, and projected him to be an immediate 3-down starter at the NFL level. Here’s my final one- to three-year projection from my report:

Overall, Kamara is an immediate starter in the NFL as a three-down back. In a zone running scheme he should thrive with his burst, ability to manipulate defenders, and yards after contact. He should be used heavily in the passing game as a receiver rather than a blocker, but could become solid in that area with technique improvements. He has very few weaknesses in his game, but noticeably lacks a second gear or elite top end speed/elusiveness. Kamara looks poised to become an above average starter by his third season.

And, to a large extent he’s fulfilled that projection — obviously he isn’t an every down back at this point while splitting time with Mark Ingram, but he has looked like a top tier NFL back already. I watched Kamara on the Saints and saw the same player on tape that I saw in college.

These two plays (the first from Tennessee’s game against the Vanderbilt Commodores and the second from the Saints’ game against the Los Angeles Rams) show how smoothly Kamara has transitioned to the NFL level, especially in the passing game.

The burst, balance and ability to break through tackle attempts in the passing game are on display in both clips for Kamara.

Another few examples of just how dominating and elusive Kamara is as an offensive weapon can be seen from his games against Texas A&M and Washington. The similarities are striking between these two clips, not the least of which is this: Kamara’s team is losing with almost no time remaining on the clock. He wills himself to the endzone in both clips and absolutely outworks his opponents. That’s textbook mental toughness, and something that should have solidified my feelings on Kamara pre-draft.

And yet if you go to his report in the ITP Draft Guide you’ll find him with a 3rd round grade, our sixth-ranked running back in the class, and the following trait grades (assigned later in the process) on a 1 (elite) to 7 (poor) point scale:

So what happened? Where did the disconnect take place?

Since watching his tape, writing his report and assigning my initial (personal) grade of a late first round value, exactly one new source of information on Kamara became available that should have had any effect on my “opinion” of him. That was the NFL combine, which Kamara showed out incredibly well at.

There’s no reason what I saw on tape — the athleticism, vision, balance, yards after contact ability and receiving prowess — should have warranted the final grades I gave in the draft guide.

But I folded and listened to the masses.

Sure, people liked him, but too many people were uncertain about his NFL prospects for me to stick to my guns, and I regret it. I heard the questions about his durability and lack of experience and questioned myself. I tempered my grades and allowed my report to fall back into the late Day 2 grades of the Draft Guide. He was a clearly talented player coming out of college, a guy that I truly thought would thrive at the next level. And yet, I listened to the noise and didn’t let real information — tape study, NFL Combine, on-field production (albeit in limited reps), etc — tell the story and stand for itself.

It’s a lesson learned.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @DBRyan_Dukarm. Check out the rest of his work here, including his look at Oregon’s curl-post passing concept, the Utah Utes’ use of the go/flat concept, and his study of what effect making a pre-draft visit has on being drafted.

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