Alvin Kamara still is riding high after his record-setting, six-touchdown performance on Christmas. (What a gift for fantasy football players!). It seems his head coach Sean Payton knew the supreme talent was there all along.
Let’s go back to April, 2017, and the first night of the NFL draft. According to long-time NFL expert Peter King, Payton made the early decision to pass on Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, the hot tailback in the draft, and wait for Kamara, the former Tennessee Volunteer. Payton, as New Orleans head coach, was making the draft calls for the Saints.
New Orleans owned the 11th pick of the first round. LSU’s Leonard Fournette and McCaffrey were the big names. One of them could’ve slipped to the Saints, one pick out of the top 10.
King said Payton told him this past weekend ‘Kamara’s going to be a better player than McCaffrey.”
Hindsight always is crystal clear, but Payton probably is correct four years into both the careers of the two tailbacks. Jacksonville made Fournette the first back off the board, selecting him with pick No. 4. The Jaguars waived Fournette earlier this year. McCaffrey, with his NFL blue bloodlines, is excelling in the NFL.
But back to April 2017. There were all sorts of discussions going on in the Saints war room as coaches and scouts evaluated what players could be available at No. 11.
King wrote: “There’s a debate in the Saints’ draft room. Christian McCaffrey is the apple of the scouts’ eyes. But a segment of the Saints’ brain trust, including coach Sean Payton, is smitten with a running back from Tennessee who’s got a third-round grade from some teams. Payton had Alvin Kamara as early second round. And Payton tells his scouts to get off the internet, which is totally smitten with McCaffrey.”
The Carolina Panthers, three picks ahead of the Saints, opted for McCaffrey, basically making the decision for New Orleans. There’s no doubt the Panthers love McCaffrey, although he’s battled injuries this season.
Interestingly enough, the Saints didn’t draft Kamara until the third round. Although Payton considered Kamara as a strong second-rounder, New Orleans drafted Utah safety Marcus Williams at overall pick No. 42.
Kamara started only eight games in his Tennessee career, so it was difficult to know for certain how well his talents would translate into the pros. He’s enjoyed an incredible career, capped off by his Christmas performance against the Minnesota Vikings. In the Saints 52-33 win, Kamara rushed for 155 yards and six touchdowns. That tied a 91-year-old NFL record originally set by Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers.
In a direct comparison between Kamara and McCaffrey, the Saints star has played in 60 games with 598 total touches. He’s averaging 6.18 yards per touch with 58 touchdowns. McCaffrey’s career resume is 51 games long. But he’s received more touches, with 1,002. His per play average is 5.81.
King wrote: “Kamara wants the ball, but he doesn’t politic for it, even internally. “He’s so smart,” Payton said, “and he knows his role on the team. After every game, he sticks his head into my office. Every game. He just says, ‘Everything good?’ I say yep, and he says, ‘Just checking on you.’ ‘’
Yep, in Kamara’s case, everything is good.