Either way, though, it should be a bounce-back year.
Kamara, who turns 25 in July, acknowledged earlier this offseason that he was only about 75% healthy and playing on “one leg” because of knee and ankle injuries that plagued him during the final three months of last season.
Dads and father figures play such a huge role in the paths we choose. Great to work with @USAA and the @USOofNC to surprise a @Marine and his daughter - who also chose to serve - for #FathersDay. Thanks to all those who guide and inspire us. #SaluteToService pic.twitter.com/0AaLP8z1ub— Christian McCaffrey (@CMC_22) June 17, 2020
That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses, since a “down season” for the dynamic running back still amounted to 1,330 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in 14 games.
As Saints coaches pointed out, Kamara was as explosive as ever before the injuries crept up.
He racked up 169 yards from scrimmage in a Week 1 win over Houston, 161 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 3 win at Seattle and a whopping 25 broken tackles over the first four weeks (according to Pro Football Reference).
Running backs coach Joel Thomas said the Seattle game, in particular, was “vintage Alvin Kamara football” at a time when the Saints really needed him in the wake of Drew Brees' Week 2 thumb injury.
"I can put [that game] on, whether it’s in the pass protection, whether it’s a run, whether it’s a reception, whether it’s a ‘make you miss’ out in space, whether it’s a ‘make you miss’ in a tight box, running through defensive ends, making linebackers miss -- he did it all,” Thomas said. “I think up to that point, he was healthy and rolling. That’s what we expected -- that’s what he expected -- for the entire duration of the season. And obviously things popped up and didn’t allow that to happen.”
Thomas also mentioned a back injury that Kamara dealt with at some point.
With those injuries taking their toll, Kamara broke only 14 more tackles in his final 10 games. He even flummoxed the fan base by running out of bounds on occasion instead of challenging tacklers in his typical fashion -- though he did show signs of regaining that burst late in the season.
“You look at some of the early games in the season, and there were some 'wow' moments,” offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. said. “I think there were obviously some limitations as to what he was able to do. But it'll set up this year for him to be coming back hungry and ready to go."
Kamara is due to make $2.133 million in the final year of his rookie contract. Earlier this offseason, fellow Class of 2017 running back Christian McCaffrey raised the bar for the position with a four-year, $64 million extension. Another fourth-year back, Dalvin Cook, has already threatened to hold out until he gets a new deal.
So far, there has been no indication what it will take for the Saints to lock up Kamara long term -- or if he will consider a training camp holdout. According to the new collective bargaining agreement, Kamara would lose an accrued season if he doesn’t report to camp on time, which means he would become a restricted free agent next year instead of unrestricted if they can’t reach a deal.
However, it’s possible that Kamara will decide he wants to play out this season and try to improve his negotiating position with another monster year similar to what he had in 2017 (1,554 yards from scrimmage, 14 TDs) or 2018 (1,592 yards from scrimmage, 18 TDs in 15 games).
Remember, at this time last year Kamara and McCaffrey were widely viewed as equals -- ESPN’s annual NFLRank had McCaffrey listed 22nd and Kamara 26th. Since then, McCaffrey pulled ahead by becoming just the third player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
When it comes to assessing their value, it’s also important to note that McCaffrey plays more snaps -- about 60 per game for McCaffrey versus 42 for Kamara over the past two years in games when they played a full workload.
But the Saints prefer it that way so they can try to keep Kamara fresh and healthy. That’s why they signed veteran running back Latavius Murray in free agency last year to replace Mark Ingram as a partner for Kamara. And that strategy isn’t likely to change in 2020 after the injuries Kamara has battled.
Still, a healthy Kamara should be good for 18 or 19 touches per game. He averaged 18.2 over the past two seasons, and that didn't change after the injuries last year, as he still averaged 18.5 touches in Weeks 11-16.
If healthy, he should average more than 100 yards per game from scrimmage. And he’s probably good for 81 catches after he hit that exact number in each of his first three seasons.
It’s hard to expect TD totals like Kamara had in his first two seasons, but he should be able to get back to double digits. Although his scoring opportunities took a slight dip last year, it wasn't a case where he was replaced by a goal-line specialist. And he did break out of his TD slump with five in his final three games, including the playoffs.
Kamara is still widely ranked as a top-six overall pick heading into fantasy football drafts, where GMs might find themselves facing a great Saints dilemma if they have to choose between him and receiver Michael Thomas.
Kamara went fifth and Thomas sixth in ESPN’s most recent mock draft, thanks to the scarcity of elite running backs. But fantasy analyst Mike Clay – who produces the projected stats for every player -- has Thomas ranked No. 2 overall on his board behind only McCaffrey.
“I have Thomas regressing by 32 targets, 35 receptions and 374 yards -- and he’s still easily my highest projected wide receiver,” Clay said of Thomas, who shattered the NFL record with 149 catches last year. “Thomas’ massive 32.5% target share will probably drop some, but history says it won’t by much.
“As for Kamara, coach Sean Payton has an incredible résumé as RB production goes. And Kamara plays a major role as a receiver, which gives him an excellent floor in PPR leagues (7.0 targets per game last year). Goal-line usage is the only concern, but I have him bouncing back this year with 11 TDs. He’s still only 24 years old. Elite, high-scoring offense. Lots to love here.”