Who to Draft Series Part 1: Alvin Kamara v. Saquon Barkley
Author: Jair Oglivie
YouTube: Fantasy Football Advice
This is the first of a three-part “Who to Draft” series. Each article will compare a pair of players who are currently being drafted at about the same ADP. Simply, I will break down each player, their history, and their respective situations in the attempt to give you a better idea of who you would be more comfortable drafting in your own league when the time comes. Following this first article on the early rounds, there will also be articles comparing a pair of players from the middle rounds and late rounds. We’re starting this series off with a very difficult decision as this series is intended to tackle. Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley are two very exciting young players ready to take the NFL by storm. Let’s break it down.
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
Current ADP: 1.06
(Image Source: Sports Illustrated)
Kamara jumped onto the fantasy scene last year as a late round “sleeper” who had potential to break out as a Darren Sproles-esque player in the high-powered Saints offense. I would say “break out” is an understatement for the impact he made on the NFL and fantasy leagues last year. He posted his first big game in week 4 in Miami posting 25.6 PPR points (ESPN scoring) with an impressive 10 catches for 71 yards and a score. The former 3rd round pick from Tennessee didn’t look back after that averaging a healthy 22.1 PPR points per game for the final 12 games of the season. During that span there was only one game where he failed to reach double digit points; week 14 in in Atlanta (5.7 points) where he left early under concussion protocol. He quickly became a weekly must start and led many owners, including myself, into fruitful playoff runs.
After reading all of that, why would there be any hesitation to take Kamara in the first round as a RB1 in 2018? Well, his rushing numbers are the concern. Part of what made Kamara so great last season was his unbelievable efficiency. Throughout the 2017 season, he averaged 6.5 yards per rushing attempt on only 7.5 carries per game. Essentially, he didn’t carry the ball much but when he did, he was busting defenses open. After posting the efficiency numbers he did in his rookie season, it is reasonable to wonder if something like that is repeatable after an offseason of defenses attempting to game plan against him. Additionally, his value came majorly on the PPR aspect of things because of his dynamic receiving abilities. Averaging 5 catches and 51.6 receiving yards per game with 5 total touchdown receptions, Kamara was a PPR monster. I don’t anticipate these numbers changing, as I see this to be the type of player that Kamara truly is. He is the passing down running back that has tremendous athletic ability in open space. Because of this, I believe that Kamara is much more valuable in PPR as opposed to standard due to the reality of his rushing numbers vs his receiving numbers. The carries just weren’t always there with the presence of Mark Ingram, making Kamara much more of a second-round pick in standard leagues.
Onto the variable that truly makes Kamara difficult to completely project, Mark Ingram. The dual threat of Ingram and Kamara is what I believe made the Saints offense so scary last year, defenses truly did not know how to stop them both. In my life I had never seen a pair of backs thrive so well together. Ingram had a phenomenal year with 1100+ rushing yards and 12 rushing scores. Together, Ingram and Kamara led the Saints offense to 5th in the NFL with ~130 yards on the ground per game. To this point, there’s no reason to believe that the approach would change as these two should continue to be featured together. However, Ingram was suspended in May for the first four games of the 2018 season for violation of the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances. He is eligible to return week 5 against Washington right before the Saints week 6 bye. That is only one game in the first 6 weeks of the season that he will be available to the Saints.
Another concern with Kamara will be the amount of touchdown regression he may or may not experience. In 2017, he was no stranger to paydirt, scoring 13 all-purpose touchdowns (7 on the ground, 5 receiving, 1 kick-off return). We all know that touchdowns in the NFL have a degree of randomness. Usually players who score a ton of touchdowns one year, fall back to earth the next. However, Kamara has only had one year in the NFL, so we aren’t sure where his mean is. Pro Football Focus went into depth on touchdown expectancy and regression statistics and based on that data, Kamara scored 7 more touchdowns than he was projected to in his rookie year. Of course, no one expected him to be the type of player he was so that could explain the low projection. His performance will likely cause his 2018 expected touchdown metric to rise, so it will take at least another year to determine if his high scoring tendencies are who he is as a player, or if he just had a really good year. Either way, touchdown regression is real and is something to consider.
Can Alvin Kamara handle being the featured back in the first quarter of the season? At 5’10 and 215 pounds, can he handle those inside the tackles runs on a more consistent basis, while also keeping his stellar receiving numbers up? It’s hard to say at this point, though I don’t think I would bet against his athletic ability. This is the main concern with owning Alvin Kamara in 2018, are you comfortable with taking the risk of the freshman phenom not repeating in year 2?
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
Current ADP: 1.08
(Image Source: USA Today)
Oh, Saquon. Can you think of another rookie playmaker that has come into the league with this much hype in the last few years? The former Penn State star was regarded by many to have been the best player in this year’s draft and it’s hard to argue with them. The Giants took Saquon Barkley 2nd overall in this year’s draft, hoping that the phenom could lead them back to being the dynamic offense they were as recent as 2016, and get Big Blue back to the playoffs. The only question is, can Barkley live up to the hype?
In three years facing defenses in the Big Ten, Barkley totaled nearly 4,000 yards rushing and a whopping 43 scores on the ground. In his last year, he also showed his ability as a receiver hauling in 54 receptions for 632 yards, numbers that surpass his previous two years combined. He was arguably the most electric player in college football in 2017. It’s hard to project how rookies will do, but it’s also hard to imagine another rookie that’s in a better position to succeed than Barkley is this season. He is in an offense with playmakers (Odell Beckham, Evan Engram, and Sterling Shepard) which means defenses cannot constantly stack the box to stop the run. He has an aging quarterback in Eli Manning and new head coach, Pat Shurmur, who is known to be an offensive guru (remember how scary Minnesota’s offense was last year?). That combination means that the Giants will definitely feed the rookie all year long as Shurmur needs to simultaneously preserve the health of Eli Manning and win games in order to keep his position in the Big Apple. After the Ben McAdoo debacle, the New York media has had about enough of coaching ineptitude. The Giants also revamped their offensive line through the free agent signing of former Patriot LT Nate Solder and through the draft with top-rated G Will Hernandez from UT-El Paso. These are all positives for the young runningback’s outlook in 2018.
Saquon Barkley definitely has high expectations to live up to in his first season as a professional. However, I am in the camp that he will pass with flying colors. I expect him to finish as a top 5 fantasy running back and should be near the top of the league in rushing. Don't forget the last few backs taken in the top ten of the draft: Ezekiel Elliot, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey. All had immediate success, and Barkley is in the perfect situation to join them. Take Barkley in the back end of the first round of your drafts with confidence that he will be the star we expect him to be. It’s going to be a good year for Giants fans.
Stop rambling, who should I pick?
Alright, alright. I can’t make this decision for you, especially when I think that both players have the potential to be special. With that said, if it was me sitting there at pick 7,8,9, with these two names staring back at me, I’d take Barkley without hesitation. It is definitely very risky using such valuable draft capital on a rookie, but Barkley is just not an ordinary rookie. Something to consider: New Giants GM Dave Gettleman. Gettleman started his tenure in New York by taking a running back at #2 overall over who many considered to be the best quarterback in the draft, Sam Darnold. With Eli Manning getting older every year, that should tell you just how highly Barkley is regarded in those inner circles. GMs and front offices hate to be wrong, so it's virtually a guarantee that Barkley will be fed the ball in year one. This volume is part of why I am more confident in Barkley over Kamara. Gettleman took some guy named Christian McCaffrey 8th overall last year as GM of the Panthers, and that turned out pretty alright (most RB targets in the NFL last year).
Barkley is just a gifted player in a very good situation right off the bat. How can you pass that up?
Until next time, happy drafting!
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*All statistics taken from Pro Football Reference, Sports Reference – CFB, and ESPN Fantasy
**ADPs taken from fantasyfootballcalculator.com