Alvin Kamara was the breakout star of 2017. His 315 points trailed only Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell, and he managed the feat despite starting the season in a three-way committee with Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. Fighting his way to 101 targets, Kamara caught 82 passes and led the position with 826 receiving yards, the highest rookie total this century.
Cort Smith’s Bold Predictions: Barkley Breaks the Rookie Receiving Record
Many have justifiably questioned the sustainability of Kamara’s ridiculous rookie efficiency, but enthusiasts are willing to bet on talent and assume the volume increase will more than offset the decline. With Ingram suspended to start 2018, Kamara’s ADP continues to rise, and he now frequently goes off the board ahead of David Johnson. But this current price takes Kamara out of play for many owners. And once an owner has selected Kamara in the first five picks, good luck landing him in trade. Fortunately, there’s an even better option for late drafts and early trades.
The Elite Hybrid Profile
In order to own a league-winner in 2018, you need a runner with a hybrid profile. You want your RB at or near double-digit expected points in both facets. To help demonstrate this, we can look at the top-10 players in EP since 2000.1
Every player from this list averaged at least 7.0 reEP. Six of them were in double-digits in both categories, including recent campaigns from Johnson (2016) and Bell (2016, 2017). This helps explain why many analysts still have Bell atop their rankings, despite Gurley’s big year and Bell’s holdout.
We can also see the importance of efficiency in terms of how a season actually turns out. Marshall Faulk finishes No. 1 and No. 3 in Total EP with 24.5 in 2000 and 23.6 in 2001, while Edgerrin James came in at No. 2 and No. 4. Unfortunately for James owners, his actual fantasy results trailed Faulk by almost 10 points per game. While Faulk outperformed expectation by an average of more than seven points, James came in under by more than 2.5.
We saw the value of efficiency with Gurley and Kamara in 2017, and while we want to be skeptical of efficiency, we also want to buy star players in potentially explosive offenses.
LaDainian Tomlinson’s efficiency numbers didn’t usually match the 2006 season where he scored 30.2 PPG, but his production/athleticism profile argued for it in his range of outcomes. Priest Holmes was an almost unstoppable force in Dick Vermeil’s offense before injuries derailed his career.
The Kamara-Plus Back?
It’s easy to look at rookies who earn meaningful workloads and then evaluate them through the same lens as veterans. And that’s a mistake. We know from Blair Andrews’ excellent series, The Wrong Read, that Year 2 is the only season where we should expect production to improve.
This is relevant to Alvin Kamara and his slightly less expensive simulacrum.
Frequent readers probably already knew Christian McCaffrey was my target, but it’s worth noting that his total EP was higher than Kamara’s (14.6 to 13.3). But more than that, it’s not much of a stretch to project the ruEP for both players to jump into the 8.0-plus area. We have an Ingram suspension for Kamara and an entire offseason of rhetoric – backed up, to the extent it can be, by preseason usage – for McCaffrey.
And nothing about that would be surprising based on these players’ profiles.
Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy are the two closest comps for McCaffrey, and the usage over their first two seasons is instructive.
Rice watched as Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee combined for over 400 carries during his rookie year. They returned the following year, but Rice out-carried them 254 to 155. McCoy garnered 55 targets as a rookie compared to only 155 carries, before seeing both numbers jump after Brian Westbrook departed.
Although the rush/receive splits for Rice and McCoy didn’t reach the extremes we saw with Kamara and McCaffrey, they both led their respective RB depth charts in targets, while failing to impress as runners. Instead of slipping to space-back status, they both grew their rush and receive expectations considerably in Year 2.2
Kamara and McCaffrey begin their second seasons in even better position. Far from needing to improve their receiving numbers, the duo will hope to maintain what was already elite receiving volume. In fact, instead of being concerned about a lack of rushing touches, owners should probably hope the game plans in New Orleans and Carolina don’t shift too much of the work to the lower-value attempts.
And again, while we want to be conservative when looking at efficiency, any bump puts McCaffrey into elite territory. Rice and McCoy both increased their points over expectation by more than 3.0 from Year 1 to Year 2. A similar improvement from McCaffrey would already put him over the 17.0 PPG level.
Making the Trade
Kamara and McCaffrey offer slightly different enticements. Kamara’s upside is off the charts in the Saints high-powered juggernaut. By contrast, the lack of an Ingram-like player gives McCaffrey the better chance at a large increase in volume. Both players will see their efficiency numbers bounce around going forward. It’s possible Kamara could have seasons like James’ 2003 or Gurley’s 2016. It’s possible McCaffrey could some day post a season like Faulk’s 2000.3 Most of the time, the outcomes will be somewhere in the middle.
It’s unlikely we’ll see a return to the halcyon days of Peak Tomlinson, Peak Faulk, Peak Holmes, but a few years ago folks would have scoffed at the numbers Bell, Johnson, and Gurley have posted in the interim. Keep adding Kamara and McCaffrey to your rosters, and if you can’t get Kamara, don’t hesitate to make the move for McCaffrey instead.
For a compelling counterpoint to my thesis, be sure to read Mark Wemken on Why You Should Avoid Kamara and McCaffrey and Target These Cheaper Players.
- Sorted by ruEP here, and we’ll go into total EP below the graphic. (back)
- The two players improved from the single digits in EP to 16-plus. (back)
- The Panthers are a train wreck on the offensive line but could be very difficult to stop with the influx of WR talent and Cam Newton as a dual threat. (back)