NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JANUARY 20: Alvin Kamara #41 of the New Orleans Saints looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 20, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

The initial wave of free agency is officially in the books, and nobody’s fantasy stock rose higher than New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Kamara entered the league back in 2017 and immediately established himself as one of the best dual-threat running backs in football. He’s been fantastic from a fantasy perspective in each of his first two seasons, but the presence of fellow running back Mark Ingram slightly limited his fantasy value. However, with Ingram now in Baltimore, Alvin Kamara is now in line to be a top-three fantasy football running back in 2019.

Everyone knows how good Alvin Kamara is, so let’s not waste too much time on that. The Tennessee product is a fantastic weapon and proved his worth while splitting time with Mark Ingram. These two players complemented each other perfectly and formed one of the best running back duos in football. Ingram wasn’t as good as Kamara, but his hard-nosed running style justified a sizable role in the Saints rushing attack.

While searching for a bigger payday, Mark Ingram increased his own fantasy value by signing with the Baltimore Ravens. To counter his absence, the Saints brought in former Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray to serve as Kamara’s backfield partner.

From a pure personnel standpoint, Murray is a significant downgrade from Mark Ingram. Splitting time with Dalvin Cook in 2018, Murray recorded 578 rushing yards and six touchdowns for just 4.1 yards-per-carry. Granted, some of this lowly production was due to running behind an objectively terrible offensive line. However, Murray hasn’t recorded more than 4.1 yards-per-carry since 2014 and offers no value in the passing game.

Alvin Kamara is a significantly better player and should see the majority of the playing time. Drew Brees will be back for at least one more season, and New Orleans will try to make life as easy as possible for their 40-year old passer. Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in football but cannot singlehandedly carry a team for a full 16-game season anymore. The best way to alleviate Brees’ workload is by turning to the running game and incorporating short, quick passes into the passing game. Kamara thrives at both aspects and should be the offensive focal point in 2019.

Kamara’s Increased Usage

The Saints will want to run the ball, and they’ll want to do it with Kamara. Nobody denies that Kamara is better than Murray, but some may worry that New Orleans will use Murray just as much as they used Ingram. Murray will see some snaps, but Kamara’s role should be larger than ever in 2019.

Kamara is entering his third year in the league and is in the prime of his career. The Saints know this, as they’ve steadily increased his role in the offense. As a rookie, Kamara started just three games and played in 45% of the offensive snaps. In 2018, Kamara started 13 games and played in 62% of the offensive snaps. That percentage is somewhat inflated by Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension, but New Orleans continued Kamara’s heavy usage even when Ingram returned to the lineup. Kamara only had two games where he played in less than 50% of the offensive snaps, and both games were absolute blowouts. Any time the game mattered, Kamara was heavily featured in the offense.

Kamara’s heavy usage should continue to grow in 2019. Ingram was good enough to force his way onto the field, although Kamara still saw the majority of the work. Latavius Murray isn’t as good as Ingram, and in theory, Kamara will be even better in 2019. On an offense featuring Drew Brees and Michael Thomas, there is a very real chance that Alvin Kamara is the best skill position player on the team. Head coach Sean Payton is too smart to keep a player as good as Kamara off the field, especially with their championship window closing fast.

What Happened Last Year

Fortunately, we already have an idea of what the Saints backfield looks like without Mark Ingram. The longtime Saint missed the first four games due to suspension, and Alvin Kamara took full control of the backfield. During those four games, Kamara recorded 275 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 56 carries. Additionally, Kamara added 35 receptions for 336 yards and one touchdown in the passing game. Going by standard fantasy scoring, Kamara put up a ridiculous 103.1 fantasy points over the first month of the season.

Obviously, it’s absurd to expect Kamara to do that over the course of a full 16-game season. Part of the reason Kamara saw that large of a workload is because his backup was Mike Gillislee. Latavius Murray may not be a worldbeater, but he’s significantly better than Gillislee. Expecting Kamara to play up that level over the course of the 2019 season is asking for disappointment, but Kamara proved he’s capable of being the unquestioned lead guy.

Last Word on Alvin Kamara In Fantasy Football

Alvin Kamara is one of the league’s best playmakers and the Saints will utilize him as much as possible. Kamara should only improve in his third year, and Sean Payton should continue to increase his usage. Additionally, the Saints downgraded their backup by replacing Mark Ingram with Latavius Murray. Ingram was good enough to force his way onto the field, but Murray doesn’t have that same ability. Kamara proved he’s capable of carrying a rushing attack and his opportunities should only increase in 2019.

All in all, it’s hard to think of too many players with higher fantasy ceilings than Alvin Kamara. Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott should still be the first two picks in the draft, especially after the New York Giants shipped away Odell Beckham. However, Kamara has a strong case as the third-best fantasy running back heading into 2019. Outside of Barkley and Elliot, nobody has the same combination of talent and opportunity as Kamara.

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