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Vikings Draft Prospect: Alvin Kamara

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NCAA Football: Alabama at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

One draft prospect the Vikings have shown some interest in is Alvin Kamara, RB out of Tennessee. The Vikings met with Kamara during the Combine, and I would not be surprised if he is invited to the Vikings annual Top 30 Draft Prospect event sometime next month. The Vikings have expressed interest in Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine - all guys that could be there when the Vikings pick in the 2nd or 3rd round.

Kamara is 5’10”, 214lbs, and ran a 4.56” 40. He’s got long arms and a 39.5” vertical.

Pro Football Focus put together an analysis of several desirable qualities in a running back, and Kamara compares very favorably in just about every one. Better than Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, for example.

Pro Football Focus

PFF, in their profile of Kamara, points out a couple things that could keep him out of the first round- not as many touches as other backs, a knee injury, and the need to develop some aspects of his game compared to some of the other top RB prospects.

Unlike the other top running backs in the draft class, Kamara doesn’t have nearly as much volume of production due to splitting playing time and a knee injury. When Kamara was given the ball though, he was nothing short of electric. He excels at making defenders miss, both in the open field and in tight spaces. He sets up downfield blocks and sees downfield cutback lanes, and shows the ability to actually make those cuts athletically. He had to deal with a poor offensive line to make the most out of what he had, and was still very productive as a runner. As a receiver, Kamara is excellent after the catch and still stands out in a strong class of receiving running backs. While he isn’t great at pass protection, at the very least he could step in immediately as a receiving back and make a significant contribution, but is also capable of being a No. 1 back right away as long as he can handle the increased workload. - Pro Football Focus

Kamara has been compared as a running-back version of Cordarrelle Patterson, primarily because of his open-field ability, but there are other similarities as well. Both excel as returners as well (Kamara returned punts for the Vols). Both Patterson and Kamara attended Hutchinson Community College en route to Tennessee, and both have easy-going personalities off the field. But in Kamara’s case, he’s had a lot more experience playing in the SEC than Patterson, who was very raw with less than a year playing at the FBS level.

Kamara was a top RB recruit who landed initially with Alabama, but a knee-injury forced him to red shirt there, and then he was suspended for the Sugar Bowl game for “behavioral reasons.” He left Alabama after that, had a traffic arrest en route to Hutchinson Community College, where he played a year before Tennessee, who like with Patterson, was willing to give him a chance.

In his two years at Tennessee, he had 210 carries and 74 receptions. He averaged 6.16 yards-per-carry in that span, and 9.23 yards-per-reception, playing as a backup to Jalen Hurd. Overall, Lance Zierlein at nfl.com sums him up this way:

Ascending, competitive runner who has flashed explosive NFL talent at various times over the last two seasons. A committed runner with excellent balance who finds yardage that isn't blocked for him. While he has never logged 20 carries in a single game, he has the talent to play on all three downs if he can prove his durability. - NFL.com

Kamara is not a power-back that can push back the pile, but he is a back that can accelerate fast through the hole, outrun linebackers to the corner, and create a lot of missed tackles both running and receiving. Some stats and scouting comments that stand out:

  • “Was able to produce behind a bad offensive line that featured below-average run-blocking grades by all nine linemen with at least 30 run-blocking snaps.” - PFF
  • “Frequent visitor to the end zone, averaging one touchdown every 12.3 touches on offense.” But also:
  • “Ball security is a concern with seven fumbles the past two seasons, averaging one fumble every 40.6 offensive touches.” - Dane Brugler, cbssports.com
  • “One of the best running backs after the catch coming out of the backfield in the draft class. Ranked third with 2.4 yards per route run.” - PFF
  • Forced 90 missed tackles on 284 touches over last two years, a strong rate of one every 3.2 touches. - PFF
  • Well-liked inside program and a team leader. - Lance Zierlein, nfl.com

There is some disagreement about his ability as a pass blocker, as PFF noted that’ “he gave up 7 pressures in 93 snaps in pass pro”, while Dane Brugler notes, “Willing and tough in pass protection, but lacks nuance and needs technique work,” while Ryan Wittman at Draftek notes, “shows willingness and talent as a pass blocker.” Lance Zierlein adds, “Improved in pass protection and squares up blitzers.”

I think the differing comments about Kamara’s pass blocking ability can be resolved with the conclusion that he is improving as a pass blocker, has ability in that regard, but still needs to develop it some.

Here are some of Kamara’s highlights at Tennessee:

Overall

Kamara could be a great fit for Pat Shurmur’s offense in Minnesota as a very capable 3-down back who can also line-up as a receiver in the slot as one of the better receiving RBs in the draft. The fact that he was able to average over 6 yards-per-carry with a subpar offensive line in Tennessee and had more limited reps suggests he has some room to grow as a back and with good coaching can become a play-maker out of the backfield in Shurmur’s system.

Drafttek.com has Kamara as the #86 overall prospect in the draft, behind Joe Mixon at #78. That suggests he could possibly be there in the third round, where the Vikings have two picks at #79 and #86.

Tennessee’s pro-day is scheduled for March 31st. Look for the Vikings to be represented among the NFL teams in attendance.