By Preston W (@FF_Engineer_)
When drafting in fantasy football, it’s critical to know when to be high on a player, or low on a player. This process allows you to become a better drafter across all formats, as you can identify players who are a value based on their average draft position (ADP), as well as fade players based on their ADP. For instance, if you faded D.J. Moore last season while he was being drafted as the WR10, you would’ve successfully done so as he finished as the WR25. If you instead drafted Calvin Ridley at his ADP of WR14, you would’ve reaped the rewards as Ridley finished as the WR5 on the season. Knowing who to be high on, and who to fade, can be the difference in a RB1 and a RB2, or a WR2 and WR3. It’s the most crucial part of winning your league’s draft.
One player worth the in depth analysis on is Alvin Kamara. Kamara is consistently being taken within the first five picks in drafts, meaning he is costing significant draft capital, so much so that we can’t afford to be wrong on this selection. More importantly, Kamara is going to experience a shift this coming season, with Drew Brees retiring. As of now, Kamara’s options at quarterback are Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. So let’s take a look at how these two might fair out.
What has history shown us?
It may seem odd to a general football fan, but we in the fantasy community actually judge running backs by how solid of receivers they are. And that’s because most of us play in formats where players are rewarded for how many passes they catch. Since entering the league in 2017, Kamara has been extremely consistent in the passing game. In fact, Kamara consistently caught 81 balls in each of his first three seasons, until he surpassed that number last season with 83 receptions.
Alvin Kamara Receiving by Season
|Season||Total Targets||Targets/Game||Total Receptions||Receptions/Game|
I included these per game metrics because it’s useful when analyzing a player like Kamara, who has missed a couple of games over the past few seasons. Over his four years in the league, he’s played 16 games, 15 games, 14 games, and 15 games. Throughout those years, he’s experienced quite a bit of utilization in the passing game, averaging 6.8 targets per game and 5.4 receptions per game across his career.
So why does this matter? For starters, throughout Kamara’s career, he’s averaged 21.6 fantasy points per game (FPPG). If he’s averaging 5.4 receptions per game, that means 5.4 points of those 21.6 FPPG are from him simply catching passes. That’s right, 25% of Kamara’s points are just from him earning one point per reception, and we know Kamara is a highly elusive runner, capable of racking up receiving yards too.
What I’m trying to get at here is that much of Kamara’s fantasy success is derived from his usage in the passing game. The reason I’m focusing on this is because for a majority of his career, Drew Brees was throwing him the ball. In the year 2021, it’s either going to be Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston, and either of those players will have an impact on Kamara. So let’s look at some trends.
Alvin Kamara’s Game Splits with and without Drew Brees
|Career with Brees||Career without Brees|
Well for starters, Kamara’s target share is depleted by about 27% when Drew Brees isn’t his quarterback. Additionally, he’s catching approximately 30% less passes without Brees, which is identical to his 30% decrease in FPPG. There’s obviously a trend occurring between Kamara’s passing game production and Brees being the quarterback. This also directly affects Kamara’s fantasy football production due to how much his points are dependent upon his usage in the passing game. But let’s take a look at how his production fairs with one of his possible quarterbacks for this season: Taysom Hill.
Alvin Kamara with Drew Brees vs. Taysom Hill
|Career with Brees||Career with Hill|
It’s obvious that Kamara’s production regressed even more with Taysom Hill. I guess Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t the worst thing for Kamara. And Kamara managers felt this pain directly last season during those four games Brees missed. It was very clear that Kamara’s fantasy production took a turn for the worst under Hill. Nonetheless, it’s important to acknowledge how serious this is. There’s a 50% chance Taysom Hill is the starting quarterback next year, and that is not a good thing for Kamara. Let’s take a look at how Kamara finished the 2020 season, compared to Kamara’s season long pace with only Taysom Hill.
Alvin Kamara’s 2020 Season Pace with Taysom Hill
|2020 Season||Taysom Hill Pace|
|Total Points Finish||RB1||RB10|
By Kamara only scoring 14.2 FPPG, he would’ve finished as the RB9 on a points per game basis, as opposed to his season average of 25.2 FPPG, where he did finish as the RB2 in terms of points per game. Meanwhile, Kamara’s season long pace with Hill (in this case I only did so for 15 games because that’s how many Kamara played), would’ve dropped him from the RB1 on the season to the RB10. That’s not good.
But what if Jameis Winston is the starter? Unfortunately, Winston only attempted 11 passes in his first season with New Orleans, so there’s very limited direct data. But looking at Winston’s career data in terms of involving his running backs into the passing game, Winston falls somewhere between Brees and Hill.
Jameis Winston’s Career Stats When Throwing to Running Backs
It’s important to note, that this data is based upon all of Tampa Bay’s running backs, as opposed to a single lead back. Tampa Bay was in a heavy running back committee during Winston’s tenure, so there’s a sizeable gap in the data. Even in New Orleans though, Latavius Murray this year accounted for 1.7 targets per game, and 1.5 receptions per game. Winston’s career data can be viewed as a potential ceiling for Kamara, but in reality, we can expect Kamara’s numbers to be less than those listed in the table above. Now let’s compare Hill and Winston directly.
Alvin Kamara’s Career vs. Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston Outlooks
|Kamara’s Career||Kamara with Hill||Winston’s Career|
It’s evident either are going to be a downgrade for Kamara, but there’s hope at least. Perhaps Sean Payton installs an offense in which regardless of the quarterback, they are forced to feed Kamara. But history tells us either guy will cause a decline in Kamara’s fantasy production. Even so, there are more ways to go about analyzing this situation besides only focusing on Kamara’s involvement in the passing game. For instance, how many red zone touches will Taysom Hill vulture?
I think it’s clear, Winston is the preferred candidate, for Kamara’s sake, but he’s no Brees. Needless to say, I’m fading Kamara this year. Kamara’s current ADP is 4.3, according to FantasyData, making him the RB4 draft wise. With the decline in his passing game utilization we can expect this season, I would be bumping Kamara down to somewhere around the RB7 to RB10 range. If Winston is the quarterback, I would put Kamara on the higher end of that range, and alternatively, if Hill is the guy, Kamara will be on the lower end of that range. There’s no doubt about it that Kamara is one of the most talented running backs in the league, but for fantasy purposes he’s going to be a fade this season. I’m not saying I would never draft him, but I certainly wouldn’t pay high end RB1 draft capital for low end RB1 production.