RSP Boiler Room No.83: RB Alvin Kamara (Tennessee), Fine Points of Decision-Making

Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio examines Running Back Alvin Kamara's on field ability for the 2017 NFL Draft

Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio examines Running Back Alvin Kamara's on field ability for the 2017 NFL Draft

I admire the construction of the Kamara Train, but until he learns to build a smarter railway, I’m content with getting my ticket at a later date. 

There’s a lot of love for Alvin Kamara among the draftnik community. Don’t include me.

I like Kamara. He’s a dynamic space player who can do some good work between the tackles. But in a rich class of runners, you won’t see him in my top 5 list of backs.

It’s unlikely he’ll be in my top 10. And unless I see overwhelming evidence of better ball security and decision-making—which is doubtful—he won’t be in my top 15-20.

It doesn’t make Kamara a bad player. I have a process that differs from the NFL’s system of round grades. While I’m critical of that system for compelling reasons as a former operations guy,  there is validity to giving more weight to a player’s projected improvement than his current portfolio of work.

I project player development within my process, but there are limits to how much weight I’m willing to give. If Kamara improves his ball security, I would easily place him inside my top 15-20 and (if) when he matures as a decision-maker,  he could score within my top 8-12 backs.

This week’s Boiler Room examines three plays where his choices hurt his team and will continue to hurt them until he matures.

For analysis of skill players in the 2017 draft class, pre-order a login for the 2017 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – for April 1 download  Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2017 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

10 responses to “RSP Boiler Room No.83: RB Alvin Kamara (Tennessee), Fine Points of Decision-Making”

  1. I never heard of Matt Waldman, compared to other known draft analysts. Who are the 15 running backs that he would rank ahead of Kamara?

    • I’m the same guy who thought LeVeon Bell’s quickness would translate to the NFL, who thought Bishop Sankey and Knile Davis were not NFL-caliber starters, and at the same time, raved about Spencer Ware’s ability to become a valuable contributor in the NFL as a running back while at LSU. I have my share of misses like everyone, but that’s a little bit about my work that you’ll find around here if you care to take a look around. Enjoy.


  2. I believe that last run was the worst of his career. Complete mental lapse. He must have paniced and for a moment forgot it was fourth down and just tried to get out of bounds. But to say there are 15 to 20 guys ahead of him seems a reach. He has ELITE speed and acceleration but maybe didn’t see the field enough over his career to correct such a simple mistake. I believe that mistake in such a critical moment is a great lesson scouts would rather him learn in college than in the pros. But in the end all of the things you point out CAN be corrected. Much of the praise he recieves involves the things that cannot be coached. Much of the Butch Jones staff, as well as Dobbs has praised his coachability so you have to give credit there as well.

    • Michael, no sane human being judges a player on the basis of one play. This is an extreme example of smaller decision-making issues that show up in his decision-making consistently. Coachability and conceptual understanding of pro level concepts are two different things. C.J. Prosise was coachable, but he didn’t understand between the tackles concepts at a level that would make him a criticism-proof prospect. Prosise actually saw my video breakdown of these issues of is game and his camp reached out to me to recommend an RB coach to work wit him pre-draft and pre-training camp. I connected him with Chad Spann. So understand that being coachable is good, but acquiring the knowledge beyond what most college coaching staffs offer is important, too. Kamara either already realizes or will soon realize that elite speed and acceleration don’t mean much without good decision-making and an understanding of how to run between the tackles based on the variety of blocking schemes used in the league. If he does and cares, he’ll work at it and improve. If he doesn’t…. C.J. Spiller, Laurence Maroney, and Chris Henry are all examples of players with elite speed and acceleration that could not get it done in the league because they didn’t advance beyond physical tools that their peers in the NFL also have. I appreciate the fact that you’re a big Tennessee fan and I hope you give the show another listen and appreciate the facts of what I stated about the potential to improve and where he would be IF he acquires the skills beyond the athletic ability to become a good player. Appreciate your opinion even if we disagree about ranking. Just food for thought: I’ve studied multiple games of 47 RBs thus far with a defined system that has been refined over the course of 12 years. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be right about Kamara–and I’d like to see him develop to his physical potential–but there’s a lot more that goes into studying backs than athletic ability.

  3. Hi Matt, first time visitor to your site. Based on your analysis of Kamara pre-season compared to how he’s performing now, what do you think has changed? Did he become a smarter runner over the first half of the season? Is he getting lucky?

    • Welcome.

      Since a lot of my work on this site is part of my process towards the final analysis I deliver for the RSP publications in April and May, you probably haven’t seen that Kamara was one of my top “scheme fit” choices in that publication. The Saints were a great fit for him because the team didn’t need to rely on him to be a great decision-maker between the tackles.

      The two issues Kamara had at UT were correctable: ball security and decision-making between the tackles. Kamara greatly improved his ball security, consistently running with the ball high and tight with little space between his elbow and frame. He’s also demonstrated much greater maturity between the tackles. He’s not bouncing runs outside when he has a good crease developing inside. In addition, he’s demonstrating much greater maturity sticking with the design of the play and anticipating openings.

      This type of decision-making maturation is difficult to predict. It took Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy a year in the NFL to curb their bad decisions. C.J. Spiller and Laurence Maroney never changed. Bishop Sankey struggled as well.

      To sum up my answer: Kamara worked at his flaws, corrected them, and landed in a situation with a fine o-line and terrific QB who can provide support with good calls at the line. If he earned 500-700 yards from scrimmage this year, he would have met my expectations. He’s exceeded them.

      In my RSP publication, I often write about these ranges of outcomes (not statistically, but nuts-and-bolts cause and effect) with players because rankings are customer-desired content, but fit and development potential with specific issues are important factors. It’s more important for me to tell you that David Johnson had All-Pro potential and would be a perfect fit in the Cardinals gap scheme (which I wrote, and he was) than ranking him as a top-10 prospect (which I didn’t).

      These details help folks get a feel for the player and understand his range and potential better than a number next to his name. Hope that helps and thanks for dropping by.

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