Alvin Kamara enters Week 13 as the favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year as he piles up yards and leaves would-be tacklers in his wake.
The New Orleans Saints running back is averaging a ridiculous 8.4 yards per touch and 1,094 scrimmage yards on 131 touches. Kamara is the only player in the last 25 seasons to average over 8 yards per touch on 130-plus touches, per NFL research. The next closest is former Saints running back Darren Sproles with 7.6 yards per in 2011.
Kamara became the first player since Herschel Walker (in 1986) to have 500-plus rushing yards and 500-plus receiving yards in his first 11 NFL games -- Kamara and Walker are only players to do so since 1970 merger.
Herschel freaking Walker; that's where Kamara is at right now.
Heading into Sunday's pivotal division matchup between Carolina and New Orleans, Panthers defenders know they must key on Kamara.
"He's very smooth and he makes it look easy. It's effortless for him. It's like he's just gliding. It's not like he's twitchy fast, but he makes guys miss," linebacker Luke Kuechly said per the team's official website.
"I haven't seen a guy like him in a while."
Kamara showed that easy gas in the Week 3 matchup in Carolina, sliding past a Kuechly tackle for his first career TD.
In the first matchup of the season, the Saints were still figuring out their running back rotation. Adrian Peterson had yet to be traded. Kamara touched the ball just five times for 42 yards, but scored that 25-yard TD.
Since then, the rookie has been one of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL. He has at least 11 touches in every tilt since Week 3, and is averaging 13.9 per game in that span. The most inexplicable part of last week's loss was that Sean Payton didn't funnel the offense more through Kamara, who was unstoppable.
"Obviously he's good in space, but his ability to break tackles and make guys miss and bounce off guys is unique," Kuechly said. "The thing I've noticed about him is his ability to use his hand on the ground to keep himself up."
Perhaps Kuechly is talking about this TD reception:
Added Panthers safety Kurt Coleman: "He'll take a hit and he kind of goes limp to a side but he keeps his balance with the other half of his body. It's crazy cause guys kind of fall off him."
Kamara isn't some sort of one-trick gimmick back either. The Saints line him up in the backfield, slot, or out wide. Payton uses the rookie in the screen game, on wheel routes, and pitches, but he'll also run between the tackles.
Some example to marvel:
The ease with which Kamara dances around, over, and past professional athletes is mind-blowing. He's like the kid on the playground who is so much better than everyone else he can run through the student body without being touched (if Kamara ever pump-fakes 20 yards past the line of scrimmage this comparison will be even more apt).
The most dangerous aspect of Kamara's play is that there is almost no way to load up to slow him down without giving Drew Brees a huge advantage somewhere else on the field. Given his skillset, Kamara can line up in any formation. If the Panthers toss coverage his way or load the box, Brees or Mark Ingram can go off.
The juicy matchup between Kamara and Kuechly, et al., will be the key to deciding who hold the division lead after Sunday.