Trying to tackle Alvin Kamara is an exercise in futility.
The New Orleans Saints rookie is the Houdini of halfbacks, sporting a remarkable ability to escape defenders and extend plays. Pro Football Focus currently ranks Kamara as the league’s most elusive running back, a stat which measures “a runner’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers.” That elite elusiveness is a huge reason why Kamara currently ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,220 yards from scrimmage (606 rushing yards and 614 receiving yards). Despite being a third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, he’s become the leading candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
What exactly makes Kamara so devilishly difficult to tackle? His measurables don’t provide a clear answer. At 5-foot-10 and 215 pounds, Kamara possesses average size for the position. He’s not a blazer, either, as his 4.56 40-Yard Dash at the 2017 NFL Combine was decidedly mediocre. Sheer brute strength likely isn’t the answer, as his 15 Bench Press reps at the Combine were among the lowest at his position. The real secret to Kamara’s incredible tackle-breaking ability is his spectacular balance, a trait that’s notoriously difficult to quantify.
Look at how he’s able to absorb this bone-rattling hit from Shaq Thompson, a linebacker who has a good 15 pounds on him, and still fall forward:
Kamara’s highlights from this season are littered with examples of plays like this, as his extraordinary balance and body control make him the football equivalent of an armored vehicle. Defenders frequently think they have him dead to rights only to see Kamara shake off contact and continue his relentless assault downfield. Saints quarterback Drew Brees believes Kamara’s ability to keep both feet on the ground when he’s absorbing contact is a huge asset.
“(His) feet are always on the ground,” Brees told ESPN. “That’s a rare talent. That’s how you break tackles. Because you’re using the ground as extra force to shed guys…there’s guys like that around the league, certain guys that you just say, ‘What makes that guy so good?’ Or so good (running) after the catch or breaking tackles or what have you. And a lot of times it’s guys that keep their feet on the ground.”
Brees raises an excellent point about how keeping contact with the ground allows Kamara to better leverage his core strength and body control to produce the “extra force” needed to shed would-be tacklers. “I think the way his feet are on the ground and the way he cuts is pretty unique,” says Saints head coach Sean Payton of Kamara.
ESPN analyst Matt Bowen talked about Kamara’s impressive elusiveness in a recent article. “Breaking tackles isn’t always about power and size. That’s old-school talk. It’s about balance and functional ability as an athlete. That’s what you see with Kamara,” Bowen said. “(His) core strength and lower-body strength is amazing. Also (his) footwork. (He) can slip tackles. You don’t want your running back running headfirst into guys 20 times a game.”
While Kamara isn’t the biggest or fastest back in the league, he’s proving that superior balance and body control can work wonders. Not only does having that good base help him break more tackles, but it also allows him to deploy lethal jump cuts at a moment’s notice. As Kamara’s star continues to rise, we hope to learn more about how he developed such a uniquely effective running style.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Bachman/Getty