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Could Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara fit the Bengals’ needs?

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Kamara’s hype doesn’t seem to match up with his collegiate experience. So, why is he gaining so much attention as the draft nears? We dig into that and more.

Tennessee v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Before October 2016, very few football fans had heard of Alvin Kamara, the lightly-used backup running back for the Tennessee Volunteers. But now, with one month remaining before the draft, Kamara has some people thinking he could be selected as high as the second round of the NFL Draft.

Kamara is an interesting case in that his draft hype does not match his production. After a year of not playing for the Crimson Tide, he transferred from Alabama and played a year of JUCO, before finally joining Tennessee. He spent both of his seasons with the Volunteers as a backup running back until starter Jalen Hurd abruptly left the team in the middle of the 2016 season, making Kamara the starter. So how could a player who couldn’t even crack his collegiate starting lineup emerge as a second round pick? Let’s take a look at the film to find out.

In this video you see how Kamara can hit the hole with speed. He also side-steps a safety with an easy motion that doesn’t slow him down. That one cut to avoid the safety sets him free for a big gain.

Here, Kamara’s speed is on display, as he is able to quickly emerge through the hole before the defensive backs can get into position to make a stop. Just like in the top video, he is able to make a slight of direction in his running route, which makes a defensive back miss on a tackle, freeing him for a touchdown run.

In this clip, Kamara’s initial running lane is plugged, but he has enough speed to hit the edge and turn the play up field. And while he isn’t a player who is going to bowl over tacklers in front of him, he does run with enough power to pull free from tacklers who try to wrap him up from behind.

What to like:

The things you notice about Kamara, and what the scouts obviously like, are his speed and balance. His speed allows him to crank out long gains, and his balance allows him to redirect mid-run. He isn’t a back and forth zig-zag runner who can fake people out of their shoes, but he does offer a nice change of direction at full speed, which can make would-be tacklers miss.

His running ability was used to return punts in college, averaging 10.9 yards per return in his college career. He comes with very low mileage, only attempting 103 rushes in 2016, following 107 rushing attempts in 2015. He also brings a good receiving resume with 74 receptions in his two seasons at Tennessee and a willingness to block in the passing game.

Weaknesses:

He isn’t going to push a pile as a short yardage back. He also isn’t a three down back, but is big enough to play more often than not. His highlight plays are impressive, but one has to wonder about the lack of usage in college - what did the coaches see every week that kept him from gaining more playing time?

Does he fit with the Bengals?

Kamara makes some sense as a fit for the Bengals, but only if Giovani Bernard’s ACL injury doesn’t allow him to return to being the player he was pre-injury. And of course, the Bengals won’t know that before the draft. Like Bernard, Kamara is is a committee back who can help out in the passing game. He could also reduce Jeremy Hill’s role to exclusively short yardage and goal line carries. He would provide competition as the punt returner, batting incumbent Alex Erickson. If Bernard recovers well from the ACL injury, then the selection of Kamara would seem to make little sense, since Bernard is signed long-term, and neither are big enough to be an inside bruiser, which the Bengals seem to like with Hill. Kamara is largely unproven, but, the potential is there for him to make an impact at the NFL level.