The Saints have been pretty rudderless since Drew Brees' retirement, but they're hoping Derek Carr can at least provide a direction. That direction might be toward 9-8, but in the NFC South, that might be enough to get them back to the playoffs for the first time without Brees since 2000. They'll have to do that without Alvin Kamara until Week 4, however, as he was suspended for the first three games of the season.
Record: 7-10 (20)
PPG: 19.4 (22)
YPG: 333.8 (19)
Pass YPG: 217.2 (16)
Rush YPG: 116.6 (19)
PAPG: 30.1 (26)
RAPG: 27.4 (14)
2022 Fantasy finishes
Number to know: 14%
That was Kamara's target share from Week 9 on. And, while that's a significant decrease over the 20.8% target share he had in his first six games (while missing two with injuries), it was still the fifth-highest mark in the league from Weeks 9 through 18. It was frustrating at the time, and I think indicated that the team might not be happy with Kamara despite the fact that he has remained a productive pass-catcher. But it was still a healthy enough role, dragged down by the fact that only two teams passed less often than the Saints last season.
There are plenty of questions about Kamara's short and long-term role with the Saints, especially after his three-game suspension that comes after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor breach of peace charge for his part in a fight in 2022. But, if the addition of Carr indicates a willingness to put the ball in the air more often than last season, that certainly could benefit Kamara, even if he never gets back to being a 20% target share guy. Kamara's chances of ever being a top-five RB again seem pretty slim, but he could still be well worth starting, and he's being drafted as RB31 right now. That feels like a pretty good price, and it might even go lower with the suspension locked in.
88 RB carries, 24 RB targets, 76 WR targets, 2 TE targets
Rankings and Projections
Chris Towers' projections
|QB||Derek Carr||PA: 557, YD: 4014, TD: 26, INT: 12; RUSH -- ATT: 24, YD: 84, TD: 1|
|RB||Alvin Kamara||CAR: 159, YD: 636, TD: 4; TAR: 67, REC: 50, YD: 427, TD: 3|
|RB||Jamaal Williams||CAR: 159, YD: 637, TD: 5; TAR: 28, REC: 20, YD: 156, TD: 1|
|RB||Kendre Miller||CAR: 58, YD: 249, TD: 2; TAR: 28, REC: 22, YD: 178, TD: 1|
|WR||Chris Olave||TAR: 139, REC: 86, YD: 1167, TD: 7|
|WR||Michael Thomas||TAR: 117, REC: 78, YD: 839, TD: 5|
|WR||Rashid Shaheed||TAR: 45, REC: 29, YD: 406, TD: 2|
|TE||Juwan Johnson||TAR: 95, REC: 60, YD: 678, TD: 4|
|TE||Taysom Hill||TAR: 17, REC: 11, YD: 96, TD: 1; RUSH -- CAR: 96, YD: 482, TD: 5|
What does Kamara's role look like?
I've been expecting a 2-4 game suspension for Kamara since the early offseason, and it ended up landing at three, so this news didn't really change my expectations for him. I have him projected for 11.3 carries and a 14% target share for the 14 games he's active for, both of which would be his lowest marks since his rookie season at least. Despite that, he comes out to RB17 in points per game for me, and I'll grant that might be underselling him -- he averaged 14.9 carries and an 18% target share last season, after all. Rookie Kendre Miller has some potential to emerge as a significant contributor, but he also missed a lot of offseason workouts with an injury, so he may be behind schedule. If he can't establish himself as a difference maker while Kamara is out, Kamara could have a clear runway to be a solid RB2.
One sleeper, one breakout and one bust
Miller has the size we're looking for in a three-down back, and he showed some pass-catching chops in college, albeit on a somewhat limited basis. He probably isn't going to be a one-for-one replacement for Kamara or anything. But if you're looking to chase upside with Kamara out, Miller feels like a better bet than Williams. Miller is recovering from meniscus surgery, and we'd like to see him get some action in preseason games. If not, I'll pivot to Williams, who isn't explosive at all but has at least been used in a three-down capacity before in the NFL.
Olave is one of the free squares on the breakouts bingo card for this season, along with fellow second-year wide receiver Garrett Wilson. In some ways, he was just as impressive as Wilson as a rookie, emerging as one of just four players over the past four seasons with a target per route run rate of at least 25% and an average depth of target of at least 14 yards down the field. That matters because downfield targets are very valuable, but tend to be relatively infrequent, so showing the ability to earn targets at a high rate despite a downfield-oriented route tree typically means you are a very good player. Olave has to prove he can do it with a different quarterback, but if the aggression the Saints showed in targeting and acquiring Carr even before the rest of the market was in place could be a tell that they plan to be more aggressive throwing the ball. If Olave replicates his per-route efficiency in a high-volume offense, he could be an absolute star.
I've made the case for Kamara here a few times, but there's significant downside risk that's worth mentioning. The Saints don't have as easy an out on Kamara's contract next season as you might think (cutting him would only save about $2 million on the 2024 cap unless he's designated a post-June 1 cut), but given his shifting usage the past couple of seasons, it certainly doesn't feel like they view him as the same kind of focal point he was earlier in his career. We're seeing teams around the league devalue the running back position, and Kamara no longer looks like so much of an outlier as a playmaker that paying him top-of-the-market money makes a ton of sense. With two new backs added to the mix this offseason, there's at least a chance they more or less phase Kamara out in preparation for a release in the offseason. And that's especially true if the team gets off to a fast start without him in those first three games. I think he'll still have a healthy role, but we have to acknowledge the possibility that the Saints just don't view him as that guy anymore.