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Saints pick Alvin Kamara, one of college football’s most underrated, and underused players

The Tennessee running back will face more competition to get on the field, but don’t bet against him.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Alvin Kamara was often overlooked during his college career, whether it was at Alabama or Tennessee, but found a way to make an impact when given an opportunity. The versatile tailback stepped out of the shadows and into the big time when the New Orleans made him the 67th pick of the 2017 NFL draft after trading up to acquire the selection.

Kamara never saw the field for the Crimson Tide and spent most of his time with the Volunteers in a complementary role to Jalen Hurd, but made the most of his opportunities to emerge as a dynamic scoring threat in the SEC.

The shifty back scored 23 touchdowns on just 284 touches at Tennessee, an excellent eight percent touchdown rate. For comparison’s sake, Hurd — the man who held down UT’s top spot before leaving the program midway through last season — scored on approximately 3.8 percent of his plays.

Kamara will finally get his chance to shine on Sundays.

The Georgia native was always expected to make it to the NFL, but his path was twisted. He was an elite high school prospect when he signed to play for Alabama, but a knee injury forced him to redshirt his freshman season.

Eclipsed on the depth chart by standouts like Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, coupled with a suspension for “behavior reasons” and an arrest for driving with a suspended license, he transferred to Hutchinson Community College. One man-among-boys season in Kansas made him a five-star junior college recruit Tennessee was happy to pick up.

The Volunteers offered the same problem the Crimson Tide did, albeit on a smaller scale: Kamara was stuck behind Hurd on the depth chart. Fortunately, the Vols found a way to work the more versatile transfer into the game plan more and more. While he averaged fewer than nine carries per game in his FBS career, he also caught more than three passes per contest. The smaller Kamara was the lightning to Hurd’s thunder out of the backfield.

He’s earned everything he’s gotten, especially respect. Former UT linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin was asked who the toughest player he faced in college was, and he said Kamara.

What makes Alvin Kamara worthy of a high draft pick?

Kamara believes he’s worthy of a premier draft slot, but he’s determined to make his career work no matter where he’s selected. The shifty tailback has the acceleration and hip movement to make defenders whiff on big plays; he could find a way to break tackles in a phone booth. Despite his relatively small size, he runs through arm tackles and can drag linebackers forward for large gains. He’s got a nose for the end zone that can’t be taught.

As a receiver, he’s more than just a safety valve out of the backfield. He’s intuitive when his quarterback is in trouble, and works well to cut back to the ball and turn nothing into something. He’s a constant wheel-route threat; matching him up against a linebacker is asking for trouble. Get him a screen pass in space, and then watch opposing defenses unravel.

What are his weaknesses?

Kamara’s penchant for big runs would be even bigger if he could find a way to make safeties and defensive backs miss. While he’s dynamite near the line of scrimmage and in traffic, he made too many mistakes that cut 30-yard runs down to eight-yard gains at Tennessee.

While he’s improving as a blocker, he’s a small-ish back (214 pounds) who can get overrun in blitz protection. With a knee injury in his past and a limited workload in college, it’s tough to gauge what exactly his ceiling is in the NFL. He has the skills of an every-down feature back, but hasn’t played that role since junior college.