A week ago, I predicted Russell Wilson would win this year’s Most Valuable Player award. After this past weekend’s games, though, I would like to rescind my initial midseason pick and replace it with New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara.
Yes, Wilson and other quarterbacks — namely, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers — deserve to be in the conversation for the honor, but I believe it’s about time we took a long look at a different position when it comes to MVP chatter. The last non-quarterback to win the award was Adrian Peterson back in 2012, but Kamara should have a real shot to claim the prize this season.
After agreeing to a five-year, $75 million contract extension in September, Kamara has proven to be worth every penny as the Saints (7-2) have ridden their star running back to the top of the NFC South. The fourth-year running back has thrived as the focal point of Sean Payton’s offense, propelling a team that was without 2019 Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas for five games. Heading into Week 11, Kamara leads the team in carries (104), rush yards (486), rush TDs (seven), targets (80), receptions (67) and receiving yards (648). He’s also tied with Jared Cook for the team lead in TD receptions with four. Kamara is on pace to become the first player in NFL history to post 800-plus yards rushing and 1,100-plus yards receiving in a single season. I think it’s fair to say the Saints would be nowhere near seven wins without Kamara.
Payton has maximized Kamara’s versatile skill set by taking advantage of his abilities as a pass catcher. He’s been targeted on 36.9 percent of his routes this season (most in the NFL) and has been highly effective on short routes, such as screens, slants and outs. Getting Kamara the ball in space has been critical to New Orleans’ success as he leads the NFL in yards after the catch with 657 — 255 yards more than the next-closest player, Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin.
It appears Kamara and the Saints are about to face their greatest test of the season, with Drew Brees likely to miss at least two weeks due to injury, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. The RB1 continued to make an impact with Brees sidelined in the second half of Sunday’s win over the 49ers (a three-TD day for Kamara), but he must show out whether it’s Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill under center if Brees can’t go.
I don’t see any reason to adjust Kamara’s usage despite the potential changes at the quarterback position, though. This just gives him another opportunity to show the league what he can do when the offense isn’t at full strength. With a pair of games against Atlanta sandwiching a road game in Denver up next on the schedule, I predict a lot more folks will be viewing Kamara as the MVP front-runner when we reach the final quarter of the regular season.
Top 10 Running Backs
Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 10 each week of the 2020 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 11.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
2020 stats: 9 games | 104 att | 486 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 67 rec | 648 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
With a trio of touchdowns in the Saints’ win over the 49ers, Kamara now has four career games with at least three scores. As mentioned above, he is the league’s MVP RIGHT NOW. I don’t care how Payton wants to do it, just give Kamara the ball.
2020 stats: 8 games | 174 att | 954 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 12 rush TDs | 20 rec | 189 rec yds | 1 rec TD
The Bears’ defense has been great over the last two weeks in holding Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook under their per game averages. Cook had 19 carries for 39 rush yards (2.1 yards per carry) through three quarters of Monday night’s game, but got going in the fourth quarter with 57 rush yards on 11 carries (5.2 ypc) to help Minnesota close out its third straight victory.
2020 stats: 9 games | 201 att | 946 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 11 rec | 87 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Like I mentioned in this space last week, Henry was poised for a 100-yard rushing performance against the Colts in Week 10, following the pattern he’s set of reaching the mark every other week. But that means he’s due to be held to less than 100 yards on Sunday. The Titans have a big matchup in Week 11 with the Baltimore Ravens, a team Tennessee knocked out of the playoffs last season, and the team needs Henry to break his recent trend if it wants to get back on track.
2020 stats: 9 games | 182 att | 700 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 23 rec | 149 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
With a 136-yard, two-TD outing in the Raiders’ win over the Broncos, Josh Jacobs has now surpassed his rushing touchdown total from his rookie campaign. The Raiders are riding high heading into a rematch with Kansas City in Week 11, and they’d be wise to lean on a rushing attack that has averaged 158.4 yards per game in their last five outings, posting a record of 4-1 in that span.
2020 stats: 9 games | 155 att | 689 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 29 rec | 228 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
The undrafted rookie did exactly what he needed to do to give the Jaguars a chance against the Green Bay Packers, racking up 109 yards on 23 carries for his fifth game with 100-plus scrimmage yards. The top-performing running back in a deep draft class, James Robinson doesn’t get the credit he deserves due to his team’s overall struggles.
2020 stats: 9 games | 126 att | 586 rush yds | 4.65 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 28 rec | 224 rec yds | 1 rec TD
The Chiefs have had this Week 11 game vs. the Raiders circled on the calendar since losing to the division foe in Week 5. The Raiders held Kansas City to just 80 rush yards (CEH had 40 yards on 10 carries) in that game. That must improve if the Chiefs want a different result this time around.
2020 stats: 9 games | 159 att | 584 rush yds | 3.67 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 15 rec | 79 rec yds | 0 rec TD
I’m looking forward to seeing what Todd Gurley can do against the Saints’ No. 2-ranked rushing defense fresh off the bye week. I expect the Falcons to ride their passing attack down the field then lean on Gurley in the red zone, just like they’ve done all season long.
2020 stats: 9 games | 134 att | 633 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 21 rec | 1141 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
In Nick Chubb’s first game since Week 4, the Browns dominated the Houston Texans on the ground with 231 rush yards. Both Chubb and Kareem Hunt logged 100-yard rushing games (Hunt’s first since joining Cleveland in 2019). Although Chubb averages an outstanding 92.2 rush yards per game, Hunt stays on the list this week after a big performance mainly because he’s been available all season. Look for Chubb to enter the ranks after another notable performance, which feels inevitable this week with the Browns hosting the Philadelphia Eagles (No. 26 in run defense) on Sunday.
2020 stats: 10 games | 143 att | 730 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 26 rec | 124 rec yds | 0 rec TD
No matter how explosive the Bucs’ aerial attack is, I believe a Ronald Jones-led ground game is the key to the offense’s success. He’s had some fumbling issues of late, including one he lost on the Bucs’ second offensive play from scrimmage on Sunday, but I was happy to see the Bucs stick with him after the mistake. After the fumble, Jones had 22 carries for 191 yards, highlighted by a 98-yard touchdown run in the third quarter (the longest run in franchise history) to blow the game open.
2020 stats: 7 games | 103 att | 493 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 28 rec | 231 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Aaron Jones hasn’t quite been the same player since returning from his calf injury. Before the injury (Weeks 1-4), Jones averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 127.3 scrimmage yards per game. In three games since returning from the injury, he has averaged 3.1 yards per carry and 71.7 scrimmage yards per game. We’ll see if this trend continues or if Jones can flip the narrative on Sunday when the Packers face the Colts’ top-ranked defense.
DROPPED OUT: Christian McCaffrey, Panthers (previously No. 10).
The Ground Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Ground NFL Players of the Week andcast your vote after Sunday Night Football.
Follow Maurice Jones-Drew on Twitter @MJD.
Source: Read Full Article