Will Alvin Kamara be a First-Round Draft Pick?

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    Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

    Ever since Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara decided to forego his senior season and declared early for the 2017 NFL Draft shortly after the Vols’ Music City Bowl game, his draft stock has slowly risen. Kamara is now gaining more and more traction as a potential first-round draft pick by several draft analysts.

    Josh Norris of NBC Sports and Rotoworld believes all the hype surrounding Kamara being taken in the first round isn’t far-fetched at all.

    Then Charles Robinson, a senior NFL reporter for Yahoo!, voiced his agreement. Robinson even claimed that Kamara will not only be drafted in the first round, but that he also will be considered one of the best backs in the entire draft.

    For perspective, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook are considered the top two running backs in the 2017 draft class. According to CBS Sports’ prospect rankings as of now, Fournette, Cook, and Christian McCaffrey are the top three running backs in the 2017 class with Kamara listed as No. 4 in the group.

    Then Matt Miller, the lead NFL writer for Bleacher Report, shared his input on Kamara and claimed the former Vol has a legitimate chance of making it into the first round.

    But just how likely is it that Kamara, a player who only touched the ball 284 times on offense in two seasons at Tennessee, will actually be drafted in the first round?

    Most of the buzz around Kamara is based off potential rather than production. Kamara did put up some gaudy numbers at times with the Vols, including breaking the school’s record for most yards from scrimmage in a single game against Texas A&M this season. But those performances were littered among other games where Kamara was woefully underutilized and only touched the ball five or six times a game.

    In Kamara’s 24 games at Tennessee, he had 11 games where he touched the ball 10 or fewer times on offense. Yet he’s still getting first round grades by several analysts. Why is that?

    Because when Kamara actually touched the ball, he showed off some elite athleticism. Kamara also had six games where he totaled 100 or more total yards of offense in his 24 games at Tennessee. He also has a punt return for a touchdown and averaged 10.9 yards per return on 26 career punt returns.

    Kamara has the potential. And it’s likely he’ll have a solid showing at the NFL combine and only help his case. But recent history doesn’t provide much confidence for those hoping to see Kamara go in the first round of the draft.

    If Kamara is indeed on the level of Fournette and Cook, that means he’ll likely be the third running back taken in the draft this year. Three running backs haven’t been taken in the first round of the draft since 2012. If Kamara ends up being the fourth back taken behind McCaffrey, then his odds of being taken in the first round are even slimmer according to history. Four running backs haven’t been selected in the first round since the 2008 draft when five backs were taken.

    The NFL has devalued the running back position over the last half decade. Two of the last four drafts have seen no running backs taken in the first round and one of those other four saw only one taken. Part of that had to do with the draft class of running backs, but it also has to do with the usage of backs in the NFL. We just saw a Super Bowl where the leading rusher for both teams carried the ball only 11 times in the game after all.

    The two most prominent NFL draft experts from ESPN, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, differ on where Kamara will go. Kiper doesn’t have Kamara drafted in the first round, while McShay has Kamara going to the Green Bay Packers with the 29th overall pick.

    Not only is the recent history of the draft unkind to Kamara’s hopes of going in the first round, but so is Tennessee’s. The Vols haven’t had a running back drafted in the first round since Jamal Lewis was taken with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. In fact, the Vols haven’t had a running back drafted at all since 2010 when Montario Hardesty was taken in the second round by Cleveland.

    Kamara is getting plenty of first round hype right now, but odds are he still lands in the second round. If a team has a first round grade on him and believe he is a strong fit in their system, don’t be surprised if they do end up taking him late in the first round. A team like Green Bay or New England does make sense considering how they use their running backs.

    Don’t bet on Kamara being drafted in the first round. But don’t expect him to stick around long in the second round if he makes it out of the opening round of the draft either.