Should Alvin Kamara go right into Week 4 fantasy football lineups?

Alvin Kamara is back from his suspension, but should he be locked into fantasy football lineups this week?
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Leaving aside the NFL's odd way of doling out suspensions for certain things, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara is back from his three-game ban this week. With Jamaal Williams (hamstring) on IR, he is lined up to step into a solid role right away.

The fantasy relevance of Tony Jones Jr. in the Saints' backfield is probably gone as quickly as it came, though rookie Kendre Miller is more interesting. Kamara, at minimum, is a set of fresh legs entering Week 4.

Kamara has been a top-five fantasy running back three times in his career (top-10 four times). But he also didn't top 200 carries in a season until the past two, and it doesn't feel coincidental some of his yards-per numbers (run and touch) dropped in those two seasons.

Kamara's fantasy ceiling has been boosted by passing game usage, with 81, 81, 81 and 83 catches over his first four seasons. He has not been a dud there the past two seasons, but 47 catches in 2021 (13 games) and 57 last year (15 games) qualifies as a drop-off.

Fantasy Football Week 4: Should Alvin Kamara automatically be in lineups?

In Week 4 Kamara will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have a top-12 run defense through three weeks and are middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to running backs. But the only back who has topped 40 rushing yards against them is D'Andre Swift (130 yards in Week 3), and they've allowed just one total touchdown to the position (though it was a receiving touchdown).

Kamara has of course played against the divisional rival Buccaneers plenty in his career, with four total touchdowns in his last five games against them.

Jameis Winston is in line to start for the injured Derek Carr (right shoulder) on Sunday. So let's look at Kamara's numbers in the nine starts he has played in made by Winston for the Saints in the last two seasons.

Week 1, 2021: 20 carries for 83 yards; 3 catches (4 targets), 8 yards, 1 touchdown
Week 2, 2021: 5 carries for 8 yards; 4 catches (6 targets) for 25 yards
Week 3, 2021: 24 carries for 89 yards; 3 catches (4 targets) for 29 yards, 1 touchdown
Week 4, 2021: 26 carries for 120 yards; 0 catches
Week 5, 2021: 16 carries for 71 yards, 1 touchdown; 5 catches (8 targets) for 51 yards, 1 touchdown
Week 7, 2021: 20 carries for 51 yards; 10 catches (11 targets) for 128 yards, 1 touchdown
Week 8, 2021: 19 carries for 61 yards, 1 touchdown; 3 catches (4 targets) for 15 yards
Week 1, 2022: 9 carries for 39 yards; 3 catches (4 targets) for 7 yards
Week 3, 2022: 15 carries for 61 yards; 2 catches (7 targets) for 12 yards, 1 lost fumble

In those seven 2021 games with Winston under center, in full PPR scoring, Kamara was a top-10 fantasy back four times and a top-25 fantasy back six times. He was RB46 and RB40 in full PPR in the two 2022 games he played that Winston started. Take away the lost fumble in the last one (two points lost), and he would have been RB32.

So recency bias in games Winston started says Kamara is bench material in Week 4. But 2021 games Winston started says Kamara is a RB2 or better. One of them came against Tampa Bay (Week 8) and Kamara finished as RB17 in full PPR.

The running back landscape in fantasy says Kamara probably has to go right into the lineups of his owners in Week 4, even if it's all the way down to a flex spot.

There's definitely a little bit of risk in starting Kamara this week, rooted in the natural risk his workload might be limited in his season debut. But with some tilt toward PPR formats (0.5-point and full), he's a RB2 or at worst a solid flex start for his fantasy managers who aren't otherwise loaded at running back.

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