Payton had diamond vision in move to take Kamara

Personnel moves can either sink or elevate an NFL franchise.

In 2003, the Saints spent two first-round picks on defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan. In 36 career games, Sullivan produced 1.5 quarterbacks sacks.

Fourteen years later, Saints head coach Sean Payton made a trade in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. The Saints moved back into the third round to select Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara, a player Payton coveted.

Payton saw Kamara filling the role that Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush once had.

The price to acquire Kamara was steep – or so we thought. The 49ers got second- and seventh-round selections from the Saints.

In 20 games, Kamara already is making a case as the best offensive player in Saints history who does not play quarterback.

Three Saints – none of them quarterbacks – are in the top seven in franchise history for career touchdowns. Running back Dalton Hilliard is seventh with 53 touchdowns in 108 career games. Running back Deuce McAllister is sixth with 54 career touchdowns in 97 games. And, wide receiver Marques Colston is fourth with 72 in 146 games.

In 20 NFL regular-season games, Kamara has scored 19 touchdowns from scrimmage and also returned a kickoff for a touchdown. So, from scrimmage, Kamara is producing almost a touchdown per game.

And, he makes it look somewhat effortless.

On a 49-yard touchdown run against the Giants, he followed a great block by tight end Josh Hill and then outraced several Giants to the end zone. Kamara glided effortlessly. Saints fans and Saints opponents have seen that before. His ability to make the first defender almost always miss is what separates him from the others.

Kamara has scored those 19 touchdowns from scrimmage in only 287 rushes and receptions. He is averaging a touchdown every 15 touches. That is despite scoring only two touchdowns in his first six NFL games in his rookie season.

After the draft in May 2017, Kamara appeared on Rich Eisen’s national radio show. He was asked about the entire draft process and waiting to be picked in the third round with the 67th overall pick.

“I looked at the whole process as I did what I had to do,” said Kamara. “Wherever I landed, I would be grateful where I am. And, I would go to work.”

Payton has, more than once, praised Kamara for his football savvy.

Twenty games and 19 touchdowns from scrimmage later, Payton’s decision to trade up to draft Kamara is prescient.

Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26. He can be reached at edaniels@clarionherald.org.

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