Only four running backs in NFL history have compiled at least 2,000 rushing yards and 2,000 receiving yards within their first three seasons. Alvin Kamara is one of them, though a serious injury early in the 2019 season seriously hindered the versatile running back on his quest to achieve that prestigious milestone.
Though the injury ultimately couldn't stop Kamara from joining the NFL record books, it certainly took a significant physical and mental toll on the Tennessee alum. He joined Saints defender Cam Jordan and former Saints running back Mark Ingram for the debut episode of their new Players' Tribune podcast, "Truss Levelz," and divulged the whole inside story on what it was like playing through a vicious injury.
"Y'all might as well get the raw and uncut (version), here," Kamara said to Jordan and Ingram. "We (were) going into Jacksonville. I sprained my ankle in practice. My sh-- was fat."
In the locker room leading into that contest, Kamara didn't know if he'd be able to play, but he ultimately decided to power through it despite the swelling in his ankle.
"It's early in the game, like the first drive," Kamara said. "F------ outside zone... I get my left foot stuck in the ground, roll off -- boom. Torn MCL first drive. I knew I did it too, I'm sitting on the ground, I'm like 'f---.' "
Kamara said he then went to the tent and was initially told that he couldn't go back out there, that he was done for the game. But Kamara wouldn't have it, telling Saints Director of Sports Medicine Beau Lowery that he wanted to get back on the field.
"I'm like, s---, tape me up, I'm good, I'mma play smart," Kamara said. "Tape it... I'm just gonna get through the game and then we'll figure out the MRI and s---, on Monday we'll figure it out.
"So I go out, I tape it up, I'm running around. Obviously... I can't move it."
The usually extremely crafty and shifty Kamara was severely limited by the thick layers of tape and the lack of mobility the injury had caused, saying he was literally running the play exactly as it was drawn up -- or with "no sauce," as Ingram called it.
Kamara finished with 11 carries for 31 yards on the day in the Saints' ugly 13-6 victory over the Jaguars. He says he's happy he played because he would've felt it in his heart, especially if the Saints had ended up losing in his absence.
His leg had swollen significantly after the game, but Kamara said that it was okay by the time they got back home to New Orleans. With that said, he still feared the worst.
"I get in Monday, MRI (says) Grade 2 MCL," Kamara said while Ingram immediately recalled he had experienced the same injury. "So I'm like, f---, I don't got no end point on this s---.
"So I'm talking to Beau, you know... I'm like 'Beau, what's the outlook, like what's up?' "
The outlook was bleak, involving a recovery process for both his MCL and his ankle that would hold Kamara out for much longer than when he planned on returning, after the team's Week 9 bye. It meant that Kamara would be at the very real risk of missing the remainder of the regular season, especially if his team couldn't get into playoff positioning without him in the backfield.
As you may have expected by this point, Kamara didn't let that pessimistic outlook stop him from continuing his season -- likely to the chagrin of the team medical staff -- and powered on, resuming his season in Week 10 against the Falcons. It wasn't particularly an enjoyable ride through the last half of his 2019 campaign, however.
"From that point on, my knee is f---ed, can't move," Kamara said.
Kamara recalls that fans started complaining about this new iteration of the previously explosive running back they grew to love, calling him choice words and adding on to his frustration.
"...I'm on one leg, I'm frustrated, I'm trying to help us win," Kamara said. "I'm low-key making s--- worse... I'm playing with my f------ livelihood because I'm on a knee that could give at any moment. Like, literally could f------ turn from a (Grade) 2 to like, oh, your a-- is done for the year... I'm playing with that in my head."
While fans may not have understood everything he was going through, his teammates certainly did, repeatedly checking in on him and even telling him to sit out and get better. After all, Kamara says he could hardly bend his leg, so how could he have been expected to perform at full level?
And yet, he found a way. He finished with 797 yards on the ground with an average of 4.66 yards per carry -- good for No. 12 in the league among players with at least 100 rushing attempts. He added an additional 533 receiving yards through the air, giving him his third consecutive season of at least 1,300 total yards from scrimmage. He was even named a Pro Bowler for the third consecutive year... try doing that with a torn MCL and a bad ankle sprain.
How does Kamara reflect on this unbelievable accomplishment? With disappointment, somehow.
"All in all, I couldn't do what I wanted to do," Kamara said.
So far in 2020, he's playing at his usual high level, with nearly 250 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns after the first two weeks of the season. Hopefully, he'll be able to add his name to some more sections of the record book this time -- with all of his body parts fully intact.