METAIRIE, La. -- The NFL totally whiffed on Alvin Kamara.
And, no, I'm not talking about how the New Orleans Saints' breakout star running back fell to the third round of the draft.
I'm talking about all the flailing defenders he keeps leaving in his wake.
Kamara has turned the missed tackle into his trademark play. And the dynamic dual-threat back -- who leads the NFL with 864 yards from scrimmage since Week 4 -- kept finding creative new ways to shed would-be tacklers in last week's 26-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
There was the 74-yard TD run, where he slowed up just enough at the end to make linebacker Mark Barron mistime his dive as Kamara sped back up again.
There was the 21-yard screen pass, where he made a total of five defenders miss while cutting inside, outside and back in again.
And then there was that hurdle -- oh, man, that hurdle -- over cornerback Kayvon Webster. It was Kamara's second one of the season, and it drew praise from Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones on Twitter.
His hurdle skills are on point! he just needs to tuck his left trail toe and he's golden. Level of difficulty: B-. Technique score: B https://t.co/aGZ2ZYrT11
— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) November 27, 2017
"I mean, I just felt like he wanted to get jumped over, so I just jumped over him," said Kamara, who said he "definitely" anticipated the leap as he saw Webster start to crouch into the tackle.
That kind of anticipation is one of the things that makes Kamara so special -- in addition to his balance.
The 5-foot-10, 215-pounder is leading the NFL by far with 7.1 yards per carry this season (the next-highest qualifying back is at 5.3). But he's not doing it with just blazing speed. Kamara's 40-yard dash time at the NFL scouting combine was a modest 4.56 seconds.
But Kamara said he doesn't always run at full speed anyway. Instead, he sees the defenders in front of him and tries to plot out the best plan for getting through them, around them or over them.
"It does [slow down]. I was thinking about it the other day, like I kind of go into 'Matrix' mode, and I’m just like, 'OK, him, him, him -- I got these three guys,'" Kamara said. "It's not a full-speed full head of steam all the time. It's calculated, like, 'All right, well, I'm gonna slow down a little bit, make him think I'm cutting back, and then speed up.' It's a lot of downshifting, upshifting. ...
"It's really just kind of trying to stay one step ahead. Diagnosing the angles guys are taking and what type of player they are. If I can beat this guy to the edge, I'm going to stall him out a little bit and then kick into full gear. Or if this guy dives at ankles, I'm gonna look him off with my eyes and hopefully make him flip his hips and take advantage of that. It's just really some film study that goes into it, but a lot of it is instinctual."
Kamara is averaging another 10.1 yards on his 54 receptions for 548 yards. His nine touchdowns are tied for second most in the NFL.
Saints coach Sean Payton said the transition in Kamara's cuts is unique.
Quarterback Drew Brees said he is most impressed by the way Kamara's "feet are always on the ground ... except when he's jumping over guys."
"That's a rare talent. That's how you break tackles. Because you're using the ground as extra force to shed guys," Brees said. "Obviously he's extremely athletic, he's extremely talented. But there's a gift when -- there's guys like that around the league, certain guys that you just say, 'What makes that guy so good?' Or so good [running] after the catch or breaking tackles or what have you. And a lot of times it's guys that keep their feet on the ground."
That's exactly what Kamara says he is trying to do -- metaphorically speaking -- now that he is being surrounded by so much hype and adulation.
Kamara insisted several times that he never uses the word "surprised" -- even when he hears that he's done things that haven't been done since Gale Sayers, among others.
But he said he is definitely "humbled."
"It is crazy because it's all happening so fast, and I'm just trying to just process it and keep moving," Kamara said. "Because I'm never really satisfied, that's the main thing. I'm always, 'What's next? What's the next thing I can do? What's my ceiling?' I don't know, I'm just trying to keep climbing."