Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley lead new breed of 'do-it-all' backs

Saints explosive offense vital vs. Giants (0:45)

NFL Live's Tedy Bruschi and Charles Woodson explain their picks for the Week 4 game between the Saints and Giants. (0:45)

METAIRIE, La. -- Alvin Kamara's advice to Saquon Barkley might not have been too insightful. But so far, it has been perfectly accurate.

The two dynamic running backs -- who might wind up winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in back-to-back seasons if Barkley can fend off this year's loaded quarterback crop -- met for the first time in January. Kamara was making his Pro Bowl debut and Barkley was training for pre-draft workouts in Orlando, Florida.

"He was just asking me about what's the biggest thing about the next level. And I literally told him, 'You're gonna be fine,'" Kamara said with a laugh. "I was like, 'You're gonna be straight, trust me.'"

It takes one to know one, apparently.

The two will meet on the field for the first time Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) when Barkley's New York Giants host Kamara's New Orleans Saints. And they'll do so as two of the most dangerous dual-threat running backs in the NFL.

Kamara leads all running backs with 430 yards from scrimmage this season (141 rushing, 289 receiving). Barkley ranks fourth with 353 (216 rushing, 137 receiving). Both of them have gained at least 99 yards in every game.

"I definitely respect Kamara's game," Barkley said. "He's a different type of player. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can run in between the tackles. Pretty much a do-it-all back. Definitely a threat for that team that we're going to have to focus on."

Both Barkley and Kamara shied away from making a direct comparison. And they're not exactly clones. The Saints use the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Kamara more in the passing game, both out of the backfield and down the field at times. Barkley has more of a reputation as a power runner, at 6-foot, 233 pounds.

Both of them have quickly established themselves as "do-it-all backs," joining a growing crop that includes second-year Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.

Before this season, it had been 37 years since a running back caught 15 passes in a game. Then Barkley and McCaffrey each caught 14 passes in Week 2. Then Kamara caught 15 in Week 3.

Kamara became just the second player in the Super Bowl era with at least 15 rushes and 15 receptions in a game during last week's 43-37 overtime win at Atlanta, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

"In my opinion, I don't know the true value of a running back if he can't catch the ball," Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. He's one of a growing breed of offensive-minded coaches, like the Saints' Sean Payton, who have been turning the idea of a pass-catching "third-down back" into a thing of the past.

"I think whether he's a primary target or you're trying to get the ball down the field and you utilize him as a checkdown, his ability to catch the ball either helps move the chains or gets you explosive plays," Shurmur said. "So Alvin and Saquon, they both have the full skill set as a running back, and so it makes sense to utilize it. And sometimes the running back matchup, when it just comes to straight matchup ball is favorable -- if you got the right runner."

Barkley's 14 catches were unexpected in Week 2. But he proved again last week how valuable he could be as a pass-catcher by hauling in all five of his targets -- including a critical third-down conversion late in the Giants' 27-22 win against the Houston Texans.

Payton, who coached Marshall Faulk in college and Tiki Barber early in his pro career before coaching dual threats such as Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Kamara in New Orleans, also didn't want to make any comparisons with Barkley.

But Payton's enthusiasm for Barkley's skill set was evident in his voice.

"I'm not gonna say he's like anyone. He's his own back," Payton said. "He's got great balance, he's strong. You have to populate the ball. He's not one of those backs that easily goes down with just one player. He's got tremendous leverage, vision, he can run, he's fast. I mean, he's something else. ... Listen, he's unique."

Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins was equally impressed by what he has seen on film from Barkley so far.

"Talent-wise, he's definitely one of the best I've ever seen," Rankins said. "He's special. Six-foot, almost 240, a 4.43 [40-yard dash] guy. Contact balance is some of the best I've ever seen. Hands out the backfield. His ability to make guys miss in tight spaces. His ability to always be going forward, even when he's going sideways, it's weird.

"He'll be a great back in this league. We just can't allow him to be great Sunday."

Kamara, meanwhile, has only doubled down on his remarkable rookie season.

Last season, he and Mark Ingram split time in the Saints' backfield and became the first duo to surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season (Kamara had 728 rushing yards, 826 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns including a kickoff return). Kamara set the NFL record for most yards per offensive touch (7.7) with at least 200 touches.

But now Kamara is proving he can be just as effective as a leading man while Ingram is serving a four-game suspension. Kamara played a career-high 52 snaps in Week 1; then 53 in Week 2; then a whopping 70, including special teams, on Sunday.

His 34 touches in Sunday's win at Atlanta (16 rushes, 15 receptions, three punt returns) were 13 more than his previous high. He had 190 yards from scrimmage.

Payton, who said this offseason he didn't want to overwork Kamara during Ingram's absence, admitted there is "a little bit of a dilemma" when it comes to wanting to limit Kamara's workload but needing his playmaking ability in a tight game.

But Kamara insisted he felt just fine with the added workload -- even though he was feeling it a bit on Monday and got a limited workload in Wednesday's practice.

"Whatever we gotta do to win. If that means I gotta get 50 touches or whatever amount of touches, it is what it is, we'll worry about it after the game when we get in the ice tub," said Kamara, who joked about not paying any attention to his snap count in the middle of the game.

"I'm not in the huddle like, 'Oh, I'm on touch 15,'" Kamara said. "I didn't even know I had that many touches or that many yards until after the game."

Kamara should be able to gut out another heavy workload Sunday at New York. Ingram comes back next week, and the Saints have an extra day of rest before a Monday night home game in Week 5 and a bye in Week 6.

The Giants' defense may be feeling even more of a burden than Kamara himself as they try to get a bead on the different ways the Saints can use him.

"You do [have to approach him differently]," Giants linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong said. "You can see they're trying to get him the ball, and when he has the ball he can make some things happen. If he's getting 20 targets as a running back, that's something you have to be looking into."

-- ESPN Giants reporter Jordan Raanan contributed to this report