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Sophomore slump? Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara know nothing of it

McCaffrey and Kamara run with the ball

CHARLOTTE -- What do Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara have in common?

Based on what we've seen this season, there's not much that they don't. In fact, if their highlights have ever had you seeing double, you're not alone.

"It's tough. It's like having C-Mac coming out of the backfield" Panthers cornerback James Bradberry said, offering his assessment of Kamara.

A little over a year after being drafted - McCaffrey eighth overall to Carolina and Kamara in the third round to New Orleans - both running backs have utilized their distinct skill sets to become two of the brightest young stars in the NFL.

It's no secret that both can influence games in similar ways, but there's no way they are really that similar, right? Saints quarterback Drew Brees seems to think so.

"They're both highly versatile players. Great in the run game," Brees said. "They've got great instincts and a great feel for making cuts, breaking tackles, just a level of elusiveness that's pretty unique. And then their ability to catch balls outside the pocket and really be receivers outside the pocket is very unique as well."

That's high praise from a player with Brees' pedigree. Considering the poise and patience both players play with, though, his assessment should come as no surprise.

When asked for his take on the matter, McCaffrey was nothing but complimentary of Kamara, and said he's constantly taking notes on the fellow second-year stud.

"Oh man, he's a heck of a player," McCaffrey said. "On our off days, I watch backs around the league, and he's one of them I look at just to see what he's doing and try to add some of that stuff to my game.

"It's been fun watching him and it's kind of cool, a lot of similarities obviously in our game. He's a good one to watch."

Perhaps Monday Night's showdown will create some conversation in a "who's better" debate. But, a look at their numbers entering Week 15 might only make it harder to give a solid answer.

As Carolina's primary back, McCaffrey's 926 rushing yards ranks fifth in the NFL while Kamara, who has split time with former first-rounder Mark Ingram, ranks 14th with 793.

Their per-game averages only further the narrative - McCaffrey with 71.2 yards on 13.8 attempts and Kamara with 60.0 yards on 13.3 attempts - but Kamara edges McCaffrey in rushing touchdowns 11-7.

In the receiving game, where both have really made a name for themselves, McCaffrey leads all backs with 701 receiving yards while Kamara is fifth with 591. McCaffrey ranks second in receiving scores among backs with six while Kamara is sixth with four.

Both have demonstrated numerous times the ability to make something out of nothing, whether coming out of the backfield or lining up in the slot. Nickel cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said keeping Kamara in check in that area of the field will be important to Carolina's game plan.

"He's a special athlete, one of the best at it right now. You've got to try to wrap him up, be physical with him. You've got to tackle him now because when he gets in space, he's very special," said Munnerlyn. "You've got to try to limit his YAC (yards after catch) out of the backfield and try to limit the explosive plays."

As Brees and Munnerlyn noted, both backs have a knack for making defenders miss. Kamara is tied for third in YAC (429) and McCaffrey is ranked 15th (306).

Saints head coach Sean Payton loves what he's got in Kamara, and said he sees a lot of the same appeal in McCaffrey.

"He's very gifted in the passing game, he's got exceptional vision, and I think he runs with good balance and power," Payton said of McCaffrey. "You see him in goal line situations, short-yardage situations. He's a guy that's very difficult to defend in space, and I think that's the same way Alvin is.

"I think that those are explosive guys that can change the field position very quickly."

Given the shift in offensive approach by most NFL teams in recent years, McCaffrey and Kamara are ideal fits to introduce a more multi-facted style to an ever-evolving sport, as Payton also mentioned.

"The formations and the running schemes have begun to change a little bit to what we've seen in the college game and you're starting to see the zone reads and you're starting to see the RPOs (run-pass option plays) and some of the things that are really new. Those type of players are a handful," said Payton.

In addition to McCaffrey and Kamara, there are a number of backs that fit this mold, among them Todd Gurley of the Rams and rookie Saquon Barkley of the Giants.

Monday Night Football, with McCaffrey and Kamara both on the field, will give fans another glimpse at what to expect in the future from this unique brand of running back.

"It's exciting for me. I try to look at all those guys' games and pick something from them. They're extremely fun to watch, and (they're) good dudes too," McCaffrey said. "Obviously, we want to win but when those guys do well, you definitely try to pick something from 'em.

"I feel like there's a lot of really good, young running backs in the league right now. It makes the future exciting for everybody."