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What would you say if I told you Cam Akers was going to be the next great NFL running back, better than any of his 2020 RB classmates?
Your initial reaction might be to roll your eyes. After all, Clyde Edwards-Helaire landed in Kansas City’s explosive offense led by the great Patrick Mahomes. Jonathan Taylor gets to run behind the Colts’ impressive offensive line. D’Andre Swift and J.K. Dobbins both have easy paths to starting roles in the not-so-distant future as well.
But while it’s true that Akers is often no better than RB5 in rookie drafts happening this spring, I’m here to tell you why that’s way too low and why you should be targeting the former Florida State runner in your drafts and in the trade market leading up to the start of the 2020 season.
Let’s start with pedigree and raw talent, where Akers more than holds his own against any of the top 2020 rookies.
Akers starred at Clinton High School (Mississippi), playing both RB and QB and eventually compiling over 8,100 passing yards and 78 passing TDs to go along with 5,100 rushing yards and an additional 71 scores on the ground during his impressive high school career.
Aside from his raw, electrifying numbers in high school, the fact that Akers was the sole threat for Clinton as both a QB and RB as he led his team to its first-ever state championship (2016) shows his leadership and ability to put a team on his back, which bodes well for his prospects as a workhorse in the NFL.
For his efforts, Akers earned a 5-star rating from 247sports.com and was their top-ranked running back as well as the No. 2 overall player in the entire class. These types of accolades don’t necessarily guarantee NFL success, but as he headed to Florida State for his freshman year, let’s reiterate that it was Cam Akers who was widely considered the best RB in this class at that time, not Taylor, not Swift, not Dobbins.
Akers’ stock kept soaring during his first season at Florida State, as he burst onto the CFB scene by breaking Dalvin Cook’s school record for rushing yards (1,025) as a freshman. On full display was that dynamic skillset — a seemingly perfect blend of size, power, wiggle, and speed — that had made Akers the crown jewel of his recruiting class.
Unfortunately, Akers’ next few seasons with the Seminoles did not go as well as planned given his promising freshman performance. Coaching changes, unimaginative play-calling, and terrible offensive line play (2nd worst in the country in 2019 according to PFF) were the main culprits.
With Edwards-Helaire, Taylor, Swift, and Dobbins all having stellar college careers, they seemed to leapfrog Akers in terms of draft stock in the eyes of many fantasy owners this offseason.
But when you realize that all four of those running backs each played with at least one offensive lineman who ended up being picked in the 2020 NFL Draft (not to mention plenty of teammates at other positions) while Akers was the lone Florida State Seminole drafted, it makes you wonder how different the 2020 rookie rankings might have looked if the roles had been reversed and Akers had been the one surrounded by a bunch of NFL-caliber talent in college.
Despite all of the issues Florida State had helping Akers out, he still put up impressive numbers and showed that he is still every bit the elite prospect he was coming out of Clinton.
During the 2019 season, Akers rushed for 1,144 yards and 14 TDs on 231 carries (5.0 ypc), and he added 30 catches and four more TDs through the air. He also maintained 5 ypc against Top-25 competition and ranked top ten in the nation in missed tackles forced and yards after contact, again demonstrating that he is the type of player who can produce against good defenses even when the situation around him is not ideal.
Akers passed with flying colors at the NFL Combine as well, reaffirming the notion that he has all the athletic tools to be a star at the NFL level with a 4.47 in the 40 (5th fastest RB) and impressive fluidity and burst in position drills (look up Cam Akers doing the “Duce Staley Drill” on YouTube). At close to 220 pounds, Akers’ change of direction skills and speed was tantalizing to watch.
Ultimately, Akers’ path led him to the Los Angeles Rams as the 52nd pick in the draft, and that landing spot is a big reason why I am so excited about him.
While most people are down on the Rams as a fantasy environment for Akers due to the team’s struggles in 2019, I see a ripe opportunity for him to be in the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award running. Let’s remember for all the disappointment surrounding the 2019 Rams, they were still the No. 7-ranked offense in the NFL.
Todd Gurley’s career as a Ram was both spectacular and somewhat short-lived, leaving us with the feeling that injuries robbed him of a more Adrian Peterson-like reign atop the RB charts. Now that Gurley is gone, the Rams are looking to replace the 254 touches he had in 2019, and Akers has the inside track to assume Gurley’s old role as the centerpiece of a good (potentially great) offense.
A lot was made of Sean McVay’s quote from ESPN in March, suggesting that a timeshare is in order for the Rams’ backfield this year.
“We feel we’ve got three really good backs,” McVay said via ESPN. “What does that mean in terms of the distribution of carries? I think that’s to be determined.”
That’s a textbook cliche if I’ve ever heard one. What else was McVay going to say in March when asked about the state of his running back stable?
Malcolm Brown is not going to be a thing. He topped 10 carries just twice and only caught two passes all season.
Darrell Henderson, a third-round pick in 2019, is someone that many people have high hopes for, but he had an incredibly forgettable rookie season, and the Rams thought so much of Henderson’s chances of being a lead back that they promptly invested an even higher draft pick on Akers in a year when the Rams had many other pressing needs and depleted draft capital to begin with.
In terms of talent, it’s no contest that Akers should be the guy in charge of that LA backfield with Henderson in more of a satellite role and Brown offering depth. Akers’ well-rounded skillset, including underrated receiving chops, lends favorably toward an every-down role, and the only thing really standing in his way for heavy usage is if the Rams decide they want to spread the wealth to try to avoid another Gurley-like burnout.
Either way, I see Akers assuming the starting role in LA rather quickly, and volume that even comes close to what Gurley received last year would likely mean big things for Akers in 2020.
Cam Akers Dynasty Outlook 2021 and Beyond
Beyond 2020, I’m excited about Los Angeles as a fantasy destination for Akers mostly because I trust McVay. Let’s remember that it was less than a calendar year ago when McVay was the NFL’s ‘Boy Wonder,’ an offensive mastermind who prompted many teams to try to replicate the Rams’ successful head coaching hire (Zac Taylor, Kliff Kingsbury, Matt LeFleur, etc). One slightly disappointing season isn’t enough for me to jump off the McVay Bandwagon.
Additionally, as mentioned above, the Rams weren’t even a bad fantasy environment in 2019 at all despite the fact that they failed to meet expectations in the real life win column. I see this as a wonderful opportunity for Akers to flourish as the centerpiece of McVay’s offense — much the way Gurley was — for as long as his body will allow.
Cam Akers’ Value
The situation in Kansas City is mouth-watering for CEH’s potential fantasy production, but I still believe Akers is the superior talent.
I love Swift’s highlight reel juke moves, but why was his 2019 season worse than his 2018 season and will he be so good that he totally relegates Kerryon Johnson to the bench?
Jonathan Taylor will almost definitely cede passing game duties to Nyheim Hines.
The Rams had the chance to take either Akers or Dobbins with the 52nd pick, and they left Dobbins on the board.
Am I saying you should ignore everything else and just take Akers at 1.01 in your rookie draft? No. Not at all. My point is just that all of the RBs in the 2020 class have their warts and Akers has as good a chance as any of them to succeed in the NFL.
Groupthink and the ADP numbers are such that you’re probably leaving value on the table if you just draft Akers at the top of your draft, but savvy 1.01-owners should be exploring what the payoff might be to move down a few spots. If you could gain a nice asset or two to move down to say, 1.05 or 1.06 and still draft Akers, I’d call that a win.
If you’ve already drafted, Cam Akers is someone I’d be targeting, especially if he’s owned by someone who doesn’t think he’s a future workhorse. His ADP is currently in the realm of RB30 and between 75-95 overall, similar to the likes of Sony Michel, Julian Edelman, and Jarvis Landry. For those prices, I’m looking to buy, regardless of whether I’m a contender or rebuilding.
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