Hello? 911? I’d like to report a crime. Cam Akers is being criminally undervalued and I think it’s time for justice to be done.
What’s that? Why is Akers undervalued?
All joking aside, Akers has the clearest path to being the lead horse in a lucrative backfield that absolutely bleeds fantasy production.
Taken as the first draft selection by the Los Angeles Rams in the 2020 NFL Draft, Akers absolutely fits the billing of a workhorse back.
In two of his three seasons with the Seminoles, Akers averaged over five yards per carry and rushed for over 1,000 yards both of those seasons. He finished his career with 586 rush attempts for 2,875 yards and 27 touchdowns.
A true workhorse.
The Rams Struggling 2019 Run Game
With Todd Gurley no longer in town, the Rams are vacating a very large set of touches. In three seasons with Sean McVay, Gurley touched the ball 343, 315, and 254 times. While it seems like forever ago that Gurley broke fantasy football, McVay’s track record screams “workhorse back.” Eric Moody of 4for4 highlighted Gurley’s opportunity share during his time under McVay, and the opportunity speaks for itself.
However, due to Gurley’s mysterious injury and a gigantic offensive line dropoff after losing both Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan, Gurley and the Rams’ running game did not look as prolific as they did in 2017 and 2018.
Per Pro Football Focus’ 2020 offensive line rankings, one of the top positional groups in 2018 dropped all the way to 31st in 2019. An aging Andrew Whitworth had his worst graded season since 2008 and the consistent Rob Havenstein had the worst season of his career. One would expect at least one, if not both, to rebound in 2020.
The interior of the offensive line was also a disaster and it was highlighted in the run game. According to Football Outsiders, Rams’ running backs were stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage on 21 percent of their rush attempts, ranking 26th in the league last season.
While the team did not address these issues in the offseason, they return the same group from last season. Continuity and development will be vital for this offense’s success in 2020.
Cam Akers is McVay’s Next Todd Gurley
While trying to compare Akers to Gurley might be a bit ludicrous, it is completely fair to compare their skillsets to one another. Much like Gurley, Akers profiles as a one-cut back with elite size-adjusted speed and good burst. If Akers was 6-foot-1 instead of 5-foot-10, it would be easy to mistake him for Gurley while on the field.
Akers and Gurley both offer true three-down skillsets, which is what McVay looks for in a running back. He prefers a three-down, multi-dimensional running back, which further sets up play-action. If a running back is one dimensional in McVay’s offense, the group is unable to take advantage of McVay’s creative play-calling.
While McVay incorporates a mix of zone and power blocking designs, the Rams have been the league’s most elite outside zone blocking team in the league since McVay took over. Since 2017, no running back in the league had more zone-based carries than Gurley’s 495, per PFF. On those carries, Gurley amassed 2,358 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
How does this impact Akers? At Florida State, Akers attempted the 16th most zone-based rushes in college football. Long story short, Akers is familiar with the system and the opportunity to produce is off the charts.
Oh so Cam Akers is a baller huh pic.twitter.com/d63L8zJIpm
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 25, 2020
As noted, what makes McVay’s play-calling work is the ability to keep defenses guessing by keeping the same versatile running back on the field for all three downs.
Like Gurley, Akers is also a dangerous and talented receiver out of the backfield. In fact, Akers averaged 8.8 yards after the catch while at Florida State and commanded a respectable 9.7% target share his final year. Through his three seasons with Florida State, Akers caught 69 of his 93 targets for 486 yards and seven touchdowns.
When asked about Akers, Rams scout Michael Pierce said, “The talent speaks for itself. I mean, this is a complete back.”
Akers is a Master Creator
Akers 5-star talent never came full circle in Tallahassee, and it was mostly due to his abysmal offensive line. At Florida State, the offensive line showcased a whopping 0.57 yards blocked per attempt (YB/A), which ranked dead last in Barfield’s database. Also, Akers was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 30 (!) percent of his carries.
Even behind that pathetic offensive line, Akers recorded a respectable 4.37 yards created per attempt (YC/A) during his time as a Seminole.
Just how bad was Cam Akers offensive line at FSU?
* 0.57 yards blocked per attempt is worst in yards created history (since 2016)
* 0.37 YBA/A on inside carries is second-worst since 2016
* Akers was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on 30% of rushes (most in class)
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) April 8, 2020
Darrell Henderson, on the other hand, ran behind a tremendous offensive line in Memphis’ spread attack. During his ridiculous collegiate career, Henderson recorded a crazy 8.9 yards per carry, highlighted by 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns during his junior season. Henderson recorded an astonishing 6.44 YC/A, which is the second-best ever behind only Joe Mixon.
Henderson was also gift wrapped 2.54 YB/A, which is the most in the history of yards created… by over 0.6 YB/A. The opportunities presented to Henderson and Akers couldn’t be the more polar opposite.
So, let’s compare their elusiveness and ability to force missed tackles.
Akers’ forced 0.446 missed tackles per attempt (MTF/A), which ranks up there with the likes of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb. Henderson, however, recorded 0.325 MTF/A. Both numbers are still really good, but Akers displayed far greater elusiveness on roughly 150 more rushing attempts with a very subpar surrounding cast.
Akers’ ability to create in the worst of situations cannot be understated. If the Rams offensive line does not develop and their 2019 play rolls over to 2020, Akers’ ability to make something out of nothing gives him the upper hand.
In fact, we got a glimpse into what both Malcolm Brown and Henderson could do without Gurley last season, and it wasn’t great:
- Brown rushed 69 times for 255 yards and five touchdowns while playing 67 percent of the snaps
- Henderson rushed 39 times for 147 yards and had the remaining 33 percent of snaps
Summary: Akers to be Rams Fantasy Workhorse
Still, the Rams still made a point to draft Henderson with strong, third-round draft capital last season and raved about him all last season. Also, Brown was the beneficiary of a handful and questionable goal line carries last season and was a thorn to Gurley’s side throughout 2019.
How can we be so sure this isn’t just going to wind up a dreaded running back by committee?
My confidence in Akers is predicated around the fact that Akers is clearly the most talented and complete back on the team. It also helps that Akers possesses the stronger draft capital, along with an impressive resume and workhorse pedigree in a very poor collegiate situation.
Akers is currently the RB27 (+1 ECR) on The Wolf’s 2020 Big Board and Rankings and should easily be the favorite to take the reins on the job early this upcoming season. On the other hand, Henderson checks in at RB44 (+2 vs ECR).