As I started to gravitate strictly towards fantasy football content on Twitter (make sure to follow us!) I saw how many people really love Jonathan Taylor, and rightfully so. Taylor is a polished back who is an elite athlete with almost every elite trait you want in a RB coming out of college. I saw people talk about D’Andrew Swift out of Georgia as well as J.K. Dobbins coming out of Georgia, but one name I rarely saw was Cam Akers of Florida State.
*Skip to bottom for redraft and dynasty rankings.*
Now over the last couple of years Florida State has been an embarrassment. They went a combined 18-19 over Akers’s three years with the Seminoles, but I promise you that was no fault of his. That very well could have been the reason that he didn’t have the hype that these other guys had coming out though.
Following a great freshman season, Akers followed up with somewhat of a dud in his sophomore season. In total those 2 years weren’t special, but solid enough considering what was happening with the once storied Florida State program. He rushed for over 1,700 yards on 355 carries and 13 TDs over those first two seasons. Then he finally broke out in his junior year with over 1,100 yards and 14 TDs on 231 carries. He was Florida State’s best offensive player and it wasn’t even close.
Heading into the NFL Draft Akers was receiving almost no attention. Guys like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, and D’Andre Swift were receiving all of the attention. Hell, even Zack Moss out of Utah was taking some of the attention away from Akers going into the draft.
Akers was, for the most part, fifth on everyone’s RB board heading into the draft, which seems about right based on college production and a few other factors.
One of the factors that people are using against Akers is that he is going to be a liability in pass protection, which seems like a kind of lazy take, especially for guys who are supposed to be NFL Draft experts. If you watch enough of Akers, you know he has the ability to be ELITE in pass protection at the NFL level. More than anything, he may lose his assignments sometimes, but most of those scenarios are due in part to the egregious offensive line play that plagued Florida State for the entire 2019 season. Outside of that he gets a little overzealous while pursuing pass rushers, but that is easily cleaned up for a RB with his pure pass blocking ability.
Akers runs hard and he hits his holes hard, but his ability to cut back on plays like the one below is what makes him special. If Akers sees a hole start to close before he hits it, he has the ability to stop on a dime and cut back to another hole.
His 4.47 40-yard dash time has him slightly faster than the average RB, but as we all know, 40 time speed and game speed are two totally different things. Akers has the ability to outrun defenders, while also possessing the strength to run through arm tackles and still be a very physical runner.
College football numbers without context are meaningless when trying to project a RB’s possible impact at the next level. Cam Akers ran behind PFF’s 129th ranked offensive line in the country. For those counting, there are 130 FBS teams. This man had the second worst offensive line in all of college football and still ran for over 1,100 yards. Elite rushing ability!
For Fantasy Football purposes though what really makes him special is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Unless you are Nick Chubb or Derrick Henry, you need to catch passes out of the backfield to be an elite fantasy football RB and Cam Akers can do just that. In his junior year at FSU, Akers caught 30 passes on 42 targets for 225 yards and 4 TDs. The numbers don’t pop out at you but the film will, and the 30 receptions were good for third on the Seminoles while the 4 TDs ranked 2nd for them.
I will say again, college football numbers without context are meaningless when trying to project a RB’s possible impact at the next level.
There may not have been a better running back situation for Akers to go to. The Los Angeles Rams had just released Todd Gurley and the only RBs left on the roster with a shot at the starting spot are Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown.
Henderson struggled horribly in his rookie season. Appearing in only seven games while being active for 13, he was put on IR following Week 13. He carried the ball 39 times for 147 yards for 3.8 YPC. He was almost nonexistent in the passing game catching only 4 balls on 6 targets.
Brown on the other hand was a little more involved, but just as ineffective. He carried the rock 69 times for 255 yards for an even worse 3.7 YPC. Brown only added to catches out of the backfield on the season.
Neither of those stat-lines inspires any kind of confidence, and the film on both of those guys doesn’t do much either. Enter Cam Akers.
Akers has a great opportunity to be the lead dog in this backfield, and we’ve seen with Gurley in the past, being the top RB in this offense when it is going right leads to RB1 production. Even in a “down” year, Gurley finished as RB14 in PPR leagues for 2019. Akers is my bet to take over that workload, and with Sean McVay running the show, we all know what the ceiling is for this offense.
Now, I know everyone will be up in arms about this, but I truly believe that he is in a better position to succeed than any of the other four RBs ahead of him.
Cam Akers vs. Jonathan Taylor
We all know what Jonathan Taylor did at Wisconsin. He was breaking records left and right and he looked unbelievable while doing it. Taylor though, struggled in pass protection in school. Rather than stand in there and face up with a pass rusher, Taylor’s go to is the cut block, which does not usually fly in the NFL. Add on to that the drops he had in the passing game (11.1% drop rate), and Taylor is not ready to be three-down back in the NFL. Again, I am aware of what he did at Wisconsin, but running behind the 8th best OL in college football will help you out quite a bit.
Taylor was also not drafted into the greatest situation. Yes, the OL is great, but between Hines and Mack it will be a fight for touches all year long. I’m not saying Marlon Mack is going to lead the backfield, but Taylor will definitely lose some work to Mack over the course of the season. He can also kiss any passing snap downs good-bye with Nyheim Hines in the picture.
Taylor is a great back, but Akers may be just as talented, maybe slightly less, and he is in a seemingly better situation.
Cam Akers vs. D’Andre Swift
Swift is another RB who is coming out of college with a lot of hype, but his college production can partly be attributed to the fact that he was running behind the 2nd ranked OL in college football last year according to PFF. He was great last year and he is an extremely hard runner. He finds a hole and he hits it. The biggest concern for Swift though is his ability to create his own yards. Hitting holes is easy when your OL is opening them up all the time. What is more difficult is making guys miss on a constant basis or shaking weak tacklers off to create more yards. He has really good hands, but his inability to create yards will really limit his receiving ceiling over the next couple of years.
He was also not put in the best situation being drafted to a team with a young, talented RB already in the mix. Kerryon Johnson has shown, when healthy, that he can be a three-down back and a more than capable one at that. If Johnson stays healthy, it might difficult for Swift to overcome in terms of fantasy relevance.
Akers and Swift are actually very comparable athletically as they finished with very similar scores and times according to PlayerProfiler. Swift’s 4.48 40-yard dash time was only 1 hundredth of a second faster than Akers while Akers’s speed and burst scores are actually better than Swift’s.
Cam Akers vs. J.K. Dobbins
The talent that Dobbins possesses is unquestionable. He has great patience behind the line of scrimmage, quick feet, and he has burners that he can turn on to get through a hole at any point. The only problem is that while playing at Ohio State those holes were opening up consistently as he was running behind the 2nd best OL in the nation according to PFF.
Dobbins is probably a better pure pass catcher than Akers, but Baltimore only targeted RBs 15% in the league which has them in the bottom 5 in that category. His best opportunity to catch passes out of the backfield would be on third down, except he may not see many third down situations until his pass blocking improves significantly. He is small in stature and it showed when he was in pass blocking situations at Ohio State.
When it comes to running the ball there may not be a better situation than Baltimore. They ran the ball 596 times in 2019 (56%), while no other team surpassed 500 rushes for the season. Dobbins will fit right into this team in the future, but right now he is still behind Mark Ingram and he will seemingly be behind Lamar Jackson as well. He has the chance to be an elite RB in the league, but due to the lack of immediate volume coming his way, I think Akers is in the better situation to succeed.
Cam Akers vs. CEH
CEH is a great running back. He is so versatile and he remind me of a combination of Brian Westbrook and Maurice Jones-Drew. I wonder though, if the majority of his success was due in part to being the top RB on the greatest offense college football has ever seen.
Teams were forced into 5 or 6 DB sets in order to try and contain the combination of Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall, and Thad Moss. The not only opened up plenty of holes for CEH to run through, but it ensured plenty of receiving opportunities underneath as well. Now I’m not discrediting anything that he did at LSU, all I’m doing is saying that it’s hard to take it at face value due to the context that must be included in that conversation.
CEH by no means has elite speed finishing in the bottom 50 percent of both the 40-yard dash time and speed score. His agility and quick feet both worked wonders for him at the college level, allowing him to create extra yards by making guys miss on a consistent basis. His pass blocking ability had been questioned during the draft process, but he seems to have somewhat of a handle on it based on the film I watched.
It seems that rather than talent an ability though, the situation is what has people raving.
Best Possible Fit?
To add even more hype to the train, CEH was drafted to the best offense in football and they don’t have a true RB1. That rocketed him from the 3rd or 4th rookie RB off the board to the 1st or 2nd RB off the board. With that said, let’s not discredit what Damien Williams did last year with the Chiefs. In 11 games Williams had almost 500 yards averaging 4.5 YPC and 5 TDs to go with 30 catches for over 200 yards and 2 TDs. It’s hard to imagine that CEH will take all of this production from Williams.
I believe that these two RBs will play nicely off of each other and it will work more for the Chiefs as a team than it will for the fantasy production of CEH this year or in the future.
Given everything that I have researched while completing this article, there is definitely a case to be made for Cam Akers to finish as the rookie RB1 in 2020 and maybe even beyond. Although I believe Akers may have a higher ceiling in 2020 than these other guys, it’s harder to make a case for him in dynasty when the situations will open up for all of these guys.
The biggest threat to Akers finishing as the top rookie in 2020 is CEH given that Kareem Hunt was the RB3 in 2018 before his suspension. I can see CEH reaching that level if he is given the workload. That’s a big if though.
Here is how I have them stacked up for 2020 redraft and dynasty: