The Running Back Case Files
The 2020 RB class will be talked about as one of the deepest classes, right alongside 2017’s star-studded group. Going into their sophomore seasons, there are a few questions about each of the backs going forward. Some have to answer how their role will develop after a fine start to their career, and others are dealing with a key player or personnel changes in year two. The hardest question is going to be where to rank these guys in re-draft and dynasty leagues going forward with a bit of uncertainty surrounding them. This Running Back Case File series will take a look at 2020’s big 5 (before the season) of Taylor, Akers, Swift, Dobbins, and CEH. These were the players that went at the top of rookie drafts in 2020. We expect great things with that kind of capital spent. Will these guys have enough juice to make a case to be RB1’s in 2021? And what challenges will they face?
Cam Akers Vs. 2021
The Case For Cam Akers..
Cam Akers was an intriguing pick for the Rams in 2020. They had previously moved up in the early 3rd round of 2019 to select Darrell Henderson to back up Todd Gurley. That kind of capital was nothing to scoff at, but McVay came out and spent their first pick in the 2020 draft on another running back. Cam Akers came into the league out of Florida State, rushing behind one of the worst offensive lines, 119 in the nation.
Akers still put in a great performance at FSU in the 11 games he played, posting a line of 1,144 yards on 231 carries and 14 touchdowns. He played a part in the receiving game catching 30 balls for 250 yards and 4 touchdowns as well. Being no stranger to a poor offensive line, he joined a Rams team that was ranked #31 by PFF by the end of his 2020 season. The move-up in the draft along with what Akers was able to do in the NFL behind a poor line is all the more reason to invest in Akers going forward.
Unlike some of the other rookies in the class, it looked as though Akers was going to get the early nod to start the season but went down with a couple of minor injuries that he tried to battle the first half of the season. Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown were serviceable, but nothing special in his absence. There were weeks where Henderson showed flashes of what he was at Memphis, but they were few and far between. Akers started to take off a couple of weeks after the bye. McVay seemed to want to ease him back in the first few games, but in week 13 against the 49ers, it was clear he was the most explosive weapon on the team. Akers posted 84 yards and 1 TD on 9 carries. Including that game, Akers averaged just about 20 touches per game.
The Rams did everything in their power to get Akers the ball, reminiscent of Todd Gurley’s glory days as RB1 when he averaged 22.9 touches a game in 2017. The departure of Malcolm Brown in the offseason only opens the door further to the Cam Akers show in Los Angeles. While Darrell Henderson is not going anywhere anytime soon, it is unlikely the Rams spend another draft pick or invest heavily in the position to pose a real threat to Akers’s workload anytime soon. Henderson was able to get about 16 touches per game in Akers’s absence, but only around 6 when Akers was fully healthy once the backfield takeover had commenced. Akers was able to create a lot for himself just as he did back in college. He looked like a nightmare in open space as he forced a missed tackle on over 30% of his touches in 2020. He was ranked PFF’s most elusive running back in the rookie class.
Cam Akers is only scratching the surface of his true potential. The offensive line can only improve from where they were in 2020, and with Matthew Stafford, under center, the arrow is pointing up on Akers. The passing game is where we hope to see increased production for Akers as well. In PPR leagues this could be the difference between RB 12 and RB 5. Lucky for him Stafford does favor the check down when his initial reads are not there. Pro Football’s, Scott Barrett, pointed out that Stafford has more than the occasional tendency to throw to his running back. Stafford is 4th among active quarterbacks in the percentage of throws to the running back position at over 25%. Just for reference, Goff is at around 14%.
The For Closing Arguments For The Running Back Case Files…
These are exciting times to be an owner of Cam Akers. For those that are not, the price in dynasty to acquire him is not cheap. As of April 1st ADP, Akers was at around pick 7 in start-up drafts. He is being mocked as a top 12 pick in redrafts at this early stage of the game and that price could climb with a glimpse of an actual preseason.
The Case against Akers
The argument against Akers proves to be a little bit more difficult. Cam Akers is currently slotted into one of the biggest workloads around the league. The coaching staff in LA showed that they want him in on 60%+ of the snaps when healthy and plan to feed him the ball 20+ times. We saw some flashes from Akers in 2020 which led to him being a top pick in start-ups this past offseason. As of March ADP, he was RB8, and in April was going as early as 7th off the board in the first round in DLF mocks. You are taking a big leap of faith on a running back that battled through injuries all year and had a tough time fighting for touches early on.
Pass blocking was one of the few boxes Cam Akers did not check in college. Without a true preseason, we saw the veteran Malcolm Brown take a lot of the 3rd down work. Brown had 28 rushes on 3rd down and 11 receptions, while Akers had 12 rushes and 3 receptions. It came down to pass blocking and McVay’s trust in a veteran. With Malcolm Brown’s departure, the hope would be that Akers would slide into that work as well, but we will have to wait until preseason to see if Darrell Henderson flashes enough to earn some 3rd down work as well as he was one of the most effective players in college football at Memphis with the ball in his hands in space.
Defenses gave Akers a ton of attention. They seemed to stack the box a little more for Akers. According to Playerprofiler, he faced a stacked front 35.9% of the time. This was the 8th most in the NFL while having an average of 7.3 defenders in the box. This is most likely because Akers took a lot more 1st and 2nd down handoffs. Henderson on the other hand only faced a stacked box 26.1% of the time #21 overall and had an average of just under 7 players in the box. You see the trend here? Malcolm Brown faced even fewer stacked fronts at 13.9%. Usage in 2021 is going to be the biggest factor as teams will not be able to key into Akers if he is receiving more of the passing work as well. The Rams also have gone into more two-tight end sets at the end of the year again, evident by the usage of Cooper Kupp at season’s end in back-to-back campaigns.
Injury played a pretty big part in Akers’ delay to fantasy relevance this season. An injury in week 2 set him back behind Henderson and Brown, just as he was looking to become the “starter” getting the first series in that game. After that touches were sparse, receiving 9 against Washington with an average of 6.8 a carry only to be blanked in week 6 in a head-scratcher in San Francisco. That was the game where McVay gave Akers a single snap with no carries. There was not much of an explanation, but most speculated it was injury-related. In these games, Henderson averaged around 15 carries a game three 19+ PPR point performances. Henderson, a 3rd round pick that the Rams moved up to get in 2019, is no slouch when given the opportunity. This can become a thorn in the side to a complete Cam Akers take over in LA.
The Against Closing Arguments For The Running Back Case Files…
Now let’s not get crazy here. Cam Akers will be a great fantasy asset in 2021. He is the expert consensus ranked RB10 in dynasty at FantasyPros, and that seems to be a little more reasonable. There is a clear path to being a top 5 RB in 2021, but there are a few things that stand in his way. If Akers can stay on the field and withstand the heavy workload the Rams seem to want to give him he is going to be lights out. There are very few RBs that can make it through a 16 game season. Now, with the season being extended to a 17th game, let’s all hope that McVay has a plan to rest his running backs at the right time while also keeping the dream alive for a top 5 season.
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