'Why Cam Akers?'
The NFL Combine opened eyes to the type of athlete Cam Akers is, and it’s no secret that his collegiate production was hampered by poor offensive line play and a bottom tier ecosystem during his time as a Seminole.
So, what does Akers bring to the table beyond the surface level?
1 - Finishing runs
What stands out most about Akers’ game in comparison to other backs in this class is the physical, no nonsense presence he has when he steps on the field.
Akers is an 'energy giver' and provides an instant morale boost to an offense with the type of intensity he plays with.
We know that Florida State’s offensive line was one of the nations worst. Getting to the second level was a bit of a rare occurrence for Akers & company.
When Akers did get there, he made it a priority to punish his opposition.
There are certain backs that will make your afternoon difficult if you are on the defensive side of the ball.
Akers is one of those backs.
When you watch him he regularly invites contact before stepping out of bounds
2 - Winning consistently through initial contact
Watch how he gets himself into space by ‘turning to square’ towards the engaging backer.
This allows him to absorb the contact more efficiently which gives him the opportunity to stay on balance post-engagement.
A sign of a great back is working through simultaneous engagements like Akers does here, as well as above against Miami.
Akers presents a blend of force & finesse when he is either initiating or absorbing contact.
Wrapping Akers up when meeting at the line of scrimmage is difficult for defenders to do.
He weaponizes his pad level and uses that leverage to win during initial engagement.
His ecosystem didn't allow many clean lanes, but it did allow Akers to evolve his instincts because of how quickly he experienced contact at times.
Akers frequently had to work through unplanned engagements and solve problems rapidly behind the line of scrimmage.
3 - Creating space & mitigating contact
Mitigating contact is an aspect of the running back position where Akers shows proficiency.
He regularly creates just enough space to get free, and does so efficiently allowing him to not rapidly decelerate as contact is made.
Step 1: Get #30’s leverage moving towards the boundary.
Step 2: Take #30’s inside opportunity away.
Step 3: Stay square long enough to provide a ‘threat’ to #3, causing a false step.
Step 4: Use a right foot led plant to re-accelerate up the sideline.
Step 5: Touchdown, Seminoles.
Akers top-end speed is an underrated quality of his and he is a legitimate threat to take it the distance once he gets past the second level.
Akers wins leverage battles consistently which allow him to gain additional yardage after contact is made.
Great instinct to use his arm as a barrier here to redirect the defender.
Akers has an impressive ability to solve problems involving different contact types.
4 - Instincts in short areas
Akers is a great ‘phone booth back.’
He shows impressive instincts in short areas, and regularly chains together successive movements at or the near the line of scrimmage.
The NFL is played in a ‘vacuum’, running back in particular.
We often times put to much emphasis on straight-line abilities and forget that the position demands the player to be able move efficiently in short areas while avoiding & absorbing contact.
Akers evades, absorbs and is able to pinball around in tight areas while keeping his feet.
Akers regularly made most out of poor situations.
He has a great feel for a defenders leverage and can consistently win short area engagements at the line of scrimmage.
5 - Play speed
Akers is fast enough to separate from defenders and is refined enough in his mechanics at top-end speed to continue pulling away.
Athletically, Akers is a fairly complete back who has big play potential.
As an accelerator, Akers can drop the hammer and quickly peel away from defenders.
Once he refines his skill set we may have a special back in the making.
6 - Skill set as a receiver
Akers is a natural pass catcher, and can be a legitimate downfield threat.
One of the more impressive plays of Akers’ career as a Seminole.
I anticipate his role as a pass catching option being similar to that of Miles Sanders in Philadelphia.
Angle routes are apart of Akers receiving capabilities.
While he does not possess the dramatic movement tools of the great route runners at the position, he will prove to be a functional option in the short to intermediate areas with the ability to beat linebackers vertically.
7 - Display of poor anticipatory qualities
The biggest knock on Akers as he makes his transition to the NFL are his anticipatory qualities.
Rarely does Akers manipulate the second level, and to often makes the incorrect decision when holes do open.
Akers best chance at maximizing yardage on this play comes from a continuation up the boundary where he would likely face a one on one engagement.
Instead, Akers stops his feet and bends back to take on several defenders.
It may take about half a season or more for Akers to catch up to processing differences that the NFL creates.
8 - Landing spot: Los Angeles Rams
This is a difficult spot to evaluate because of how poor the Rams were as a run blocking unit in 2019. With Todd Gurley gone there is around 250 + annual touches to make up for, however, it's how efficient those touches will be is the question. If the Rams cannot piece together a league average offensive line, Akers and company will not be in a good spot until we see changes up front.
9 - 'Who is Cam Akers?'
On one hand, Akers has as high a ceiling of any back in this 2020 class. On the other hand, he may present the greatest learning curve of the top 5 backs. Having such a dysfunctional ecosystem in college is a large part of this. Even though Akers averaged less than one yard before contact, he managed just over 1,100 yards and a respectable 5.0 yards per attempt during his senior season as a Seminole. We see the no-nonsense approach to the position that Akers brings and it's ultimately his effort, through contact abilities, and his versatility as a receiver that make his upside worth the risk.
If Akers is drafted by a team with stability surrounding their offense then I think Akers development will be accelerated similar to that of Miles Sanders ending up a Philadelphia Eagle. Sanders and Akers share similarities in their inconsistency to process information coming out of college, but also in their raw athletic capabilities.
For fantasy purposes, Akers presents an intriguing RB1 caliber ceiling once he develops, but he is a back that we may need to be patient with. Even though he may struggle earlier on in his career, the upside could be worth the wait for Akers and his talent.