After entering the NFL Draft with just seven draft picks at their disposal and having needs all across their offensive line, the Rams were not favorites to land a running back with an early pick in the draft. That felt especially likely considering L.A. traded up to select Darrell Henderson in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft. Instead, GM Les Snead and the Rams continued to ignore their offensive line and took Cam Akers with their first pick of the draft at 52 overall.
After Todd Gurley got released earlier this offseason, the Rams now have a wide-open RB competition on their hands between Akers, Henderson, and veteran Malcolm Brown. Gurley’s absence leaves behind a monster role. Last year, Gurley still managed to play on 71% of Rams’ snaps and handled 248 touches despite never looking like his former self.
Before we break down the Akers vs. Henderson vs. Brown battle for fantasy purposes, let’s first dig into Cam Akers’ yards created data.
In my five years of charting college running backs, no back had to deal with poor run blocking quite like Akers did last year at FSU. Akers consistently created on his own while his offensive line was repeatedly out-matched.
Last year, the Seminoles opened up just 0.57 yards blocked per carry -- which is the lowest figure I have ever measured. Akers was hit behind the line of scrimmage on nearly one-third of his carries and that is a stark contrast to D’Andre Swift, for example. Georgia’s offensive line allowed Swift to be hit behind the line to gain on just 9% of his carries.
Despite the poor blocking and extremely poor scheme, Akers thrived. In just 11 games, Akers ended his college career by averaging 124.2 yards from scrimmage per game and scoring 18 TDs. And yards created showed Akers possessed borderline elite traits in all three phases of his game: as a runner, receiver, and pass protector.
Akers’ talent especially shined when the Seminoles ran off-tackle. Akers rarely saw open rushing lanes in college, but when he got some daylight on the edge, the advantage was always in his favor. Akers created a monster 8.2 yards per rush on his outside carries last season -- which led the class over J.K. Dobbins (6.9 YC/A on outside attempts).
Now, Akers isn’t a make-you-miss runner like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but Akers did show a clear knack for making defenders miss with elusiveness, speed, and contact balance at the second-level. In fact, both Dobbins and Akers forced the same amount of missed tackles per carry (0.33; tied for fifth-best in class) last year. A nearly perfectly even amount of Akers’ evaded tackles on the ground came from power (37%), speed (33%) or elusiveness (30%).
Akers was FSU’s centerpiece on offense and was one of five backs in the rookie class to play on at least two-thirds of their team’s snaps last year (the other four were Edwards-Helaire, Dobbins, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and Eno Benjamin). Akers never came off of the field in passing down situations in college and was 1st in pass protection snaps and 3rd in targets per game in this rookie class.
Because the pocket was constantly collapsing when he was asked to pass protect, Akers had a lot on his plate in his pass protection. Still, I came away impressed with Akers’ competitiveness and nuanced feel for squaring up oncoming defenders amidst chaos in the backfield. Overall, Akers managed to earn a 77% pass protection execution rate (PPE) which ranks him slightly above-average in my database. The college average PPE is 72%.
In the passing game, Akers was mainly used on screens and simple routes into the flat, but there is no doubt Florida State’s abysmal QB play hurt Akers production as a receiver. On one play in particular, Akers dusted a Clemson LB on a wheel route only to have the ball hilariously thrown over his head and out of bounds even though he was wide open.
The Rams taking Akers was a surprise, but my sense is that HC Sean McVay wanted to have a committee backfield with Gurley as the lead runner last year but couldn’t because Darrell Henderson was so far behind as a rookie. Henderson was one of the most explosive backs I’ve ever studied -- he led the 2019 RB class in both yards created per attempt and receiving yards per route run -- but he did not have a good sense of reading and anticipating blocks and often looked like the game was moving too fast when I watched his carries as a rookie.
Henderson’s transition to the NFL was always going to be an interesting case study because of the scheme he came from in college, but it is certainly not a good sign that last year’s No. 70 overall pick was widely out-snapped by Malcolm Brown (222 to 93) and the Rams just turned around and invested a premium pick on a very talented back.
Obviously, figuring out how the Rams will spread out their touches in their crowded backfield will be a key storyline to monitor this summer. At press-time in mid-May, all we can do is guess how many times Akers, Henderson, and Brown will get the rock this coming season. In our first run of seasonal rankings, we have Akers projected to see 208 touches over Henderson (110) and Brown (90).
At the very least, Akers will be used to combating poor offensive line play. Somewhat surprisingly, the Rams didn’t meaningfully invest in their line this offseason after ranking 11th-worst in yards before contact per carry last year. According to FootballOutsiders, 21% of the Rams carries were stuffed behind the line of scrimmage for no gain (or a loss) last season -- which was the 6th-highest clip in the NFL. In 2018, L.A. was 11th-best in yards before contact as only 14% of their carries were stuffed for no gain (2nd-fewest).
McVay did try to fix their issues in the run game mid-season last year, though. In Week 11, the Rams switched to a gap blocking scheme and started using 2-TE sets as their base offense. Over L.A.’s final seven games, the Rams used 12 personnel (2WR, 2TE) on 59% of their running plays, which trailed only the Eagles (66%) in this span. This marked a dramatic evolution in the Rams scheme. In Weeks 1-10, L.A. used 12-personnel on just 17% of their runs (7th-fewest). With Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett both healthy coming into the season, I’m fully expecting the Rams to continue using 2-TE sets heavily.
After the NFL Draft, Akers’ average draft position in early BestBall10s has settled in the 5th round as the RB26 off of the board. Honestly, I don’t really have an opinion either way on Akers’ re-draft value. The price is fair, but I’ve found myself targeting Calvin Ridley, Robert Woods, Terry McLaurin, Seahawks WRs, D.J. Chark, and Mark Andrews when Akers goes off of the board. For dynasty, I have Akers ranked as the clear-cut rookie RB4 ahead of D’Andre Swift and would target him in the late-3rd or early-4th round of a startup draft.