Fantasy Court: The Case For Cam Akers in 2021
If you are new to the Fantasy Footballers or are unfamiliar with the Fantasy Court series, this article can be one-half of a tandem argument or a stand-alone read. I detail the case for Cam Akers in this piece while fellow writer Jeff Greenwood will lay the case against him for the 2021 season. Make sure to check out Fantasy Court: The Case Against Cam Akers to read the other side of the argument.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Fantasy Jury… My name is Nate Henry, and I stand here not representing, but championing, Cam Akers against the slanderous accusations propounded by my worthy adversary, Mr. Jeff Greenwood. Shockingly, Mr. Greenwood has asserted that my client will not return fantasy value in 2021. Despite flummoxed at Mr. Greenwoods’ take, I gather myself to say “Nay”! Not only will Cam Akers break out in 2021, but his 2021 season will also be reminiscent of Todd Gurley’s 2017 and 2018.
Now, please allow me to take you on a journey, a tale that includes team action, performance, and analytics, during which you’ll see exactly why these arguments against Mr. Akers are not persuasive. By the end of my arguments, you’ll clear my client’s name, you’ll draft him to your fantasy team, and you’ll donate to Mr. Akers’ favorite charity at the end of the year in celebration of that #FootclanTitle.
See now, the story of Cam Akers’ 2021 breakout begins on March 20, 2019, before Cam Akers was even drafted. On this date, the Rams matched the Detroit Lions’ $3.25 million offer sheet for Malcolm Brown, for you see, the Rams could not live without the services of Malcolm Brown. (Meanwhile in 2019, Cam Akers ran for 1144 yards behind the worst offensive line in Power 5 college football.)
Fast forward to 2020: Todd Gurley is gone, Darrell Henderson enters year two, and Malcolm Brown is still on the team. The team drafted Cam Akers in the 2nd round (he was “drafted to be great”). The Rams backfield looks like a crowded mess, and a pandemic has robbed us of a preseason look at the Rams depth chart. But, we get an inside look at the team in 2020 due to the HBO yearly sports documentary: Hard Knocks.
During pre-season 2020, the Rams played a scrimmage game in their sumptuous, new stadium. Clips from this scrimmage were shown during Hard Knocks, most notable of which was Cam Akers fumbling inside the 10-yard line after seemingly receiving all the backfield work. This play turned out to be disastrous to Cam’s early-season ability to shine.
Like any rookie, Cam Akers‘ leash was short. Sean McVay wanted to plug-and-play Akers into Gurley’s workload, but he just couldn’t fully trust the rookie. In Week 1 of 2020, it was plain that the Rams backfield was a committee with Malcolm Brown getting 18 carries to Akers’ 14 and Henderson’s 3.
Then, alas, our conqueror suffered a painful rib injury in Week 2 that limited him to 27 total snaps over the next five weeks. He tried to play through the injury in Week 3 before finally shutting it down for the next two games. The injury seemed to linger until Week 9, when Akers got nine carries, but importantly busted out a 73-yard, highlight-reel run. Once healthy and entrusted, Akers averaged 22 carries, 93.5 yards, 2.333 targets, and 24.5 receiving yards per game from Week 10 through the Rams final playoff game in the Divisional Round (6 total games as Akers suffered another injury that kept him out of Week 16).
|Carries||Rushing Yards||Targets||Receiving Yards||Snap %|
The jury should ignore Akers’ Weeks 1-9. It’s simply no surprise that a rookie started the year a bit slow given the unnatural order of the 2020 season (and suffering through an injury). Recall, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled OTAs, preseason matchups, and most contact drills. Even the mighty Justin Jefferson got off to a slow start in 2020. Said differently, rookies simply needed more time to acclimate to NFL life, speed, and competition to truly show themselves. The jury should understand that the true Cam Akers was represented by Week 10 on, and that’s who Cam Akers will be as a second-year player.
The Rams currently grade out as the 8th best offensive line according to Pro Football Focus. PFF was particularly impressed with left tackle, Andrew Whitworth, who returns for yet another season. This is particularly notable because Whitworth was injured from weeks 10 to 16. He returned for the Rams playoff games, when Cam averaged 110.5 yards per game. So, when the Rams’ best offensive lineman plays, Cam Akers’ production increases, and Whitworth is currently healthy for 2021.
Speaking of injuries, Cam Akers ran for 131 yards in the Divisional Round playoff game against Seattle, which is particularly notable because Jared Goff played with a broken finger on his throwing hand. While it’s true that Akers likely got an elevated amount of carries (28) because of Goff’s inability to throw effectively, it’s equally true that Seattle hedged their defense to stop the run and couldn’t.
One more thing, the Rams have arguably the best defense in the NFL. You know what teams with good defenses like to do? Run the ball to help protect the lead.
And, there’s the addition of Matthew Stafford, who is particularly good at passing the ball to running backs. Stafford’s presence will increase the targets to Akers and increase offensive efficiency overall, leading to more touchdowns for, you guessed it, Cam Akers.
Finally, Sean McVay was recently quoted saying “I think [Cam Akers is] an every-down back.” [hype train whistle!!!] This isn’t just coach speak; Cam Akers was an every down player last year, averaging 67% snaps in the last four games of the regular season and playing 96% of the snaps in the final playoff game. These are Todd Gurley 2017/2018 playing time numbers.
And so that brings us to the only evidence that the other side has to refute our undeniably great case for Cam Akers, and that is: Darrell Henderson. The other side will likely cite to Henderson being injured during Akers ascension, but guess who wasn’t? Malcolm Brown. Henderson was forced to step up during Cam’s injury, and he did, to his credit. Yet, once Akers was healthy, Henderson’s snap counts went down, down, down (W10 – 46%, W11 – 32%, W12 – 21%, W13 – 11%, W14 – 12% until his eventual injury). Henderson’s usage tracks exactly with Akers’ health: his playing time goes up when Akers is hurt, his playing time goes down when Akers is healthy. These correlations are direct. Plus, Sean McVay always had old, trusty Malcolm Brown to step in, just like he did in Week 1. But he didn’t because Akers was ready to carry the load.
Darrell Henderson was drafted to be a change of pace back. That was true when the team had Todd Gurley, and it’s true now that they have their Gurley replacement in Cam Akers. Henderson will get touches, but the team was so impressed with Akers that they let beloved Malcolm Brown go to Miami. That is particularly telling as to their confidence in Akers, and more generally to the combined backfield of Akers and Henderson.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, I conclude by again reminding you that Cam Akers is ready to explode and come near the value that Todd Gurley had in 2017 and 2018. His upside is worth the early draft pick. Darrell Henderson is not going to prevent that, if anything, he will help keep Cam stay healthy and injury-free. With that, I rest my case.