Cam Akers Will Break Your Fantasy League (and Help the Rams Too)

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterAugust 19, 2020

Florida State running back Cam Akers (3) during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
Gary McCullough/Associated Press

Rams rookie running back Cam Akers could be the next Taysom Hill.

"You never know, we might have a Wildcat package coming to a theater near you," coach Sean McVay told reporters last week after noting that Akers was one of the candidates for a role as an emergency quarterback.

"If he ever wants to use me for it, I'm ready," the second-round pick from Florida State said with a wide smile in response to McVay's remarks.

Akers was a high school quarterback. He threw eight passes in his college career and completed five, including this one, which McVay singled out before musing about the Wildcat. "There are some trick plays where he's catching a swing pass to his left and flipping his hips and making 50-yard throws down the field," he said.

Wildcat snaps. Trickeration. A rusher-receiver-passer role. Akers sounds like he could be used in a similar role to that of beloved Saints all-purpose weapon Hill.

Wait...we're still doing the "next Taysom Hill" thing? The only people all that impressed with the first Taysom Hill are television color commentators, Facebook fathers-in-law convinced that he'd be better than Lamar Jackson if given the opportunity, and...well...Sean Payton, whose opinion matters much more than anyone else's. Hill is unique and fun to watch, but he produced just 390 scrimmage yards as a rusher and receiver while completing three passes last season. Those aren't numbers that prompt NFL copycats to scour the draft in search of similar players.

Nick Lisi/Associated Press

So let's not sell Akers short. He has the potential to be much, much more than a trick-play specialist. He should emerge as the chairman of the Rams' running back committee. He could be the ultimate fantasy sleeper. And he just might be the player who makes McVay and the Rams look like geniuses again.

Akers was a 5-star recruit after rushing for 34 touchdowns and throwing for 31 more as a senior at Clinton High School in Mississippi. Akers told reporters that a few colleges (including Auburn) recruited him as a quarterback, but he didn't want to be a college quarterback and felt he was too short at 5'10" to play the position. Akers chose Florida State and rushed for 2,875 yards and 27 touchdowns, adding 69-486-7 as a receiver and the aforementioned trick-play passes.

If those numbers look a little underwhelming, it's because the Florida State offense was in shambles for Akers' entire career. The Seminoles offensive line, in particular, looked like a Division III unit facing ACC competition in most weeks. Florida State coaches (the program went through three of them in Akers' three seasons) adjusted to the awful line play and subpar quarterbacking with lots of middle screens, shovel passes and "pitch it to Akers and cross your fingers" plays. Barry Sanders in his prime would have had a hard time getting back to the line of scrimmage regularly behind Florida State's line.

Akers boosted his draft stock with a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at this year's scouting combine. His Football Outsiders Speed Score of 108.7 was the third-highest among running backs in this class, behind Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor (drafted by the Colts) and Boston College's AJ Dillon (Packers). The Rams made Akers their top pick in the draft after releasing 2017 Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley for cap/mileage reasons.

Akers now appears to be part of a three-headed backfield. Five-year veteran Malcolm Brown is the nominal starter, but he has averaged just 3.9 yards per rush in his career, offers little value as a receiver and has never had an NFL run longer than 20 yards. Darrell Henderson, last year's third-round pick, was an explosive playmaker in college but couldn't wrest many backup carries away from Brown last year. The Rams are likely to rotate their backs to some degree with Gurley gone, but the path is wide-open for Akers to position himself at the front of that rotation.

From a fantasy standpoint, Akers is a true wild card: a potential featured rusher/receiver for an offense whose last featured rusher/receiver scored 14 to 21 touchdowns per season at his peak. Akers is getting selected in the middle of the seventh round in non-PPR, 12-team fantasy drafts, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. That number should change if McVay keeps raving about Akers' versatility. For now, Akers is a massive bargain at that draft position.

But his potential impact goes far beyond your fantasy draft. The cap-strapped Rams need a playmaker like him to keep them from free-falling into irrelevance.

Mark Wallheiser/Associated Press

Just two seasons ago, the Rams were the toast of the NFL, and McVay was hailed as the league's most brilliant young mastermind. But many of the Super Bowl starters are now gone (Gurley, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, center John Sullivan, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, most of the linebackers, defensive backs and others), and last year's offense suddenly looked like last decade's news: stale, predictable, unable to counter-adjust once opponents adjusted to it. The 2018 Rams risk being remembered as one-year wonders who spent a ransom in money and draft picks but came up just short in their all-in Super Bowl run.

Akers can't turn the Rams around by himself; no rookie could. But he can make the Rams backfield more dynamic and inject some much-needed big-play capability. He can also signal that the Rams plan to be a little leaner and smarter this year, whether by getting the most out of a discount backfield or, perhaps, adding some Wildcat plays and other wrinkles to start catching opponents off guard again. The Rams' path forward requires them to identify and get the most out of players like Akers instead of throwing money and picks at established stars.

Akers may not take any quarterback snaps or throw any passes this season, but he's certain to play a role—probably a large one. And it will be fun to see what he can do when he takes a handoff or swing pass and isn't immediately surrounded by three to 11 unblocked defenders. Few major-program running backs of recent memory got less support from their program than Akers did. No wonder McVay sounds excited about his untapped potential.

Akers told reporters last week that he likes to pattern his game after "complete" all-purpose runner/receivers like Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook and Gurley. "I like to watch full-package guys; guys who can do it all."

Akers could be the next member of that class of running back.

Oh, and he could throw the ball once in a while too.


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