When you’ve spent the past eight months writing solely baseball content, making the seasonal shift over to the football side can be relatively disarming — like stumbling down the stairs for a midnight snack and finding Booger McFarland lounged out on your living room recliner eating a hoagie. It can take a long time to regain your bearings after a situation like that, and even when you do, you might have trouble digesting what just occurred. Although I’ve been acclimating myself to the recent trends and analysis in the fantasy football preseason, it’s hard to truly get a grasp on the vast array of content produced on Razzball until actually getting into that headspace, and it can take time to sift through what has already been covered by our other talented writers and which stones have been left unturned. That’s why when I began thinking through ideas for my first post of 2022, I was surprised to find that very little had been written about Cam Akers heading into the upcoming campaign. I, for one, am rather bullish on Akers this season and believe he is primed to significantly outperform his current draft position of RB17 and No. 32 overall in half-PPR formats (Standard: RB15 / OVR28; PPR: RB18 / OVR35). By definition, that makes him a potential sleeper in my book, as I project Akers to be a top-10 running back this year, belonging at the top of the third tier of running backs alongside a name like D’Andre Swift — instead of at the bottom, where he is currently sandwiched between Ezekiel Elliott and David Montgomery with an ECR of RB17.
Much of the distaste for Akers’ 2022 outlook can be attributed to his July 2021 surgery to repair a torn Achilles, forcing him to miss the entire regular season outside of eight touches in the Week 18 season finale against the 49ers. It has been well-documented by now, but Akers limped to a league-worst 2.4 yards per carry following his return, which has led many to be cautious entering this season given what we know about Achilles injuries in the NFL, let alone at the running back position. Let’s attack everything I have a problem with in regard to this perspective in one swoop:
- Akers was not supposed to return at all in 2021 but did so six months removed from surgery. The fact that Akers’ lower body successfully lasted through a Super Bowl playoff run should provide reason for optimism, not pause. During that four-game run, Akers might have struggled with efficiency, but he still averaged 18.75 touches per game. If the Rams worked him in that heavily fresh off an injury last year, what makes you think he won’t be the same type of feature back in one of the best offenses in the NFL this year?
- The Rams faced a difficult ground game schedule during the postseason — a difficult task for a player coming off a major injury and possibly struggling to accelerate quickly into gaps off the snap. Akers rushed against the San Francisco front seven in Week 18 and again in the NFC Championship Game, then against the Buccaneers and Bengals during the playoffs as well. Each of those teams ranked in the top-seven in the league last year in terms of fewest rushing yards allowed, while the 49ers allowed the fifth-fewest YPC at 4.0.
- Remember how Akers only averaged 2.4 YPC last season? When sample size is small, you always need to dig deeper while taking it with a grain of salt. Think of small sample sizes as tequila shots. Akers rushed for 0.6 YPC against the 49ers in Week 18 but improved to a 2.6 YPC mark during playoffs. That included 3.7 YPC against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game on June 30. Am I saying that body of work is promising? No, it isn’t. But it isn’t as dreadful as many believe.
- Despite being unable to generate more than 2.4 YPC last season, Akers generated 95% of his rushing yards after contact. Players recovering from injuries often struggle to generate speed and accelerate off the snap as efficiently as before, but it’s only natural for that to build back over time as more and more strength returns to the muscle. What’s encouraging is that Akers was still elusive enough and had the necessary lower body strength to be elite in the YAC department.
- Darrell Henderson is not a threat to turn Los Angeles into a two-headed backfield. Akers is Ord, not Zak or Wheezie (shoutout to my Dragon Tales homies). Not only was Henderson unable to perform as an RB1 in Akers’ absence last year, but he immediately took a backseat to Akers last season even in weeks where both backs were “healthy.” Henderson is not as talented and his 2021 performance was evidence that he is best installed as a backup. He is coming off the board as RB42 in half-PPR leagues, which in itself should be baked into Akers’ 2022 outlook as a Tier 2-3 back, not Tier 3-4.
Now that I’ve dispelled a handful of my quarrels, let’s not forget about what actually makes Akers an enticing fantasy football commodity in the first place. As a rookie in 2020, Akers battled for touches for the majority of the year before finally receiving consistent, double-digit touches from Week 12 forward (excluding a DNP in Week 16). During those five weeks, Akers averaged 13.2 half-PPR points per game while seeing an average of 20.6 touches. In three of those five games, he was given 21 touches or more, peaking at 29 against New England in Week 14. Akers averaged 4.5 yards per carry in that stretch, which was right in line with his 4.3 mark on the season — drastically more efficient than what we observed down the stretch in 2021. That certainly means that the recent dip in efficiency is worth analyzing. Still, I believe Akers’ youth and ability to come back from the Achilles surgery so quickly, while sustaining health during a playoff run, is reason for optimism that he will return to his pre-2021 rushing ability.
Similar to that admittedly small sample size from 2020, Akers has a high likelihood of being installed as a workhorse back in one of the NFL’s premier offenses in 2022 (see counterpoint 5). There will be plenty of red zone opportunities as well, with the Rams finishing eighth in the league with 52 touchdowns in 2021. With the return of Akers to the ground attack, expect more than 19.2% of those scores to come on the ground.
With an ADP of 32nd overall and RB17 in half-PPR, I will be acquiring a healthy dosage of Akers shares this draft season. If he’s on the board alongside Leonard Fournette, James Conner, Elliott, and Montgomery — I’ll take my chances on Akers’ upside.
That’s all for this week, Razzball fam! As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.