The 2020 NFL Draft has a number of exciting players from an assortment of positions. This is an especially deep class for wide receivers, offensive tackle, and interior linemen. There are a number of intriguing options at running back as well.
There were 4 RBs who eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing in 2019 and 3 of them are in this Draft (although one of them, Malcolm Perry, is switching positions. J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor both had 2,003 yards and were the engines that drove their respective teams. D’Andre Swift of Georgia was a dynamic runner on a team that played in the tough SEC. He averaged 6.2 yards a carry.
Almost lost in this sea of great backs is the “little engine that could” Cam Akers of Florida State. The FSU program has hit the skids lately with a poor offensive line. Still Akers ran for 1,144 yards and 14 TDs, caught 30 passes for 225 yards and 4 TDs, and completed 4 of 6 passes for 50 yards.
Akers came to FSU from Mississippi where he was Mr. Football in 2016. He was the U.S. Army National Player of the Year after having an iconic high school football career. As a dual threat QB he threw for 8,140 yards and 78 TDs. He also ran for 5,103 yards and 71 TDs. That accounts for an incredible 13,242 yards and 149 TDs in high school in the Deep South where football is like a religion.
Akers has good size for a RB. He is heavily muscled but still flexible with great power in his legs. He has superior contact balance with tackle breaking ability, soft hands, and pass route running ability. He has quick feet with a nice jump cut and superior vision.
While I like both J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor I am torn between D’Andre Swift and Cam Akers as the best running back in this Draft. Both are incredibly dynamic players.
I’ll let you decide. Here is my case for Cam Akers.
Akers came to Florida State as one of the most sought after recruits in the country. You read his off the charts high school numbers, but he was committed to go to Alabama to become part of a tandem with Najee Harris. Jimbo Fisher talked him into coming to Florida State then left for Texas A&M. Two head coaches and three offensive coordinators later Akers was on a team with little talent and some horrific offensive lines.
You know he must have regretted things a bit as he watched Najee Harris run behind offensive lines who are going to have back to back first round draft picks (Jonah Williams and Jedrick Wills). He contemplated a transfer after his sophomore season but decided to remain with his teammates and gut it out.
In these highlights I hope to expose you to the total skill set of Cam Akers.
This first play is like any play you may see in the NFL. This is a single back set in an”I” formation with the QB giving a read option look. Nothing is fancy about this 11 personnel set.
At the snap the left inside linebacker reads keys and fills the hole where the play is supposed to go. This is a nice job by him. The linebacker gets blocked, but it creates a mosh pit in the trenches. Akers takes the ball as far into the hole as possible then uses a huge jump cut that takes him 2 yards to his right. This is called “pressing the hole.” It forces the linebackers to commit to a hole then Akers uses that great elusiveness to leave them behind as he goes in another direction.
The middle linebacker follows his cohort but moves around the pile of humanity to find Akers right in front of him. Akers uses a jab step then races to the outside leaving the middle linebacker to tackle air. Akers then cuts off the block of the pulling guard and races upfield. The guard pulled slowly on the play. He should have gotten a block on the middle linebacker, but he never sealed that hole. He ends up blocking the slot DB who crashes down because he has no other responsibilities. Akers hits the speed button, races upfield, realizes he is surrounded by four or five defenders, puts his shoulder down, and makes three more yards after the collision. It’s a first down. Akers got all he could on the play. Nice job.
This next play is a zone blocking play to the right, but Akers reads the developing action and can see the entire right side is a mess. He takes the ball straight upfield instead. He finds a filling linebacker right on the edge.
This is beautiful (unless you are that linebacker) as Akers leans to the left like he is going to race around the edge. As the linebacker takes a single step to his right (towards the outside) Akers plants his left foot, cuts back inside, and races by the bewildered linebacker. After that he stays inside long enough to keep the defenders worried about the cut across the field. Akers never breaks stride as he shows his 4.47/40 speed. He races down the sideline for a TD. A power back on that same play would have run over the linebacker on the edge and gotten two or three yards.
This is the difference in running backs. The great ones make plays that are not there. They get what is not blocked. Many players have speed, which is nice. The difference is having elusiveness and vision. Akers shows all those skills on this play/ If he could not elude the linebacker in front of him it’s pretty much a dead play. Speed means nothing at that point. He would get two or three yards.
If he doesn’t have the vision to see how to set up the defenders and find the alley, it’s a 15 yard gain. If he doesn’t have the speed to outrun the DB’s, it’s a 20 to 25 yard play. When you have it all, it’s a 54 yard game changing TD.
Some players can look good, but they don’t have the entire skill set. You may wonder why one guy who looks so good is not rated as high as another RB. This is why. Akers ran 4.47/40 at the Combine which is good. It isn’t spectacular, but with his rugged body type and skills I’ll take it. Some people see a RB who runs 4.35/40 and assume he is better because Akers only ran 4.47. That would be a mistake, you have to look at all the skills a RB has in order for you to rate them. The difference between a 4.47/40 and a 4.40/40 is less than a blink of an eye. Don’t get hung up over it. Both guys are plenty fast. This works the same for wide receivers too.
This next clip we will look at another skill set that Akers has. That is contact balance. This is important, and all the great backs have it. When you run fast you are not as stable as when you are walking. You can fall much easier. When you run down a hill you will experience this. You keep going faster and faster until you body loses its balance. You eventually fall, rolling down the hill like an old tire. This is an extreme example, but it gives you an idea of what happens to players who run fast. If you push them sideways they fall over much easier than when they are walking or standing still.
Akers breaks two arm tackles (another positive skill) going through the line (keeping his balance) then cuts back away from #21 who Akers can see has a great angle on him. He cuts back which “wrong foots” #21, taking away his tackling power. Akers splits the two defenders and is able to pull away, leaving them in a pile behind him.
Another skill that all great backs is toughness. You take a lot of hits as a RB so at times it’s nice to deliver a little punishment yourself. This next play is similar to the play a couple of clips ago, but the defense is in better position with better pursuit.
You can see as Akers cuts outside, there is no room to cut back inside because of the pursuing defenders. The best course of action is to break a tackle then head down the sideline to get all you can. The safety comes over to knock Akers out of bounds but gets rocked by the sturdy RB. He is sent flying on his backside.
Being so close to the Florida State sideline you can see how much it fires up the team. Your best player is refusing to go out of bounds so he sends a message to your rival about toughness and power.
Vision, tackle breaking, speed and toughness with an attitude...you gotta love it.
This next one is kind of easy to see, and that is vision in the hole. This differs from vision in the open field. It is a skill that really can’t be developed.
The best way to explain it is to think about painting a picture, say a bowl of fruit. Your eyes can see it so you should be able to replicate it on a canvas. Still, if you are like me you have no hope in doing so.
Having vision in the hole is similar. You can see the various directions you want to travel, but you have to have quick feet and be able to move them rapidly to the correct area to avoid the defenders. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. Plus it’s not just like painting. It’s speed painting since all those foot moves must be made in split seconds.
If you watch very closely you can see Akers is lined up in the pistol formation. He takes the ball moving left then moves back right after the hand off. He finds the hole then moves right, left, right, and accelerates left to the open field for the TD. It’s subtle. He goes through all that traffic and barely gets touched.
This next clip is just tackle breaking along with speed against the archrival Gators.
Akers sees the hole (for once it is open) then races to the opening. He breaks a tackle of the outside linebacker, keeps his balance (contact balance) then uses that great speed for a rugged run to take this to the house.
Next we are going to look at pass plays. Most RBs are screen pass running outlet receivers in the flat and not much more. Akers can do all those things, but he can also run actual patterns fairly well. He is no Jerry Jeudy, but he can still be effective.
This first play is your basic screen pass to the right. Watch his head after the catch. He is looking not what is in front of him. He is looking way ahead to decipher where he is going to go with this play. his is “open field vision,” and it is another skill set that is tough to teach. Players who have this skill use their peripheral vision to see what is directly around them and to avoid what is near.
At the same time they are looking ahead to the next level of defenders to plot their course. Akers takes the pass, looks upfield, and leaves his three blockers in the dust because he sees the path he wishes to take. Then he goes for it. He weaves around a few defenders then powers over a poor tackle attempt into the end zone.
This next play we will see route running and good hands, skills few running backs have.
This is a hybrid seam pass that is a little high because the safety is trailing on the play. You could call this a skinny post out of the backfield, but whatever name is used in this offense it has to be run in a way that gives the QB a lane to throw. It’s a tough pass with two defenders in close range, but Akers shows good concentration to haul in the throw.
This next play is a delayed drag route which is good when run against man coverage. In this case Akers is going to wait in the backfield like he is going to be in pass protection.
He wants the linebacker in coverage to drop off or rush the passer. He does neither staying with his coverage. Akers crosses his face so the linebacker is in catch up mode right away. This is a nice little catch. It took some speed to get to the end zone then break a tackle. It also took some athleticism to get over the line.
The next play is a simple flat pattern that Akers takes for a 70 yard TD.
There is nothing special about this other than the good speed. Five Gators try in vain to chase him down. The Gators always get great athletes with speed yet here Akers outraces their entire secondary.
This last play is a stop pattern against a great Clemson defense who are all quick with great speed. Akers is lined up against AJ Terrell who is a likely first round prospect.
It’s a simple stop route, but how many times do you see a RB lined up out as the widest receiver on the play then get thrown the ball? Usually they are just a decoy but not Akers. He gets a first down with a nice hands catch in front of his body. This is another skill. Most RBs are uncomfortable catching the ball away from their body. They like to catch it against their chest, but that is not the best way. Catching the ball with your hands away from your body is unnatural so you have to work on it to do it. Akers obviously has.
Akers had 69 receptions in 3 years at FSU so it is a true skill set he has developed over time.
These last two clips are of Akers in a QB role, one as a wildcat and one throwing the ball.
This first play against Syracuse is a six yard wildcat TD.
Akers was asked to do this numerous times. He was an outstanding QB in high school so he is a real threat to throw the ball. In this situation you can watch as he runs down the line looking for an opening then finding the edge clear. He accelerates then dives for the TD.
I said Akers was an outstanding QB in high school, and he has an accurate, strong arm that can make most of the throws any QB can. Here is an example.
This is an off balance throw across his body that travels 54 yards in the air and then hits the receiver in stride. Now this is not something he will do a lot, but he has the ability. It just adds to his varied skill set. It is not a “I can throw the ball 10 yards” kind of passing. It’s a real threat if a coach wanted to use it, and an inventive play caller would.
So there you have it, a great prospect with all the tools to succeed. The Jets currently have Le’Veon Bell, but who knows how long that will last? Akers is a young and still fresh as a player. He handled 655 touches in 3 years at FSU which leaves plenty of tread on the tires.
Jonathan Taylor meanwhile handled 968 touches in 3 years at Wisconsin. J.K. Dobbins handled 796 touches at Ohio State but doesn’t have the same elusiveness as Akers. D’Andre Swift handled only 513 touches. He has the type of elusiveness you want but maybe not the same vision, I will profile him another time.
Akers has a great skill set as you can see. He needs to work on ball security as he has fumbled 10 times in his FSU career. This is far too many. He also had a penchant to find a “turf monster” by tripping over his own feet a few times. Sometimes when you are processing where to go. your brain just messes up your feet, and you trip yourself. It didn’t happen too often just at inopportune times when he was in the open field with room to roam.
I have no Idea how Joe Douglas will handle this Draft ,but in trade down situations you never know what will happen. Cam Akers will be a high quality back who will be an asset to any team he plays on, maybe the Jets.
That is what I think.
What do you think?