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Projecting Cam Akers’ game to the NFL

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A talented running back will soon have a new team.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Cam Akers came to Florida State as a five-star mega-recruit from Mississippi, signing with the ’Noles in 2017. In three seasons in the Garnet and Gold, Akers carried the ball 586 times for 2,875 yards and 27 touchdowns. A versatile option out of the backfield, Akers caught 69 passes for an additional 486 yards and 7 touchdowns.

That kind of production earned Akers several spots in Florida State’s record books. His 2019 and 2017 seasons of 1,144 and 1,024 rushing yards are sixth and tenth most all-time at FSU, respectively. Akers’ career rushing yards are also sixth all time, ahead of Greg Jones, Lorenzo Booker, Devonta Freeman, and many other notable Seminoles. When it comes to tallying rushing touchdowns, Akers also made his mark. Akers tied the single-game record of 4, tied Freeman for seventh on the single-season list with 14, and is also seventh in career rushing touchdowns.

Akers did this all despite some very poor offensive line play — some of the worst in the country.

Athleticism and Style

First, let’s take a look at Akers’ athletic web from his Combine measurements:


It should not be surprising that Akers’ broad and vertical jumps, as well as his 40, stand out here — at the risk of oversimplifying, they help describe who he is as a runner. Simply put, Akers is an explosive player who possesses an exciting burst that’s excellent for his size. He does not have an elite high gear for the NFL level, but his top speed is more than adequate and will give secondary players fits.

Akers has quick feet and good change of direction skills. Put that together and it gives him a pretty potent jump cut. Akers is able to make dramatic cuts outside of his body frame and then blow past defenders. He doesn’t lose much, if any, momentum or speed on his cuts, and his stiff arms are rock solid. He’s no Barry Sanders in the open field, but Akers has some wiggle and does a good job of setting up his cuts to make defenders miss.

If you chose one word distill Akers’ running style, that word would be “violent”. Akers pairs his burst with excellent power, and he loves to use that power. Akers has good size for the position and displays very good balance through contact.

There will be some concern about how well — or how long — his body will hold up in the NFL with such a physical style of play, but he possesses the frame and size to make a go of it. He easily slips arm tackles, and if he can’t make a defender miss he enjoys squaring up and running through them, or at least trying to make them pay for tackling him. Akers is also pretty good at lowering his pad level on contact, so he is almost always falling forward for extra yards.

Receiving

Due to the design of the offense, Akers wasn’t asked to catch as often as some modern college backs, but when his number was called he displayed good hands. He consistently showed good technique in catching the football away from his body rather than trapping it against his chest. Akers did run a variety of routes including as flats, angle (also known as Texas) and wheel routes, but route running is the aspect of his receiving game that could use some polishing, although it’s not a liability.

The first four plays in this clip really encompass who Akers is as a player:

Honestly, you could take that whole video and apply it; it is a highlight clip after all. Akers shows burst both vertically and horizontally, his balance and power through contact, and his ability to catch away from his body.

Vision and Ball Security

Akers, miraculously, somehow averaged a career 4.9 yards per rush behind what was simply one of the worst offensive lines in FBS football. The video above also did a good job of showing how Akers is often patient in his reads before kicking in his burst, in a style that’s somewhat comparable Le’Veon Bell. Bell is famous for “pressing” the line of scrimmage and waiting for a hole to appear before bursting through. It’s fair to say Akers has shades of that skillset, and that it worked for him and the run-blocking environment he was operating in and led to some big plays.

However, there is also some concern. Years of running behind a bad offensive line has perhaps given Akers some bad habits. To put it bluntly, it did not appear Akers trusted his line, and consequently his vision can look inconsistent. While sometimes he would press the line of scrimmage, read his keys and follow the play as scripted, other times it looked like Akers was frustrated and trying too hard to make a play happen. Too often Akers gave up on a play before it had time to develop and would try to bounce it outside. He can come across as impatient.

Whether that impatience was solely a product of his blocking or not, it also hurt Akers in other ways. Sometimes it appeared he would run with a recklessness that caused him to lose his feet beneath him and either leave yards on the field or fumble. Akers totaled 10 fumbles in 36 career games, a knock he will have to work on.

At the next level, it will be interesting to see if the vision issue sorts itself out or if Akers really does have an issue (even if minor) with reading the blocks in front of him. Further, while Dalvin Cook was elite in setting up his blocks, especially at the second and third levels, this is an area in which Akers struggles and has room to improve. Ironically, his struggles at FSU in getting past the line of scrimmage may help him become a better pro.

Pass Protection

Pass protection is the real weakness of Akers’ game. Physically there are no issues - at times he would even drop a shoulder and deliver a good hit to a rusher. But Akers’ issues in pass protection lie on the mental side, and you can’t place all blame here on poor offensive line play. Akers needs to be improve identification of potential rushers earlier and setting himself in position. These two plays below are perfect examples:

As it currently stands, Akers is not a reliable three-down player. That’s not to say that Akers is bad at pass protection, and defensive coordinators definitely put Akers in some no-win conflicts with delayed blitzes, as on the third down play in the clip just above. But third downs are usually obvious passing situations, and a running back needs to be perfect or close to perfect in their pass protection at the next level, and Akers is simply too inconsistent.

If you are not consistent, you are a liability. One bad play can get your franchise quarterback hurt and lost for the season, which usually ends the team’s season. Consequently, some NFL coaches won’t even play a running back if they can’t trust them to pass block. Not to mention having a running back who can’t block can tip off a defense as to whether the play is a run or a pass.

Draft Projection

Physically, Akers has everything NFL teams could want. Size, burst, balance, power. While there are some legitimate questions about fumbles, vision, and patience as a runner, Akers projects as a starting running back in the NFL. The main issue keeping him from being a complete back is his pass protection. This is a common problem many running backs have to improve on coming out of college, and there’s no reason to think Akers cannot do so.

Akers is likely to be drafted in the 2nd or 3rd rounds of the 2020 draft on Friday. His style is more of a one-cut and go type of back, but there is concern that inconsistent vision could make him more suited to gap schemes as opposed to zone, or at least averse to teams that heavily use outside zone.