By Alex Lewis (@alexlewis226)
Florida State University has managed to produce a solid set of running backs over the last 30 years including Devonta Freeman, Warrick Dunn and Chris Thompson and following the conclusion of the 2020 NFL combine, another one could be about to smash the league apart.
Cam Akers, who hails from Clinton, Mississippi, put on an exceptional display in Indianapolis to put himself firmly within that elite top three of draft running backs – or at least so I think.
Now this revolution of FSU running backs hasn’t just returned, the Minnesota Viking’s running back, Dalvin Cook, slipped to the second round of the draft in 2016 and has gone on to prove a lot of teams wrong by becoming an RB1 in just three years.
The physical comparison between Cook and Akers is incredibly similar, but what skills the two backs bring to the field are a bit more different.
What will be the same however, is there dominance on a Sunday afternoon.
Cook, who left for the NFL before Akers arrived at FSU, had enough time with his successor to realise what it was possible for Akers to achieve.
In speaking with OrlandoSportsBlog on YouTube in 2017, Cook said of Akers: “he’s ready to learn, ready to see what the older guys could teach, I think it’s another version of what I went through, high recruit but still ready to learn”
“I think he’s got some greatness in him.”
Cam vs Cook – an apt comparison
The similarities between the two Seminoles, at least physically is an extensive list.
Both standing at 5”10 and around 210 pounds, it would be a challenge to separate their tape had they worn the same number.
It doesn’t help matters that when you try to compare the combine scores and times of Akers, it becomes possible to conceive that Cook may have just competed for a second time in Indianapolis.
In actual fact the draft capital of Akers took a huge upswing following his performance on Thursday.
Not only did Akers numbers trump (marginally) those of former Seminole, Cook, but if anything, the speed and explosiveness that the scores suggest is far more important to Akers draft day potential than it was to Cook.
For an explanation of why that is so can be found in the tape study of both of these players college careers.
Dalvin Cooks ability to take five-yard toss plays and make it a 50-yard house call was just about unparalleled in his class but when forcing him inside between the tackles, it’s a totally different story.
With a mixture of an upright running style and a consistent desire to bounce runs outside, rather than plant and go downhill, it came as no surprise to many that his combine performance was an impressive one.
For Akers however, who’s main criticism has been an inability to take big long runs and hit his head on the goalpost, an impressive amount of athletic explosion has the potential to boost his eventual draft position far more than it did Cook.
Now for Cook, a suspicion that there was some off-field issues eventually dropped him to the second round and the 41st overall pick, and although Akers doesn’t have those same concerns, a feeling that his hands are less natural than Cooks will likely leave him on the board until a similar range.
Mock draft riser
Outside of the stats and numbers that Akers was able to post in the workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, his performance in the drills caught the eyes of far more General Managers and analysts.
The brand new Duce Staley drill was dominated by Akers, who demonstrated quick feet and smooth hips to navigate what is fresh territory for the talent scouts of the NFL.
The same themes followed him throughout the more standard off-tackle drill which Akers successfully displayed to pretty much perfection, which will go a long way to convince some that despite entering the draft as a junior, he has the gap-reading maturity of some of his fellow class-mates.
Akers also impressed at the stand when addressing the media before his on-field display later in the week.
Coming across with that same level of maturity that he managed to display in the drills, he supported Dalvin Cooks revelation that he was willing to listen and take guidance from those that has come before him.
Asked by 247Sports.com what sort of running back he is, Akers said:
“Just an all-around running back,
“Somebody’s who’s, of course, able to run the ball but another important aspect of running back is being able to block also. I just think I’m a complete back from catching to blocking to running.”
Instead of being pre-draft rhetoric, its possible to believe that following the combine, Akers has a point.
A one-handed grab on a swing pass drill may help to alter the narrative that he struggles to make catches outside his frame, as did a smooth participation of the new “Texas” route drill.
Hang on a second
Despite all of the above-mentioned successes and improvements for Akers at the combine, the original tape concerns still warrant some thought before he flies up the relevant draft boards.
His 4.4 speed will assist concerns about his chunk play ability, that he hasn’t demonstrated in high volume in his three years of Seminole football and will also address how well he can bounce plays to the outside.
During college Akers has been excellent inside the tackles, and falling forwards for small gains on first down, but the question as to whether he can do the same against the bigger bodies of the NFL will need to be considered.
He also faces questions in the passing game, which despite a strong combine showing, will still be something to consider when thinking about drafting him as high as FSU compatriot Dalvin Cook.
Akers can be comfortable in the fact that he is a far more advanced blocker than Cook was coming into their respective drafts, giving him an extra upside as the league moves further into a pass happy style.
Where will he go?
In totality, Cam Akers combine show-off was about as beneficial to draft stock as any single player this year.
Showing off in the areas that he had failed to dominate at in college, his 4.4 speed and soft hands will go some way to convincing teams that Akers really is a three down back.
Pre-combine mock drafts listed Akers as a 3rd round talent but following all of the above combine boosts, I would not be surprised to see him in that early to mid-second round range.
Partially because you should never question the power of combine hype, but also because there is some teams in that area who really need a running back and have Dalvin Cook as a case study to prove Akers could make it as a RB1.
Any of the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the Houston Texans should be considered strong contenders should they move up to in and around that area of the upper second round.
Whoever ends up with Akers on their roster, they should consider themselves very lucky to have a stud, and likely at a discounted price.