July 2021, before training camp even began, Cam Akers was taken down by an Achilles injury. Our fantasy football hero for 2021 fell before the battle even began. His journey follows the hero cycle of a well known Greek mythological hero, no not Achilles, but the great Odysseus.
According to KeepTradeCut, Akers’ dynasty value was sent to the depths, rock bottom immediately following the injury. He descended to the depths of Hades and just like Odysseus, and just like Odysseus, Akers will be the first to return in less that six months from what was once believed to be a career-ending injury.
A quick aside: as is any article about fantasy football, there are much more important and impressive aspects of this story, than the return of Akers’ fantasy value. The injury had a great emotional impact and the quick return to the playing field was a great feat of human will and gutsy determination. I highly recommend Jourdan Rodrigue’s article covering the story in more depth and to get some insight into the groundbreaking procedure used to repair the Achilles.
While the return to the field against the Arizona Cardinals brought significant returns to his dynasty value, Akers has yet to reach his full potential, his return to his rightful home atop dynasty rankings is still yet to come. There is no better place to evaluate a return from the depths than right here at the Underworld.
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Our fantasy football hero returned to the field, and on a touch per snap basis, it was as if he never left. In 2020, Cam Akers ranked No. 5 in touches per snap.
In only his second game back, less than six months removed from an Achilles tear, he played 32 of 60 offensive snaps and had 18 touches. For those of you doing math at home, that is 56.5-percent of snaps with touches. He also had three plays called back due to penalties.
The plan for Akers is clear – even in his first game with a greater than 50-percent Snap Share, he is the workhorse and engine for this offense. And dare I say he looked more explosive than before the injury.
the engine for a prolific offense
Cam Akers took over the workhorse role in Week 13 of the 2020 season. Despite exiting one game early due to injury, he finished that season out averaging 16.3 PPR Fantasy Points Per Game (including the NFL playoffs). These are backend RB1 numbers, which I consider to be a fairly safe floor. The upside is a truly vintage Todd Gurley-esque 25-26 FPPG production.
The Rams have not targeted the running back at a high rate this season, but they have not had a consistent backfield mate for quarterback Matthew Stafford that can make impact plays as a receiver. Stafford has targeted running backs in the past: from 2013 to 2018, running backs accounted for 23-percent of his targets.
As Noah Hills outlined, earning running back targets takes a back with the skillset to command targets. Akers commanded a 12.3-percent (87th-percentile among qualified running backs) Target Share in college and has an 88.8 Receiver Rating per Breakout Finder. In his limited return over the past two weeks, he commanded a 9.3-percent Target Share (20-percent Snap Share against the San Francisco 49ers) and an 11.1-percent Target Share (53-percent Snap Share against the Arizona Cardinals). As he works his way more fully into the offense, he will continue to see growth in this area.
The Rams offense as a whole has had a resurgence, averaging 27.4 points per game in 2021, harkening back to the 2017 – 2018 Rams that took the league by storm. Coincidentally, these were the years that Gurley was a fantasy league winner. With Stafford at the helm, the Rams are able to pick up more first downs and score more points, giving Akers additional red zone looks.
Stafford’s presence also provides relief to the run game. Through Week 7 at least, opponents defended the Rams with two high safety looks at a rate higher than any other team not named the Kansas City Chiefs.
This has led to Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel seeing an average of 5.7 (No. 67) and 6.2 (No. 60) Average Defenders in the Box, respectively. This is a stark contrast to the average of 7.3 (No. 5) that Akers faced just a season ago. Stafford has opened up the offense and allows for a more efficient running game by attacking defenses vertically in a way that was not happening at the end of Jared Goff’s tenure as a Ram.
Akers will get the high value touches in a prolific offense and is an absolute beast on the ground. He posted a 74.7 Breakout Rating, which was third-highest in the vaunted 2020 running back class. The breakout is coming next year.
Of any fantasy player, Cam Akers likely has the widest range of value league by league right now. According to KeepTradeCut, he is still valued less than guys like Austin Ekeler, Najee Harris, and Javonte Williams. I would trade one of those three for Akers plus a second. The quick increase in value will give many pause to buy into his value. And I get it, there is a lot of hype around him and he just made a never before seen return on primetime television. This is usually a player I avoid buying, as his cost is rife with vividness bias.
But Akers is different. He is beyond his injury, with nothing left to prove as far as his health. While the sample size is not particularly large, through what he was able to do as a rookie and his immediate return as a workhorse back, McVay has shown his hand. He is connected to this offense, and likely Matthew Stafford, for at least two more years. The upside is elite.
I would trade any of the following straight up for Akers: Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs, Antonio Gibson, or Alvin Kamara. Some of your league mates may still be hesitant to buy all the way in. Akers is a perfect buy-high candidate; strike now.