Maurice Jones-Drew was a pretty good NFL running back in his own right so does that mean that he should have a better perspective and more educated opinion on the quality of current players at the same position? The beauty of the answer is that Jones-Drew has the right to any opinion he so chooses and so does anybody else who reads an article about opinion-based rankings.
Nobody can argue with a ranking that is simply a list of running backs, ordered by rushing yards. Rank by opinion and you’ll soon know how many people share it.
Jones-Drew posted his ranking of all 32 NFL starting running backs (if the team is in a committee, Jones-Drew went with the back he expects to have the most production in 2020) and for the team going with a trio of untested players to open the season, he has Cam Akers ranked 31st.
Only Ronald Jones of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is lower.
I suppose it could be a compliment to Akers that he is the only rookie on the list. Jones-Drew expects Damien Williams (18th) to lead the Kansas City Chiefs and Kerryon Johnson (28th) to get the most work for the Detroit Lions, those being the other two teams that have rookies who seem most likely to play right away. But Darrell Henderson didn’t show much in 2019, at least not from an outside perspective, and Akers may be Jones-Drew’s pick by default.
And Jones-Drew mentions several times that he believes a “limited offseason” will work against rookies, a common and understandable sentiment. Here’s what he had to say about Akers specifically:
There’s a lot riding on the rookie’s shoulders as the likely three-down back featured in Sean McVay’s offense. Akers will get plenty of opportunities in McVay’s outside zone scheme but sits so low on this list because of the shortened offseason. His success depends on how quickly he can adjust to the pro game without full OTAs, preseason and adjusted training camp.
The 10 backs ranked ahead of Akers, in order:
I believe Jones-Drew has so little to go off of here from Akers and Henderson, with little regard for Malcolm Brown clearly, and that’s the main reason that he’s so low. I’m sure Jones-Drew would say that a top-15 season by Akers would be no surprise, but I don’t want to put words in his mouth. He wants to see more, I think we all want to see football.
In the last five years, eight rookie running backs have posted at least 1,000 yards. Of those either, three were top-four picks and two more were first round picks. The other three went in rounds three, five, and undrafted. Go down four yards from that threshold and see that Nick Chubb had 996 yards and 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie in 2018 and now he’s MJD’s number three back overall.
I think it is more than fair to say that Akers is the 31st or even 32nd ranked back as of mid-July. It would also be perfectly acceptable to say that and believe that six months, he’ll be much higher. Given the NFL’s recent propensity to use up and ship out any running back who turns 26 as of late, Akers is just entering his prime.