ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler released a list of their top-10 running backs, plus four honorable mentions, and Cam Akers was nowhere to be found. The Cleveland Browns had two of the 14 running backs (Nick Chubb was fourth, Kareem Hunt was an honorable mention) but Akers, who had 424 rushing yards in his final five games of 2020, has not been able to crack most analyst’s sphere of the “top-10 backs” entering next season.
Akers, who also added 221 rushing yards in two playoff games, giving him nearly a 100 yards-per-game average once he became a starter for the LA Rams, has to knock really hard on that door of opportunity if he wants to bust into the conversation. He seems to have the talent and the situation in Sean McVay’s offense to be able to do that, but we must also consider how strong this current crop of running backs is right now.
Derrick Henry, the Titans running back who had 948 (!!!) rushing yards in that same period of time between Week 12 and Week 17, was obviously first. He was followed by Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook (Akers’ predecessor at Florida State), Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Aaron Jones, Joe Mixon, and Josh Jacobs.
The honorable mentions are Hunt, Jonathan Taylor, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Miles Sanders.
Perhaps the running back most vulnerable to falling off the list is Jacobs. The former Alabama running back averaged only 3.9 yards per carry in 2020, disappointing many (including myself) who expected him to challenge for the rushing title. Edwards-Helaire, the first running back selected in the 2020 draft, fell off after a hot start and gained only 252 yards on 66 carries over Kansas City’s last nine games — and he was inactive for three of those.
Edwards-Helaire was even less effective in the playoffs, gaining 71 yards on 15 carries over two contests. He was inactive in their divisional round victory over the Browns.
Akers enters 2021 as LA’s unquestioned starter (we think) and he now has had a full offseason to prepare, as opposed to the limitations of 2020 and the lack of a preseason to warm up. Will Akers now become one of the top-10 running backs in the NFL or is the competition too steep?