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Is Cam Akers turning into Trent Richardson?

Cam Akers has been disappointing since returning from injury. Is he turning into Trent Richardson?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams have a Cam Akers dilemma. The offense is unable to run the football, Akers hasn’t shown any sort of consistency in the run game, and on top of that, he’s failed to develop in pass protection.

At this point, we know how this story is going to end. This is a relationship that isn’t going to work out. We’re holding on to the good times that we had. He or she brings us flowers every so often, telling us they’ve changed. However, they just go right back to doing the things that made you question the relationship in the first place.

With Akers, we had an incredible five-game stretch in 2020. He took over games against the New England Patriots in the regular season and again in the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks.

In the wild card round, Akers made history. He became the first Rams rookie to rush for 100 yards in a playoff game. His 176 total yards from scrimmage ranks as the third-highest total for a rookie in playoff history.

It’s no wonder we fell in love to begin with.

There were warning signs. Akers’ -0.08 rushing yards over expected per attempt according to NFL Next Gen Stats was the 15th lowest mark among running backs in 2020. He ranked 41st out of 47 running backs in DYAR which measures overall value according to Football Outsiders.

The flaws that he showed at Florida State were evident early in the season. Despite having one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in 2020, Akers averaged less than four yards per carry in four of his first six games. His biggest game of the season came against the NFL’s worst run defense by a wide margin.

The Patriots ranked 32nd in run defense DVOA at 6.6 percent. The next closest was the Kansas City Chiefs at 2.5 percent. The distance between the Patriots at 32 and Chiefs at 31 was the same distance as the Chiefs at 31 and the Jacksonville Jaguars at 24.

Akers tore his achilles in training camp of 2021 and was out the entirety his second season. The achilles historically has been catastrophic to running backs. He would return for the playoffs, but averaged just 2.57 yards per carry.

It was hoped that after a full offseason to fully recover, Akers would return to the the player that we witnessed at the end of 2020. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t been the case. Yes, the Rams’ offensive line ranks 29th in adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders. This statistic takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line. For what it’s worth, they currently rank 10th in run-blocking according to Pro Football Focus.

The moving pieces on the offensive line have not helped, specifically the revolving door at center. The Rams have not been able to establish any chemistry on their offensive line when run blocking.

However, all blame doesn’t go to the offensive line when it comes to the woes in the run game for the Rams. Akers ranks dead last in DYAR this season.

Akers’ inability to pass protect or be a threat in the receiving game is also an issue and makes his game and the offense extremely predictable. On Sunday against the Cowboys, Akers played in 20 snaps. 14 of those were runs. This means that on 70 percent of Akers’ snaps were run plays. Meanwhile, of Darrell Henderson’s 37 snaps, 35 were pass plays or 94.5 percent. That’s extremely predictable for a defense.

Akers has shown more signs of what he was early in his rookie season, than he was at the end of it. There hasn’t been any development or signs of improvement. Akers has consistently missed cutbacks lanes and doesn’t get the yardage that is available. His lack of vision is very reminiscent of Trent Richardson. Richardson was infamous with the Colts for missing wide open cutback lanes. The below play is just one painful example and it’s one of many.

Richardson wasn’t good at a lot of things, but he was very good at not getting yardage that was available despite an offensive line that was also average at best in the run game. In 2013, the Colts had the sixth-lowest graded run-blocking offensive line according to Pro Football Focus. In 2014, they had the 10th-lowest grade.

Among running backs with at least 500 carries between 2012-2014, Richardson ranked dead last in both rushing yards over expected and EPA per rush. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even necessarily close.

Richardson was a player who was extremely dependent on his offensive line. The Alabama running back came into the NFL as a player who was supposed to be explosive, powerful and balanced. None of these things transferred once he got to Cleveland.

Akers has some of those same issues. He consistently doesn’t get the yardage that is there because he misses cutback lanes that are designed in the offense for the running back to take.

While the above example is the most egregious, it’s far from the only one. Akers has a tendency to look for contact instead of taking an available cutback lane that would pick up an extra couple of yards. He’d rather initiate contact than hit the cutback lane or try to make a defender miss.

There are a handful of example in every game this season in which Akers has missed a cutback lane and instead lost yards or just gotten back to the line of scrimmage. On a sweep against the San Francisco 49ers, Akers stopped and therefore lost yards instead of using his speed to get to the sideline.

It’s not the only reason, but it’s part of why 21 percent of the Rams’ carries this season have lost yards or just gotten back to the line of scrimmage.

On this play above, Akers doesn’t take the cutback lane and instead runs into Tyler Higbee, spins around, and then goes all the way across the field in a run that resulted in no gain. It was a lot of work for zero yards when there was a huge lane that he could have taken and likely would have gotten positive yardage.

It’s a large factor in why his rushing yards over expected has been so low since he’s entered the league. Since the beginning of 2020, Akers ranks 47th out of 51 running backs with at least 200 carries in rushing yards over expected. This is ahead of players like Phillip Lindsay, Darrell Williams, and Mark Ingram. His EPA per rush ranks 50th out of 51 players - this is only ahead of Lindsay.

Week 3 was a game in which Akers actually looked good in the second half as well. Akers finished with 12 carries for 61 yards against the Arizona Cardinals. He took over the second half and put the game on ice. In the below example, he takes the correct cutback lane and picks up decent yardage.

In the second half against the Cardinals, Akers was almost perfect, but his flaws continue to raise their ugly heads. Akers has always had ball security issues going back to Florida State. In the fourth quarter of this same game, he fumbles the ball on the goal line.

That’s the frustrating part about Akers. We’ve seen the potential and what he is capable of. However, he’s simply unable to show consistency in being an effective runner. He’s consistently inconsistent. Throughout his career, Akers has more games with less than one yard per carry than he has games with 100 scrimmage yards.

The comparisons between Akers and Richardson are eerily similar. Through their first 200 regular season carries, Akers has 779 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Richardson meanwhile had 724 yards on his first 200 carries for an average of 3.62 yards per carry. However, Richardson also had three 100 yard games which is two more than Akers in the regular season.

Addiontally, Akers and Richardson both had similar rush yards over expected and the former top-5 pick actually outperforms Akers in EPA per rush.

Like Akers, Richardson consistently ranked near the bottom of Football Outsiders DYAR metric. In 2013, Richardson ranked 45th out of 47 running backs and in 2014 he ranked 41st out of 43.

This season, Akers is averaging just 2.57 yards after contact per attempt which ranks 27th out of 32 running backs with at least 50 carries this season. He’s also one of just three running backs without a breakaway run according to Pro Football Focus.

In 2014, Richardson’s 2.32 yards after contact per attempt ranked 19th out of 33 qualifying running backs. His breakaway percentage of 11.1 percent was also the third-lowest mark.

When it comes to Akers, Rams fans have an extremely firm grasp on his five game stretch at the end of 2020, starting with his breakout against the Patriots, he hasn't been effective. Taking away those five games, Akers has 203 carries for 683 yards. That’s 3.36 yards per carry which is below his career average of 3.56 including playoffs.

We now have 123 carries post-achilles injury. Since returning at the end of last season, Akers is averaging just 2.65 yards per carry. Among players with at least 50 carries this season, Akers’ 3.0 yards per carry ranks last.

It’s time to let go of that five-game stretch. That’s simply not who Akers is. Taking in the entirety of Akers’ career, those five games are much more of the exception than the norm. He’s been much more of the player that averages three yards per carry than the player who averaged 4.4 while taking over games at the end of his rookie season.

Akers simply hasn’t shown development and growth and his lack of vision has limited his ceiling. Unfortunately, these are some of the same things that led to the downfall of Trent Richardson.

The Rams running game and offense needs a spark and Akers hasn’t been that. It’s on Sean McVay to run the ball more. However, the Rams opened the second quarter against the Cowboys with back-to-back runs with Akers. 1st-and-10 turned into 3rd-and-17.

Akers was drafted in the second round of 2020, making him the Rams’ first selection of that draft. However, if he doesn’t show signs of improvement soon, the team could look to replace him.