The 2020 rookie class has gone above and beyond expectations. We saw top WR-play from guys like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, and Tee Higgins.
We also saw some RBs dominate their teams backfield in James Robinson and Johnathon Taylor.
But, two rookie RBs that have quietly gone unnoticed are Cam Akers and D’Andre Swift. This 2020 class was loaded and some key players will be touted as RB1s and WR1s. I found it to be eerily similar that Akers and Swift are in offenses where they can both shine if given the chance and both find themselves still trying to earn that 3 down role. Let’s dive deeper into these two, and who you should trust going into 2021.
Cam Akers, a Florida State graduate, who’s been like lightning in a bottle for Sean McVay and this offense. We know how McVay loves to incorporate his RB’s, especially when his RB has extreme talent.
As soon as McVay saw the knee of Todd Gurley starting to crumble. The traded up and drafted Darrell Henderson in the 3rd round. Everyone saw this as the replacement to Gurley, who was one of the best FF RB just 3 years ago.
One year later, McVay must of not liked what he saw from Henderson, and with a stout defense already in tact, he felt like he could take Akers, who shined at FSU behind one of the most putrid offensive lines. McVay needed to get a guy who can lead this backfield, and once he started giving Akers touches he saw that he found his guy.
In his final four games, he saw over a 60% snap count, and averaged 13.2 FFPG in that stretch. We also saw Akers feast on a Seahawks defense who looked hot coming into the playoffs. Akers has shown he can handle a big time role on a big time offense, and with another opponent below average defense in GB, we could see him feast again.
Akers has really caught me by surprise. I was all aboard the Henderson train up until October. While I loved how Akers looked at FSU, but I refused to believe Henderson would be faded out of the offense, I was wrong. It’s happening right before our eyes. McVay trusts Akers now, and is starting to see his snap % rise. Henderson’s role is being absorbed by Akers as we speak, but there’s no telling when Akers will 100% adapt that 3 down role. The Rams offense has a lot of questions heading into the offseason. With guys like Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds hitting free agency, and the offensive line not getting any younger, there is some question marks about the direction of this team, which raises questions for Akers.
Akers is an above average athlete, and with a healthy season he should see 65% snap count or above. He’s got good pass catching ability and can make plays in the open field. He’s got the potential to be a RB1, but trusting him this year is trusting the Rams to part with a guy they traded up to get. I expect Akers to be a solid RB2, but with Henderson still there I think he’ll steal some touches for at least another year. I could see Akers as high as RB7 but as low as RB24, it’s a very big realm of possibilities, and will all depend on how McVay uses both RBs, and how much Akers develops into that 3 down back.
The University of Georgia has pumped out some elite level running back, from Terrell Davis to Todd Gurley to Nick Chubb. It’s almost time to add D’Andre Swift to that list, as he has been an absolute beast when fed. He had a 4.6 YPC, and also saw a lot of passing work out of the backfield. Swift saw 57 targets as a rookie, and caught 46 of those passes and has shown us he can pass catch, but also has great patience, vision, and burst, and once in open field he’s hard to tackle. There isn’t anything to not like about Swift, except his team.
The Detroit Lions were the worst landing spot possible for Swift, and it scares me as a Swift owner. This franchise has been bad for years, and don’t know to how to manage elite level talent. They saw guys like Calvin Johnson retire early, and watched the prime years of Matthew Stafford go by without a playoff win.
The franchise hasn’t gotten it right in a long time, and while adding Swift to a lackluster run offense was smart, utilizing him and sustaining his development is a big question mark for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016.
Swift would thrive in a high power offense, he can catch passes as good as anybody and can create magic. But, with a bad offensive line and an offense that has a ton of question marks, it’s hard to trust Swift as a RB1.
Swift needs Stafford, at least for another year, and the Lions need Swift to be their guy. But, to trust Swift as my RB1 when their head coach and offense will be new, the QB is a question mark, you might lose your two top WRs, this is an offense that could face some major regression come 2021. I really like Swift’s talent, and with the right utilization he can produce high end numbers. But, I just don’t think this offense will make much noise next year, and Swift might face some regression if the team goes in a different direction than Stafford.
I project Swift to finish anywhere from RB10 to RB24, giving him relatively the same floor as Akers, but not the same ceiling.
If I had to choose between the two, I would choose Akers. His situation is much better, especially in an offense that has produced top RB’s in the past. It’s hard for me to trust Swift when the situation is this ugly, although his talent will produce for him, his ceiling is capped by mediocre offense and a putrid defense. Akers comes into a team that competing for a SB, and has offensive power to keep up with just about anyone. Granted both will need to stay healthy, I believe Akers will produce big time numbers, and will see his touches start to grow and grow more.
You can find Matthew Seward on Twitter @matt2frostyff