Cam Akers Is Another Moneyball Signing

Photo Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

As a big fan of College Football and the NFL Draft, I appreciate that Kwesi Adofo-Mensah loves to bring in names we recognize. It’s like the Minnesota Vikings general manager just can’t help himself when a name he remembered seeing once on Daniel Jeremiah’s Big Board becomes available. Jalen Reagor. Ross Blacklock. And, as of Wednesday evening: Cam Akers.

All joking aside, this is a legitimate trend that sheds some real insight into Adofo-Mensah’s philosophy. Minnesota’s front office loves buying low on pre-draft darlings, even if they may have been labeled a bust by their respective fanbases.

This time Adofo-Mensah struck a deal with his head coach’s former team. He snagged Kevin O’Connell‘s old RB1 at a bargain bin price. And calling it a bargain may be an understatement. A sixth for a seventh-round pick swap … in 2026. That’s basically free, folks. It’s not shopping in the clearance section, it’s checking out back to see what’s behind the store.

Normally, compensation that low is only for teams looking to offload a bloated contract, but that isn’t the case. Akers is still on his cheap rookie deal. That means the Los Angeles Rams were so desperate to ship him out of town, they’d do it for next to nothing.

On the one hand, that certainly isn’t an endorsement from Rams GM Les Snead for the young runner out of Florida State. Considering Sean McVay talked him up this offseason, why did things go so sour so quickly?

Quite the endorsement for a guy they’d be shipping out of town for pennies on the dollar a few months later.

Akers had a contentious relationship with the Rams’ front office during his time in LA. In 2022, the Rams attempted to trade Akers without finding a suitable buyer. Sources told The Athletic last year that the schism between Akers and the Rams was “characterized it as an ongoing difference in opinion on several matters, including the overall philosophy and direction of the run game, the frequency of use for the running backs/the frequency of called runs in general, and that Akers and the Rams had simply not been on the same page since late in training camp.”

It culminated in Akers spending time away from the team in 2022 before returning to the starting lineup and shining in the final four games of the season for LA. Akers ended 2022 with three-straight games over 100 yards and five yards per carry. The Rams featured him as part of their attack to close the season, and it’s easy to see why McVay would have optimism it could carry over into 2023.

But then it just didn’t happen. Akers had a terrible Week 1 performance, totaling 29 yards on 22 carries (1.32 yards per carry). That was so bad that the Rams made him inactive for Week 2, where the Rams played RB2 Kyren Williams for 72 of 74 total offensive snaps. That’s an insane lack of rotation. However, they went into that game with the conscious decision to overload this single player rather than have Akers play another down as a Ram.

If none of that sounds super optimistic, it’s because the clouds hovering over Akers’ career are fairly ominous. That said, Adofo-Mensah was doing more than just throwing the dart at a trendy draft crush from a few years ago. He’s making a calculated, low-risk gamble. Plus, his head coach knows Akers and his situation about as well as anyone.

O’Connell was in LA when the Rams drafted Akers in the second round. He saw the promising talent out of Mississippi by way of Tallahassee, and O’Connell likely had some level of input on the decision to draft him. You have to imagine he had an even larger hand in getting him this time, and that pre-existing relationship makes this move fascinating.

On the one hand, O’Connell knows Akers very well, and he’s in his third year operating in this scheme. On the other hand, Akers has struggled in this same scheme to start this season. He also has had several severe injuries in his career, and may be declining at only 24 years old.

So why take the swing here? Even at the miniscule cost, why risk upsetting the chemistry by bringing in an outside running back?

Well, for starters, all of Minnesota’s backs have been pretty abysmal. Alexander Mattison has looked pedestrian through two weeks. Even accounting for the formidable defensive fronts in Tampa Bay and Philly, 19 carries for 62 yards on the season doesn’t even fully show how impotent this Vikings running game has felt through two weeks. And the organization’s faith in Ty Chandler also seems to be fading. The preseason standout has yet to earn any significant playing time.

The Vikings have to feel underwhelmed at the position. As Adofo-Mensah looked around the landscape for possible solutions, Akers must’ve stood out. It makes sense. We have evidence that Akers can produce in this scheme at a fairly high level.

Akers may still be trying to regain some of the juice that made him so tantalizing before he tore his achilles in July 2021. But as he proved in his miraculous timeline to return from that injury in only seven months to join the Rams on their Super Bowl run, work ethic isn’t really the concern here. We’ve seen him play good football since the injury, even if it’s come in fits and starts.

Below is a great clip below breaking down Akers in a “Duo” run, a staple of the Vikings’ running game, and his burst taking over:

That doesn’t look to me like the kind of play Mattison is capable of executing. What may be a five-yard gain with Mattison could be 25 with Akers getting around the edge. Mattison has had his moments in his time in Minnesota, but Akers may provide a dynamic edge that Mattison simply doesn’t have in him.

Who knows, the Vikings may wind up cutting Akers before the end of the season. But this organization continues to make gambles on players with a high pedigree, and eventually they may strike gold. And unlike many of their recent swings, we’ve seen real evidence of success here in the past. This may be more than just another Moneyball play, this could be buying low on a player who ends up starting by season’s end.

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