Cam Akers Transition Must Take Shape

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Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Cam Akers (31) runs after the catch defended by Carolina Panthers safety Xavier Woods (25) during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports.

On Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings offense will likely look much different than when Kirk Cousins was under center for Kevin O’Connell. Breaking in rookie quarterback Jaren Hall will likely require a simplified look that lies more heavily on the running game. Cam Akers getting a bigger chunk of the carries needs to happen in full force.

Cam Akers Transition Must Take Shape

The Vikings said goodbye to Dalvin Cook this offseason, and even if he had been paid a more realistic amount, that looks to have been a good decision given how poor he has shown with the New York Jets. Signs were already there that he was trending downward last season, and bringing him back as a lesser version made no sense.

Cam Akers Transition
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Cam Akers (31) catches a pass in the second half as Chicago Bears linebacker T.J. Edwards (53) closes in to defend at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports.

It was fine to think that Alexander Mattison could step in and fill the lead-back role. After all, when the Vikings were without Cook’s services over the past couple of seasons, it was always Mattison who stepped in, and he did so admirably. There was reason to believe he could handle the load, and Minnesota gave him an opportunity to tell the running back that he would be the guy after coming back as a free agent.

Even with a vastly improved offensive line, we have seen Mattison have the opportunity, and he’s done nothing with it repeatedly. He has topped 40 yards just once in the past four weeks, and he has been one yard north of coming up with 30 or less in two of those games. To put it kindly, he has stunk.

Feb 26, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Florida State running back Cam Akers (RB02) speaks to the media during the 2020 NFL Combine in the Indianapolis Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

Matthew Berry, who is evaluating from a fantasy football perspective, went out of his way to suggest Mattison as one of his “hate” players for the week. Berry said, “Mattison is averaging just 2.8 YPC since Week 5 and he has less than 50 scrimmage yards in three of his past four games. But he has exceeded 50 in one area: Mattison is 51st among qualified backs this season in fantasy points per touch.

Cam Akers continues to eat into his workload as well, and I don’t see any of that changing this week in a Cousins-less offense against a Falcons team that allows the second-fewest fantasy PPG to backs and has yet to allow a rushing score to a running back this season. Mattison is outside my Top 25 RBs.”

It’s not just that Mattison isn’t a viable fantasy option, but he’s not even a viable option to lead the backfield from his own team. Cam Akers came over from the Los Angeles Rams because Minnesota’s group needed help as a whole. O’Connell had familiarity with his work, having previously coached him, and despite Akers falling out of favor with the Rams, he is not far removed from being a high-quality starter.

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Cam Akers (31) lowers his head as he is tackled by Carolina Panthers safety Sam Franklin Jr. (42) during the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Since joining the Vikings, it has been Akers that looks like the much more effective and elusive running back. He has quickness that allows him to hit and break through the hole while also stretching the field when running east and west. Akers is also a good wide receiver, and having that sort of player out of the backfield benefits a young quarterback like Hall, who could often be looking for a checkdown.

We have seen Akers eat into the workload of Mattison for a few weeks now, but it’s becoming necessary that Mattison see the field only in a change-of-pace role. Not only does Akers need to start games for Minnesota, but he should be looking at something like an 80/20 split from the running back position.

Few teams employ a bellcow back in the NFL anymore, and the suggestion is not that Akers needs to fill that role. He needs to be the clear favorite in the split, though, and while that may hurt Mattison’s feelings, the only thing necessary to point to as a response is the production on a weekly basis.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.