November 29, 2023

Dynasty Death Match: Etienne vs Akers

6 min read

Dynasty Death Match: Etienne vs Akers

By Tim Lazenby

 

In fantasy football, tough choices are part of the job of an everyday manager.  Oftentimes, we struggle with whom to draft, trade or even drop completely.  This is magnified when two players are so close in value.  Choosing between two players like that can ravage the brain and perhaps make or break your season.  In dynasty, it’s even worse than standard because choosing the wrong guy means you are stuck with the mistake for years and potentially losing out on the talent of the better man to win you multiple championships.

Today, let’s dive into a discussion about two young running backs who missed the chance to play for your squad last season.  In a head to head matchup for dynasty glory, only one can survive.  Will it be Los Angeles running back, Cam Akers or Jacksonville Jaguars running back, Travis Etienne?  As they both missed time and Etienne hasn’t had the chance to show what he can do at the professional level, we’re going to look at the college numbers.

Rushing and Receiving Numbers Comparison

Cam Akers Rushing and Receiving

YearGAttYrdsAvgTDsFumLRecYrdsAvgTDs
20171319410255.371161167.31
2018121617064.463231456.32
20191123111445.014330225754

Travis Etienne Rushing and Receiving

YearGAttYrdsAvgTDsFumLRecYrdsAvgTDs
2017131077667.213155711.40
20181520416588.124112786.52
20191520716147.81923743211.74
2020121689145.41444858812.32

Now, we have to take these numbers with a grain of salt.  The statistics in college will not necessarily transition at the professional level, but they also can’t be ignored completely.  It’s important to note that Etienne had one extra year at the college level, so that could be an advantage or disadvantage according to how you view that.

We also have to take into account the programs they played for.  I think it’s obvious that Etienne has the greater numbers by some margin, but he also played for a much better team.  Even without Trevor Lawrence, Etienne still enjoyed success splitting the backfield in his rookie season, going 10-3.  But once Trevor Lawrence came to Clemson, in the three seasons they played together, their record was 39-3.  This level of success certainly helped Etienne’s game.

Cam Akers, on the other hand, was not so fortunate in the school that he played for.  His rookie season was spent with a rookie quarterback and over the three years at Florida State, their record was 18-20.  This meant that Akers would have a much harder time establishing the run or even getting optimal play time on offense.  While we can’t lean on this logic completely when comparing the two, it is still important to look at.

Now that college is out of the way, it’s important to look at the teams they will play for in the NFL.  While Akers is going to someone he is familiar with in Sean McVay, Etienne is making use of Doug Pedeson in his second swing at NFL coaching.  It’s important to see how these two coaches have used their running backs at the professional level.  After all, both Pederson and McVay have coached five seasons in the NFL and both have only coached for one team.  Let’s discuss what that looked like.

Sean McVay’s NFL running back history

McVay came into the NFL extremely blessed with Todd Gurley at his disposal.  In his first season especially, Sean McVay used every ounce that Gurley could give.  His 279 rush attempts were better than the next closest running back at 63; the definition of a workhorse back.  He wasn’t done in the receiving game either, with Gurley leading the team’s running back in targets at 87 and the closest competition had 11.  In fact, Gurley was second on the entire team in targets.

The next two seasons with Gurley leading the way were more of the same, but as time progressed the usage, while still dominant, went down.  You have to question if Sean McVay is leery of using his star running back so heavily moving forward.  The next two seasons were led by none other than Cam Akers and Sony Michel.  It seems likely that Akers would have led last season if not for the injury.  But, unlike Gurley, the usage was not nearly as dominant.  McVay’s lead back almost split the rush attempts and the targets were not even first on the team in the running back room.  Can we expect more of the same moving forward?  Is Cam Akers a workhorse back or a 1A from now on?

Doug Pederson’s NFL running back history

Unlike McVay, Pederson has never shown faith in a typical workhorse back.  Although there is always a starting running back with him, he tends to use a split backfield.  It’s actually amazing that over his NFL tenure, he’s only had one running back as the starter in more than one season in Miles Sanders.  But, when your best option is Ryan Matthews, LaGarrett Blount and Josh Adams, you make do with what you have; no disrespect intended.

Now, can we blame Doug Pederson’s running back choices on his coaching alone or is it partial to the talent available?  Truthfully, moving forward, it will be interesting to see what he does in his fresh start with Jacksonville.  Unlike McVay also, even with a “starter” the rushing share was not great; and with the targets, it’s even worse.  It seemed as though he really liked the idea of a smasher and a receiving threat not being one and the same.

Conclusion

Lastly, we have to talk about the opportunity for each running back on the team for whom they are employed.  I don’t see much in the way of competition for Cam Akers, and now that James Robinson is on the shelf, Travis Etienne’s path to dominance is all but assured.  The teams they play for are also vastly different.  The Rams just won a Super Bowl and have no signs of giving up their championship moving forward.  The Jaguars, on the other hand, finished dead last yet again.  Will McVay ease Cam Akers because the team doesn’t need him as badly?  Will Pederson finally make use of a workhorse back because of the state of his team?

When considering the talent, it is too close to call.  With all the data and arguments, it comes down to the overall team value.  With Akers as a second round pick and the plethora of talent around him, the likelihood of usage is not as high as Etienne.  The Jaguars invested a first round pick in Etienne, making it harder not to showcase him.  Add to that the connection between him and Trevor Lawrence, the choice is easier.  While it has been documented that Trevor Lawrence wasn’t instrumental in bringing Travis Etienne to the Jaguars, now that he’s there I see the cornerstone quarterback wanting to make use of his college teammate as much as possible.

If you are drafting or trading for either, both are good choices.  But in the deathmatch, there is only one winner:

Travis Etienne

 

Follow me on Twitter @NFLazenby