Bounce Back Buys: Akers, Etienne, and Dobbins
By Darren Smith
The 2020 and 2021 draft classes were loaded with some promising young Running Backs. Unfortunately, the injury bug waits for no man. Three big names drafted in the early rounds the last two years had their seasons cut short and had Dynasty Managers asking questions on what to do with their high 1st round picks. Travis Etienne, JK Dobbins, and Cam Akers all missed almost the entirety of last season with serious injuries, but their outlook on the 2022 season is in question. I’m here to put your mind at ease, and these injuries have created huge BUY opportunities with these talented backs.
Cam Akers was the first domino to fall in the laundry list of injuries that happened in the 2021 Preseason. Akers tore his Achilles during the Rams training camp, leaving his sophomore season in jeopardy. Cam was drafted 52nd overall in the 2020 draft and had a promising rookie season leaving managers hungry for more as his fantasy capital rose. When news was announced that Akers tore his Achilles, it broke the hearts of many managers as this injury has one of the highest impacts on future NFL careers based on history.
However, modern medicine has progressed, and Akers had a successful surgery and rehab as he was able to return in Week 18, and the Rams postseason. While his box score didn’t turn many heads, the truth was in the film. Akers looked explosive in the minimal carries he was given, and his speed remained the same. Most managers were pleasantly surprised as he didn’t regress as much as initially thought as it was pretty much a miracle he came back this season at all.
The Rams went on to win the Super Bowl as they went “All In” this season. The RB position will have vacancy after free agency with Sony Michel likely to part ways, and Darrell Henderson being on the last year of his contract. This paves a direct path to a bell-cow role for Akers as he has all off season to continue recovery. There aren't too many players that I am more excited to see come back to NFL action than Cam Akers. With managers panicked about the stigma of an Achilles injury, Akers is being shopped around in most leagues for a discount. While there is some doubt he will ever return to true form, the sheer volume and workload that he will carry into 2022 will be enough. Akers is a strong buy and should exceed all expectations when he fully recovers.
Travis Etienne missed his entire rookie campaign with a Lisfranc injury in his left foot. Drafted 25th overall in 2021 by Jacksonville and coming off a stellar season at Clemson, Etienne had huge buzz coming into last season. Dynasty managers had to spend high draft picks on Etienne in hopes of becoming a bell-cow right out the gate. Etienne was only in the 2nd week of Preseason when it was declared he would miss the year, so managers didn’t get any chance to get a gauge on his production, and ultimately his fantasy value.
To me, this injury can be spun in a positive way. The Jacksonville Jaguars were a complete mess the entire season with new head coach Urban Meyer, who thankfully was fired before the season ended. There were obvious growing pains with the rookie Quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, leaving the offense stagnant and in the bottom tier of the league. Etienne may have dodged a bullet in 2021 as things are looking positive for the upcoming season. He has progressed significantly since the initial injury, publicly stating “I definitely feel like as of now I'll be ready to go for training camp.” While injured, Travis has been studying the game and learning a new offense with his former Clemson teammate Lawrence. This dynamic duo should make some noise this year with some experience under their belts. Not to mention change in the staff, with the Jags hiring Super Bowl winner Doug Pederson.
Travis was a top pick in rookie drafts across the board, and obviously his value declined after the injury. If you haven’t already, Etienne is a perfect buy candidate for the upcoming season. Although he is progressing well, season ending injuries are never taken lightly by managers and leave doubt as to whether they will ever return to true form. Based on his young age, modern medicine and training, and recovery of Lisfranc injuries, I have strong confidence that Etienne will come back just as explosive as his record-breaking days in Clemson. Go after some worried owners with late 1st round pick offers. If you currently own Etienne, don’t take any low ball offers - holding is the right move as his value will shoot up when Travis retakes the field.
The NFL and fantasy managers didn’t even get a chance to breathe before the next devastating injury to a young RB in Baltimore. Dobbins tore his ACL during the final Preseason game of the 2021 season and ruined some Redraft leagues seconds after the news broke. Poised for an excellent sophomore year, managers were devastated being so close to the start of the regular season. Dobbins finished as the RB 23 in PPR leagues during his rookie campaign, finishing the final game with 160 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Being the 55th pick in the 2020 draft, Dobbins was another asset with high rookie draft capital in dynasty leagues. Luckily, an ACL tear may take time to heal, but in recent years it has had little effect on the remainder of NFL players careers. The Ravens had incredibly bad luck in 2021 with significant injuries to most of their skill players, including QB Lamar Jackson. With all players returning after recovery this offseason, Dobbins comes back to the Number 1 rushing offense in the NFL. With promising pass catching abilities, Dobbins has all the potential in the world to be a top back.
Dobbins had successful surgery six months ago, and every piece of news since has said rehab is going as well as it could be. GM Eric Decosta publicly stated “we are very, very confident that he will come back and be the type of player that he was two years ago. This should give you no doubt that the 23 year old coming into this 3rd season will be heavily utilized to his potential. JK Dobbins is a buy at the right price. Given the lack of RB talent in the 2022 class, high draft picks can be traded to acquire Dobbins. He should be a strong hold if you already have him on your rosters.
While all three Running Backs have had devastating injuries that caused them to miss the majority of the 2021 season, all signs point to full recovery and full workloads in 2022. Don’t let injury news scare you into avoiding these backs. They are all buy candidates, and should be targeted in the early rounds of startups as I have seen them fall over some guys that just won’t have the same production. Akers, Etienne, and Dobbins will be an integral part in the future of NFL Running Backs. What do you think? Are you concerned about reinjury, volume, or something else?
Let me know your thoughts on Twitter, @FFBirdGang.
Darren Smith has been involved with fantasy football since 2013 and is the commissioner of several Dynasty leagues. He loves diving deep into statistics, making bold trades, and creating fantasy football content. Darren is a die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan, and his favorite position in football is the Tight End as he used to play this position in high school. Recently, Darren has become very involved in the fantasy community on Twitter (@FFBirdGang) and loves posting hot takes, breaking news reactions, and trade polls to help you win that next Dynasty trade to create your championship team.