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The Bucs balked on FSU’s last great back. They shouldn’t pass on Cam Akers.

After saying no to Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook, the Bucs shouldn’t let Cam Akers slide past them.
Cam Akers has a chance to be the best running back in a draft class with a handful of good ones.
Cam Akers has a chance to be the best running back in a draft class with a handful of good ones. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Apr. 21, 2020
Updated Apr. 21, 2020

The last time the Bucs had a chance to draft an electric running back from Florida State, they balked; Tampa Bay chose tight end O.J. Howard instead of Dalvin Cook.

Three years later, Cook is coming off a Pro Bowl season for a Vikings team that reached the second round of the playoffs, while Howard is reportedly on the trading block.

Related: From 2017: Why the Bucs should jump at the chance to draft FSU's Dalvin Cook

The good news is that FSU has another five-star talent to offer in this week’s NFL draft, just as the Bucs need a three-down back (again). This time, they shouldn’t let the Seminole slide. If Cam Akers is still around in the second round, Tampa Bay should pluck him from Tallahassee.

Florida State's Cam Akers (3) celebrates a first-quarter touchdown during the season opener last year against Boise State.
Florida State's Cam Akers (3) celebrates a first-quarter touchdown during the season opener last year against Boise State. [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]

The 5-foot-10, 217-pound Akers can barrel through the middle or bounce beautifully outside. He was the fifth-fastest back at the combine with a 4.47-second 40. That’s slightly swifter than one potential Bucs match, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift and more than a tenth of second faster than another option, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Akers isn’t going to challenge Tom Brady at quarterback, but he passed for 8,000 career yards in high school and had success behind center at FSU in the Wild Cam package, adding to his versatility.

And yes, Brady, Akers can catch. He was second on the team last year with four touchdown receptions. His 30 catches in 2019 were more than three of the draft’s other top backs (Swift, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor), and his 69 career catches match Edwards-Helaire.

But oddly enough, the most impressive thing about Akers is that he did it all during FSU’s worst stretch in four decades. Start with the fact that his offensive line ranged from bad to historically bad.

Related: Why FSU’s historic lows could raise Cam Akers’ draft stock

“I could walk down the street here outside my house, and I can promise you I could find a very similar offensive line to the one he ran behind at Florida State,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said.

If that sounds harsh, consider what FSU quarterback Alex Hornibrook said after Akers tied a school record with four touchdown rushes (and a two-point conversion) in a win over Syracuse: “He makes some of the best 3-yard runs I’ve ever seen.”

Hornibrook didn’t say it directly, but those short runs were awesome because of the awful blocking in front of him; some of Akers’ 3-yard carries would have been 3-yard losses for other backs.

Akers also had to deal with inconsistent quarterback play, a pair of coaching changes and five different play callers over three seasons. And he still rushed for 1,000 yards twice and broke Cook’s freshman rushing record.

Florida State's Cam Akers made the running game look good when the Seminoles were mired in some historically bad offensive line play.
Florida State's Cam Akers made the running game look good when the Seminoles were mired in some historically bad offensive line play. [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]

While Akers’ measurables explain why he’ll be an early-round pick, his intangibles might be the best indicator for why he can succeed in the league. Akers never cracked, even as FSU did.

He delivered his heroic performance against Syracuse as coach Willie Taggart was staggering to his end. Akers’ longest run of the year (a 50-yard breakaway touchdown at Florida) came with the Seminoles down 27 and less than 20 minutes left. And as humiliating as FSU’s near-loss to Louisiana-Monroe was, it would have been worse without Akers’ school-record 36 rushes, zigzagging 44-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter and go-ahead touchdown rush in overtime.

“He had all the reason in the world to shut it down,” Jeremiah said, “and he didn’t do it.”

That’s one reason why Jeremiah said he wouldn’t be surprised if Akers ended up being the best back in this draft. Neither would I. Akers — one of the top running back recruits of the Rivals era — is that talented.

Related: Based on what we’ve seen, these backs could help the Bucs

Unfortunately, the circumstances beyond his control at FSU meant we never got to see just how good Akers can be. Tampa Bay has have a chance to find out.

And after balking on the last great Seminoles back, the Bucs shouldn’t pass on this one.