On Tuesday morning, the football community awoke to the devastating news that Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers will miss the entire 2021 season due to a torn Achilles. The second-year product out of Florida State was primed for a big season as the top billing running back in an explosive offense. So let’s take an in-depth look at how this affects the Rams’ offense as a whole.
Up Next, Darrell Henderson?
Darrell Henderson is the next man up to lead the Rams backfield. He has had a fascinating two-year journey into his NFL career. He was a third-round pick out of Memphis, but injuries and growing pains derailed his rookie season. The following draft saw the Rams invest a second-round in Akers. When Akers suffered a rib injury in Week 1 of the 2020 season, Henderson seemed to seize control of the backfield, hitting 80 plus yards in three of the next six games. However, Akers’ revival in the second half of the season ended what seemed to be a positive season for Henderson. Encouraging is Henderson outperformed Akers in many metrics such as yards per carry, elusive rating, Pro Football Focus rushing grade, and Football Outsiders DVOA.
Behind Henderson on the depth chart is undrafted second-year running back Xavier Jones out of SMU, 2021 7th round pick out of Maryland Jake Funk, and special teams standout Raymond Calais.
If there is one running back on their roster to keep an eye out for, it is Jones. The former Mustang is a 5-11, 208-pound bruiser who set American Athletic Conference records in rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns and sixth in total yards. He projects as a two-down back with limited receiving ability but could be an intriguing internal option for the Rams.
Will They Add Another?
With just 177 carries on their depth chart (all of Henderson’s), look for general manager Les Snead to add a running back or two to bring in competition and experience. Free agents who make the most sense are Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, Le’Veon Bell, and the incumbent Duke Johnson. Those backs could help bring the experience to the club as backups but are not even a marginal upgrade to Henderson at this point in their respective careers.
An intriguing running back situation to monitor is Denver. The Broncos have four running backs on their roster: Melvin Gordon, rookie Javante Williams, newly signed Mike Boone, and former third-round pick Royce Freeman. New Broncos general manager George Paton has no ties to either Gordon or Freeman. If the Broncos decide to keep three running backs, one of them will likely be cut or traded before the end of training camp. If Gordon ends up being the casualty in Denver, do not be surprised to see the Rams pounce on him. A player of Gordon’s magnitude as an established NFL back may limit the upside of Henderson.
As of now, Henderson appears to be the lead back in an explosive offense. However, the coming weeks will determine Henderson’s value. His average draft position looks to skyrocket due to Akers’ injury, and you have to ask yourself how high is too high for Henderson. The Rams will add competition to their depth chart; it is just a matter of who and when they will sign another running back. Henderson has the ability and opportunity to be a mid-tier, low-end RB2. If his ADP is hovering in 12-16 as a high-end RB2, could you count on him to cash in on your investment?
Pass Happy Rams Now That Akers Is Gone?
Sean McVay did absolute wonders turning Jared Goff into a viable quarterback. In Goff’s first two seasons under McVay, he threw 28, and 32 touchdown passes. However, he managed no more than 22 touchdown passes over the last two seasons as a Ram. Now McVay has a new toy to play with in quarterback Matthew Stafford. McVay should be confident in Stafford’s ability to run his system, with the assertiveness to call his plays or an audible seeing what defenses are giving him.
The 2019 Rams threw the ball a league-high 632 times behind a shaky offensive line and running back issues. Their offensive line is still one of the weaker units in the NFL, riding behind 39-year old Andrew Whitworth. If they show early signs of trouble running the football without Akers, McVay may have no choice but to throw it 600 plus times.
Wide receivers Robert Woods (ADP 17), Cooper Kupp (WR21), and Tyler Higbee (TE 16) all figure to reap the benefits of an upgraded quarterback and significant injury to Akers. During the 2019 season, all three of Woods, Kupp, and Higbee saw career highs in targets with 139, 134, and 89. As a result, I am heavily investing in their current ADP, especially Higbee, who has the upside to finish as a top 10 tight end.
Do we put our faith in his potential ceiling or balk at the soon-to-be astronomical price to pay for Henderson’s services? The Rams’ running game is going to be a fluid situation throughout training camp. Henderson very well may be the presumed starter now, but how long will it last?
McVay was aggressive enough to draft Akers with a premium pick just one year after drafting Henderson in the third round. Who says he won’t be aggressive in acquiring another running back to complement Henderson and decrease his overall value at his ADP. This is just enough to give me pause about spending a steep price on Henderson, where the return will not justify the cost.
I would much rather spend the draft capital in rounds three and four on Chris Carson, J.K. Dobbins, Keenan Allen, Terry McLaurin, Allen Robinson, and CeeDee Lamb, all of whom have more defined roles on their respective clubs. Fantasy football players will want to have a piece of this potentially high-scoring Rams offense. Buy the passing game with the likes of Woods, Kupp, and Higbee and fade Henderson.
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