The LA Rams have played veteran running backs too frequently. Rookie RB Akers needs touches before the bye week
The LA Rams drafted rookie running back Cam Akers as a versatile offensive weapon to round out the offensive backfield. Just to place everything into the proper perspective, the Rams backfield appeared very barren after cutting longtime cow-bell running back Todd Gurley. Neither Malcolm Brown nor Darrell Henderson had shown much proof of carrying the load in 2020. So the Rams drafted a rookie who could do exactly that.
But there is a slight glitch in that planning process. So far this season, rookie Cam Akers has only gotten 41 offensive snaps, and 26 carries for 113 yards. Compare that to veteran Malcolm Brown’s 201 offensive snaps and 55 rushes for 217 yards and two touchdowns, and Henderson’s 151 offensive snaps, 72 rushes for 348 yards and three touchdowns. For argument’s sake, Akers 4.3 YPC (yards-per-carry) average is about the midpoint between Brown’s 3.9 YPC and Henderson’s 4.8 YPC.
Akers is everything the Rams thought he’d be
For a rookie, Akers is running well. He has a knack for making the most of his blocks, has enough power and explosiveness to earn both the tough yards at the line of scrimmage, as well as the easy yards downfield once he clears the defensive front. At 113 yards, Akers is well off the pace for the 1,000-yard rusher we had expected him to be. The reason is that he is even more off the mark of 230 carries this season. To get back on track, he will need to average 21 carries per game for the remaining 10 games.
It’s a safe bet that won’t happen. In fact, he may not rush for even a modest total of 500 yards this season unless the Rams give him the opportunity to run the ball. Sure, we get it. Veteran Malcolm Brown is the veteran, and he is very good at picking up blitzes. With Brown in the backfield, the Rams have a stronger option to pass out of that formation. And of course, Henderson is the hot runner right now. When he gets the ball, as demonstrated against the 49ers, he can gobble up a lot of yards on the ground rather quickly.
Avoid the risks
The risk of steady-as-she-goes is to burn through both productive running backs before the postseason arrives. Burning out the veterans leaves the team’s only option is to get there and be forced to run an inexperienced rookie in the biggest games of the season. That seems, risky. Of course, the team can and should give Akers some work. Running backs like Akers do not handle sitting on the bench well. Akers needs to get involved in the game now to improve and motivate himself for the next game.
Putting Akers on the shelf helps no one. It doesn’t help Akers obviously. But it doesn’t help his teammates either. Malcolm Brown has already suffered a broken finger. Darrell Henderson has already suffered a pulled hamstring. Fatigue is the root cause of soft tissue injuries. So it makes sense for the Rams to improve their rotation to include more of Akers. Not only does that strategy help Akers improve, but it will reduce the risks of injury to either of his teammates.
If it’s a matter of mindset, rest assured that Akers is not a whiny young man who wants statistics to look good. He has his head on straight, has a strong family connection, and a fantastic perspective on the responsibilities and the limits of the professional game of football. That’s all thanks to his mother, whose ordeal with battling and overcoming breast cancer has left a life-altering impact on her son, Cam.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) October 23, 2020
In the end, Akers will never be ready enough if the Rams do not give him the work. After a rough debut against the Dallas Cowboys, Akers has rushed just 12 times but for 74 yards, an average of nearly 6.2 YPC. After a rough first game, he got better. Like, three times better. That’s the type of running back the Rams need on the field, and not on the bench.
This is no longer an option that should be ‘coach’s discretion’. Whether or not the flow of the game feels right, Akers needs to get his hands on the ball in the next game, and in each game thereafter. Akers has proven he has the right to run the ball. Now the Rams must prove that they want him to do exactly that.