Have LA Rams fans been a bit too optimistic with the belief that star running back Kyren Williams would be able to rub some dirt on his injured ankle and suit up to play in no more than a week from now? Or was it some form of denial that kicked in, a bit of mental safe harbor that preserves the unanimous hope that the LA Rams would finally stick to a running attack that dominated a pesky opposing defense?
Injuries take time. But they are particularly troublesome for a 5-foot-9 194-pound running back whose style of running involves planting, pivoting, and pushing off when that injury involves an ankle. As much as the LA Rams want to get Kyren Williams back on the football field, this is a particularly important time for the slightly smallish running back. In my opinion, the worst option for the LA Rams and for Kyren Williams is to fast-track his recovery. And the latest injury update seems to confirm my reservations:
So it will come down to the LA Rams going with rookie RB Zach Evans, and alternating in power running back Royce Freeman for short yardage and red zone plays. But what can Rams fans expect from Evans?
Thunder and lightning
The LA Rams new running back tandem of veteran RB Royce Freeman and rookie RB Zach Evans has the characteristics of a thunderstorm. The ability of veteran running back Royce Freeman is well documented. He is a huge 6-foot-0 238-pound bowling ball (think a taller C.J. Anderson) of a rusher who is gifted at both running with the football and as a receiver.
Just to be clear, Royce Freeman is the thunder back in this analogy.
When he was getting fed the football in his first two seasons with the Denver Broncos, Freeman was able to sniff out the endzone. But that vanished as his workload dropped to next to nothing over the past three seasons. He has maintained a 3.7 yard per run average despite light use. While his longest run is 26 yards, I believe that he could be incredibly effective in a power running game.
Zach Evans is the lightning back in this analogy. And at 5-foot-11 and weighing 202 pounds, he is more akin to a Cam Akers style of running than Kyren Williams or Ronnie Rivers. But that could be a good thing. While he did not get a great deal of positive press in training camp, he has been blessed with many skills that could and should flourish in the Rams offense.
Zach Evans could have a chip on his shoulder
When it comes to the upside of rookie running back Zach Evans out of Ole Miss, we have not been shy about our excitement over his potential in this LA Rams offense. We explored the notion that Evans had potential in our Can LA Rams rookie RB Zach Evans shock the NFL in 2023? article. Here is what we asserted in June 2023:
"I think so, yes. But not right out of the gate. After all, the Rams offense is still exploring, finding ways to show up on game day. Under those circumstances, I expect the Rams will want to control as many personnel variables as possible. That means that the team will likely stick to a tight rotation of no more than two runners.- Bret Stuter via Ramblin Fan
But over time, players get dinged up. At about the mid-season mark, I believe that the Rams will promote Zach Evans to some level of rotational work. If he grounds out huge chunks of yardage, well the Rams may never look back."
The LA Rams may have gotten another steal in the 2023 NFL Draft when they were able to land the third-highest ranked running back on the draft board in Round 6. While production is always bound to be limited to the opportunities that the Rams offense gives him, he could see a lot of work in Week 7.
And it's impossible to ignore the fact that such a highly regarded collegiate running back was not selected on either Day 1 or Day 2. That has to place a huge chip on his shoulder. While it's never a certainty when playing a rookie, I expect that Evans will be ready to go. And the Rams offensive line, after paving huge running lanes in Week 6, has never looked better at run blocking in recent years.
The Pittsburgh Steelers run defense is pretty bad compared to other NFL teams. But they may fall from bad to worse after their Week 7 matchup with the red-hot running of the LA Rams offense.