NFL

Cam Akers' Achilles injury piles pressure on Darrell Henderson in Rams backfield

By Sports Desk July 20, 2021

The Los Angeles Rams had one of the better rushing attacks in the NFL last season, but their odds of improving the ground game in 2021 suffered a blow on Tuesday.

Running back Cam Akers, whom the Rams selected in the second round of the 2020 draft, will miss his second year in the league with a torn Achilles.

It was a case of extremely unfortunate timing for Akers, who sustained the injury a week before the Rams were due to start training camp.

"I just want to thank any and every person sending prayers my way and wishing me well," Akers posted on Twitter. 

"I hate this happened but I'm in great spirits and I understand God makes no mistakes. I'll be back better than ever in no time I'm a soldier. Again, thank you."

And it leaves the Rams without a player who came on extremely strong down the stretch in his rookie year.

Indeed, Akers racked up 424 of his 625 rushing yards from Week 12 to Week 17, with that tally the 10th-most among running backs in that period.

His efforts helped the Rams finish 10th in average rush yards per game with 126.1, while his four rushes of 10 yards or more in Los Angeles' two playoff games trailed only Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams (all five).

Akers was tied for 19th in yards after contact per attempt, according to Stats Perform data, gaining an average of 2.05 yards following first contact by a defender. The league-wide average for running backs was 1.91.

In other words, Akers was a difficult back to bring down quickly and was very much finding his feet in the league before the Rams' 2020 season was brought to an end by the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round.

He had been expected to form a one-two punch with Darrell Henderson, who may now instead have to take on the burden of being the lead back.

Henderson produced a mediocre yards after contact average of 1.94 in 2020, though his yards per carry average of 4.52 was superior to that of Akers (4.31).

Selected in the third round in 2019 after amassing 4,303 yards and 44 touchdowns from scrimmage in his college career at Memphis, where Henderson has a significant edge over Akers is as a receiver.

In the passing game, Henderson produced a big play, defined as plays where the receiver wins his matchup for a gain of 20 yards or for a touchdown, on 25.4 per cent of his targets, putting him sixth among all running backs and fullbacks last year.

Yet passes to running backs are unlikely to be as significant of a feature of the Rams' attack in 2021. With the arrival of Matthew Stafford at quarterback, theirs is an offense that should be much more aggressive in going downfield and the onus will be on Henderson to take advantage of the running opportunities that the threat of the deep pass will open.

Henderson is the most versatile running back the Rams have and, with the four backs below him having never taken an offensive snap at the NFL level, he must use that well-rounded skill set to excel as the undisputed lead back and ensure the Los Angeles ground game remains among the elite.

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