Cam Akers injured: What now for the Rams backfield?


Injuries are the worst part of football. We were reminded of this fact on Tuesday morning when news broke that Rams RB Cam Akers suffered a torn Achilles and will almost certainly be out for the season. While losing your lead running back isn’t exactly a death knell for the Rams 2021 outlook, this is a big blow for fantasy football purposes. So with Akers out, what now in the Rams’ backfield?

While you are here, check out Jeff’s fantasy football rankings tiers.

Darrell Henderson

While there’s certainly the chance the Rams bring in a veteran free agent, for now, we have to operate under the assumption that Darrell Henderson will assume lead duties. With Akers banged up early last season, Henderson served as the lead back from Weeks 3-7. During that span, he was relatively effective, racking up 324 yards and two scores on 72 carries and ranking 16th among backs in fantasy scoring. 

It’s a small sample, but a closer look reveals something very interesting about how the Rams used Henderson compared to Akers last season. Exactly two-thirds of Henderson’s runs came on zone concepts with the remaining third as gap runs. Interestingly, Malcolm Brown also had the same split with his carries. However, Akers saw a 50/50 split in his zone and gap usage. While this isn’t a groundbreaking revelation, this stat does indicate that the Rams were doing slightly different things with Akers in the offense.

Still, given what they have on the depth chart, Henderson does figure to lead the backfield in touches and serve as the primary early-down back. We certainly shouldn’t be as bullish on Henderson as we were with Akers, but he’s now in RB2 territory. Henderson also comes with rushing touchdown upside, as he saw a healthy 11 goal-line carries last season. That’s actually two more than Akers. While his role is encouraging, we still need to factor in the other incumbent members of this backfield when projecting Henderson.

Initial projection: 200 carries, 888 yards, 8 TDs, 43 targets, 32 catches, 297 yards, 2 TDs

Initial ranking: RB21

Who else do the Rams have?

This is the question a lot of people are asking right now. Remember, Brown is now in Miami, so the Rams enter training camp with a bunch of young backs on the roster. Behind Henderson, the most likely candidates to step up are second-year backs Xavier Jones and Raymond Calais, both of whom were undrafted in 2020, along with 2021 seventh-rounder Jake Funk and 2021 UDFA Otis Anderson

Jones wasn’t drafted in 2020, but the Rams did think enough of him to include him on their 53-man roster where he contributed on special teams. The SMU product scored a healthy 23 rushing touchdowns in his redshirt senior season for the Mustangs and has the build of an early-down back at the pro level. Calais was also on the roster as a special teamer, returning kicks in four games for the Rams last season. Unlike Jones, he’s undersized, measuring in at just 5-foot-8 and 188 pounds. While he showed the ability to make electric plays at Louisiana-Lafayette, Calais doesn’t possess the size necessary for a sizeable role in the NFL.

The same cannot be said for Funk, however, as the Maryland product is an athletic specimen who emerged as a draftable prospect thanks to a beastly performance at his pro day, where he ran 4.49 in the 40-yard dash, jumped 38 inches in the vert and 122 inches in the broad, blazed a 6.71 3-cone and 4.12 short-shuttle, and put up 22 reps on the bench. Those numbers all jump off the page, but at the same time, he was very lightly used at the college level with just 71 touches for the Terps in 2020. Anderson, who has no relation to the former Giants running back of the same name, saw more work at UCF with 139 touches in 2020 and 143 in 2019, but he’s also undersized at 5-foot-7 and 179 pounds and displayed limited athleticism in the pre-draft process with poor testing numbers.

The fantasy masses already seem to be gravitating to Funk as the top candidate to serve as Henderson’s understudy, and that isn’t a bad idea. However, at the same time, we can’t overlook Jones given his overall profile. Both are worth immediate adds in dynasty leagues if they haven’t already been scooped up. As for Calais, he could see a minor role in the offense if the team doesn’t bring in a veteran. At this point, Anderson would seem to be the odd man out. 

What free agents are available?

While the Rams rolling into 2021 with Henderson as their lead back is the most likely course of events, it would be very short-sighted to not at least acknowledge the fact that they could bring in a veteran free agent. Currently, here’s the list of the top free agents on the market at the position:

It’s like the ghosts of fantasy past on this list. Essentially everyone here has reached their expiration date and then some. Still, there’s the chance the Rams bring one of these guys in at the veteran minimum. If that was the case, said player would likely be a complementary piece and not someone who would slot ahead of Henderson. That means a pass-catching back like Johnson might make the most sense. Of course, if/when we cross that bridge, we’ll have an update for you but, for now, we’re moving Henderson up into the late third-round range of our 2021 fantasy football draft boards.

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