The Los Angeles Rams are going championship or bust in 2021. With that said, they are going to need players to step up in big ways. In order to do something special as a team, players need to do special thing individually. Could that be someone like Cam Akers? That was the case in 2017 and 2018 when players like Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Cooper Kupp, Andrew Whitworth, and others had breakout seasons.
The Rams will be looking for breakout seasons from a handful of players in 2021. With that said, who are the five players most ready for a breakout?
The Los Angeles Rams traded for quarterback Matthew Stafford prior to the Super Bowl and in the process traded away quarterback Jared Goff. Over the past two seasons, the Rams have gotten sub-par play from the quarterback position. Despite 4600 yards in 2019, Goff also had 16 interceptions. Last season, the Rams passer didn’t even hit the 4,000 yard mark (he did miss Week 17).
In each of the last two seasons, Matthew Stafford has recorded better passer ratings than Goff and in eight of his last nine as a full-time starter, tallied more than 4000 yards. The Rams are simply going to get better play from the quarterback position. And for the first time in his career, Matthew Stafford is going to have a supporting cast.
It’s very possible that the Rams get similar play from the offense as they did in 2017 and 2018. If that’s the case, a breakout season from Stafford that includes a passer-rating over 100, 4600 or more yards, and 30 or more touchdowns could happen. If that were to happen it would be his best season since 2013.
RB Cam Akers
The Rams had quite the two-headed monster at running back in 2020. However, after the way that he finished the season, it’s time to put Cam Akers in a more featured role. Akers and Henderson put up a similar stat line in 2020, but it was Akers who led the Rams down the stretch with 561 yards in December and January.
Taking the season as a whole, there wasn’t a huge difference between Akers and Henderson. Akers had 625 yards, two touchdowns and 4.3 yards per carry. Henderson, meanwhile, had 624 yards, five touchdowns, and 4.5 yards per carry.
Henderson shouldn’t take a back seat by any means. Teams can be successful with two running backs. The Chiefs use Darrell Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Tampa Bay has Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. Cleveland possibly has the best duo with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb.
With that said, with the second-round pick tag and the way he finished the year, Akers should absolutely be the featured back of this committee. Last season, Cam Akers faced 8-man boxes on 37.93% of his carries last season. That was 2nd-most in the NFL (Min. 100 carries). DeAndre Swift faced 8-man boxes on 22.81% of his carries, 20th most in the NFL (Min. 100 carries).
In the passing game, Akers also ha potential for an impact. Without Gurley, the Rams simply had swayed away from running backs in the passing game. In 2018, Rams running backs had had 70 receptions. One season later, they recorded nearly half that with 37 – 31 came from Gurley.
Last season, Malcolm Brown led the way with 23. However, 10 of Akers’ 14 receptions came in the final six of the season and it was Akers in the passing game who had an impact against Seattle in the playoffs. DeAndre Swift had 46 receptions out of the backfield as a rookie.
Stafford should have an impact when it comes to the eight man boxes and potentially could help get Akers involved in the passing game as well.
The Los Angeles Rams will be losing Gerald Everett in free agency which means rookie Brycen Hopkins will be asked to step up in his place. That should be considered a good thing. While Hopkins didn’t have much of an impact as a rookie, he was a s stellar receiving tight end at Purdue.
The Rams will still have Higbee, but a huge opportunity opens up for Hopkins. Everett never became a true threat in the passing game with the Rams, but a lot of that had to do with his grasp on the offense and his ability as a route-runner. Hopkins was an elite route runner and college and provides the same size advantage.
TJ Hockenson was a big part of the Detroit Lions offense. Hockenson was the top tight end, but Stafford does like to find his tight ends in the passing game. Hopkins could be in for a sophomore breakout season.
David Edwards was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft in 2019 as a depth tackle that many didn’t see as a full-time starter. As a rookie he took snaps at guard as was part of the turnaround at the end of the season. Edwards didn’t have a good offseason and started behind Noteboom, but after Noteboom’s injury, he never let go of the starting job again.
Edwards was the 17th ranked guard on Pro Football Focus in 2020 and was one of just five players drafted since 2019 to rank inside the top-20. Of those players, Edwards ranked better as a pass-blocker than Nate Davis in Tennessee and Damien Lewis in Seattle.
The Rams guard should only continue to get better. He is a successful blocker in the run game and while he could improve his pass-blocking, again, of guards drafted since 2019, last year he ranked seventh among those players. He’s going to continue to develop. If he enters the year as the starter in 2021, he could be in for a big season.
The Rams found a gem in the sixth round last season in safety Jordan Fuller. In 12 games, the Rams safety had three interceptions and five passes defended. The rookie clinched the win in Week 1 against Dallas and then intercepted Tom Brady twice on Monday Night Football.
John Johnson III will most likely leave in free agency which would put Fuller in line to start next season. It’ll be a new defensive system under Raheem Morris, but if the rookie builds on what he put together this season, he should have a large role.