Los Angeles Rams: Is Running Back Cam Akers primed for a big year in 2021?

by Blaine Grisak
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The Los Angeles Rams surprised many last April when they took running back Cam Akers with their first pick in the second round. While taking a running back wasn’t necessarily a surprise, selecting one that high was. That’s especially the case when the Rams took Akers over more well-known names such as JK Dobbins.

After cutting Todd Gurley to finish the 2020 season, the need for a running back was there. Gurley put together two special performances in 2017 and 2018, one of those ending with NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors. The Rams took Darrell Henderson out of Memphis the year before, but needing someone who could better carry the load, Sean McVay and Co. went with Akers.

Cam Akers’ 2020 Season in Review

With Henderson and Akers leading the charge, the Rams had quite the two-headed monster at running back in 2020. Henderson started strong as Akers dealt with a rib cartilage injury. Then, to finish the year, it was Akers carrying the load as Henderson was out with a sprained ankle.

Akers scored his first touchdown of the season in the third quarter on a four-yard reception on Monday Night Football against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Week 14 is when the Rams saw what Cam Akers could really do. Against the New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football, Akers rushed for 171 yards on 29 attempts.

HIs 171 yards marked the sixth-most rushing yards by any NFL player in a single game during the 2020 season and fourth-most by a Rams rookie in a single game in franchise history.

That’s more than Eric Dickerson, Todd Gurley, and Jerome Bettis.

Akers carried his late-season momentum into the playoffs where he again pout up a 100-yard performance against the Seattle Seahawks.

After the way that he finished the season, Akers might be ready to be put into a more featured role in his second season. 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 the Rams running backs Cam Akers and Darrell 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.

NFL Offenses Using Two Running Backs

While the Rams might still get criticism for taking a running back in the second round, there is little question that Akers fit perfectly into McVay’s offense.

Additionally, when you look at other teams around the league, many of the successful teams use two running backs. Look no further than the Super Bowl. The Chiefs use Darrell Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.Tampa Bay had Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette.

The Green Bay Packers used Aaron Jones and AJ Dillion and the Buffalo Bills have Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. Need more evidence? The Cleveland Browns arguably have the best duo with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb and the Indianapolis Colts have Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. That doesn’t even mention the Saints’ duo of Alvin Kamara and Latavious Murray.

Of the team in the playoffs, only the Baltimore Ravens, Washington Football Team, Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks, and Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t have a clear 1-2 punch at running back. That’s nine out of 14 teams.

The Rams have themselves a pretty good duo when it comes to Cam Akers and Henderson. They have two guys that are able to get the job done. When one isn’t finding the success, the Rams should have no issue turning to the other.

Can Cam Akers be a featured back?

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).

Comparing that to DeAndre Swift in Detroit with Matthew Stafford, he faced 8-man boxes on 22.81% of his carries, 20th most in the NFL (Min. 100 carries).

In the passing game, Akers also has potential for an impact. Without Gurley, the Rams simply have swayed away from running backs in the passing game. In 2018, Rams running backs had had 70 receptions. Gurley’s 59 receptions for a running back trailed only Tarik Cohen, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCafffrey.

The season before, Gurley trailed only McCaffrey and Le’Veon Bell

In 2019, after Gurley’s injury, Rams running backs 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 games of the season and it was Akers in the passing game who had an impact against Seattle in the playoffs.

With the Seminoles at Florida State, Akers continually got better as a receiver. After tallying 23 receptions as a sophomore, Akers recorded 30 in his final season. 

Not that the Rams run the same system as Detroit, but with Stafford, 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.

Looking ahead to 2021

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams continue with their 1-2 punch at running back with Henderson and Akers in 2021. And by all means they should. The Rams used a third round pick on Henderson and a fresh Akers for December and January football is only good for the offense.

Last season, Cam Akers had a shortened offseason, dealt with a rib cartilage injury early the season, and then hurt his ankle late. With the full year in the offense and if he is able to stay healthy, Akers should be in for a big 2021.

Akers averaged just 2.2 yards before contact as a rookie. That ranked 33rd in the NFL. Comparing that to DeAndre Swift in Detroit, he averaged 2.9 yards before first contact which ranked 10th in the NFL. Matthew Stafford will be an obvious upgrade in the passing game. However, it’s underrated how much he could help in the run game as well.

With presumably less 8-man boxes and defenses giving more space at the line of scrimmage, Akers should be in for a big sophomore season.

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