Los Angeles Rams: Replacing Cam Akers on the Roster

by Blaine Grisak
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Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Rams lost Cam Akers for the season due to a torn Achilles. While some would like the team to go out and sign a running back, it seems as if they will stick with who is on the roster for the time being.

The Rams could still go out and sign a free agent. They did this in 2018 after Todd Gurley got hurt against the Philadelphia Eagles. They rolled with Malcolm Brown and John Kelley the following week. However, after that didn’t go well, the team signed CJ Anderson and he rushed for 167 yards against the Arizona Cardinals the same week he was signed.

The rest is history.

The Rams drafted Darrell Henderson in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft and they like what they have in Xavier Jones. Here’s a more in-depth look at the replacements already on the roster.

Darrell Henderson

With Cam Akers going down, this is now Darrell Henderson’s backfield. Despite having just one fewer yard on less carries, there is a much more negative narrative around Henderson. Henderson had 138 carries last season. If Henderson doubles that in 2021 and gets 250 carries, he’ll have 1,125 yards this season based on last season’s yards per carry. Those aren’t bad numbers.

Henderson has shown that he can be productive in a complimentary role with Cam Akers. Last year, he had just one game with more than 20 carries with the Los Angeles Rams. However, in that complimentary role, Henderson was very efficient.

He received a top-20 offensive grade and rushing grade from Pro Football Focus and also received top grades in Football Outsider metrics in DVOA and DYAR. The former Memphis running back also ranked just outside the top-15 in FO’s effective yards. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Henderson gained more yards than expected on 41.6% of his carries which ranked 15th.

These are all analytics and stats in only 138 carries which is far fewer than a lead NFL back should get. However, it just shows what Henderson is capable of. He’ll have a lot to prove and he should be up for the challenge. He’s also capable of doing it all. Henderson can run the ball inside and outside and also the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and down the field. It’s going to be interesting to see how McVay uses Henderson in a more featured role.

The questions that Henderson will need to be able to answer is can he carry the load and can he stay healthy. He’s been put on injured reserve at the end of each of the last two seasons. As mentioned earlier, he’s also only ever carried the ball 20 times or more in one game in the NFL. He’ll also need to prove himself in pass protection. Last season, Henderson was the seventh-highest graded running back in pass pro by Pro Football Focus, allowing just one quarterback hurry.

Xavier Jones

Henderson gets criticized for his lack of size and shiftiness and then Los Angeles Rams fans fall in love with Xavier Jones. Jones is 5’11 and 208 pounds. Henderson looks larger than Jones because he’s only 5’8 and therefore bulkier. However, they both weigh the same.

Jones has a nose for the end zone as he scored 25 touchdowns in his final season at Eric Dickerson’s alma mater – SMU.

He’s likely not going to play a full-time role with the Rams, but it’s possible that he does get some work as the number two running back with the Rams. He rushed for 1276 yards in his final season at SMU, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Jones’ highlight reel is impressive, but that’s exactly what it is, a highlight reel. He’s very similar to Henderson in that he excels in outside zone and shows decent power. However, his ability to anticipate is lacking. He sees the play in front of him rather than the play developing. He also won’t add much in pass protection, but does possess good hands while catching the ball out of the backfield.

We haven’t seen what Jones can do at the NFL level as the NFL didn’t have a preseason last year. We’ll get our first look at Jones this August.

Raymond Calais

Calais is another player that we simply don’t know a lot about because of the COVID pandemic last season. He never had a 1,000 yard season at Louisiana, rushing for 886 yards and six touchdowns during his senior season. However, he averaged an impressive 7.6 yards per carry.

The running back out of Louisiana is much smaller than Henderson and Jones. He stands at just 5’8 and is 177-lbs. He’s likely more of a threat on special teams than he is in the backfield. Calais had a 41-yard kick return last season against the Giants. He’s dangerous in space, but without the ability to help in pass protection, he’s unlikely to see much action on offense or be a Cam Akers replacement.

TuTu Atwell

Yes, that’s right. TuTu Atwell. Atwell is someone who has not been talked about as a potential Cam Akers replacement. While Atwell is a receiver, he is still a threat out of the backfield. He’s not going to get 15-20 carries per game, but as someone who can add a change of pace or game-breaking ability? Atwell can definitely add that to the Los Angeles Rams backfield. In fact, he did it at Louisville.

 

The Rams also went this direction with Tavon Austin while he was with the team. Again, Atwell likely won’t garner 15-20 carries, but three carries per game to add some variety to the backfield? Atwell also doesn’t just provide a rushing threat as a running back or on jet sweeps, but also a threat to catch the ball. This would be a great way to get Atwell in space and involved in his rookie season. It’s certainly something that the Rams won’t rule out.

Prior to the Akers injury, it was difficult to see Atwell getting much playing time. With Akers and Henderson, the Rams were set at running back. With DeSean Jackson and Van Jefferson, the wide receiver room was also crowded. Atwell potentially just got a boost during his rookie season. It may not be a large boost, but we could see a decent amount of Atwell in the Rams offense.

Jake Funk

The Los Angeles Rams drafted Jake Funk in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Funk dealt with his share of injuries at Maryland and won’t be carrying the load at the NFL level. He likely is more of a special teams player during his rookie season.

However, when he was healthy, it’s hard to deny what he did in the Big-10 conference. He doesn’t have break away speed or the agility that you look for in an NFL running back. However, he is someone who could be effective in short yardage situations.

Funk is no Christian McCaffrey, but he certainly could carve out a role as a rookie even if it is just on special teams. At 5’10, 205-lbs, he also brings some size that depth running backs like Raymond Calais and Otis Anderson do not.

Otis Anderson

Prior to the Cam Akers injury, Otis Anderson was likely a long shot to make the roster. Heck, he still might be a long shot. Like Calais, Anderson is small at just 5’11 and 174-lbs. However, he is someone that can bring a change of pace.

Again, like Calais, he might be more of a threat as a kick returner on special teams, but there’s no doubt that he also brings some ability in the backfield. Like the tweets says, Anderson is the only player outside of Travis Etienne to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in his career. If he shows ability as a running back and on special teams, he could push Calais off the roster.

Anderson’s size is his biggest concern. He’s not going to be carrying the ball 15-20 times per game, but he is someone who can add a change of pace and add some versatility. As mentioned, he’s likely more of a threat on special teams this season and not someone who will replace Akers, but he’s someone to keep an eye on as opposed to Calais.

Conclusion

As mentioned, this is now Darrell Henderson’s backfield. He’s going to be the Rams’ starting running back heading into the 2021 season. However, given his lack of experience being a “bell cow” or “featured guy” in the NFL, the Rams will be looking for a secondary option.

With Henderson starting, the Rams have a plethora of options behind him that all had a variation of different skill sets. Xavier Jones is a shifty, change of pace running back that has a nose for the end zone and is a home run threat. Otis Anderson adds an receiving ability out the back field as well a change of pace.

Someone like Jake Funk could be used in short yardage situations. Meanwhile, a receiver like TuTu Atwell could be used as a gadget player and take handoffs, jet sweeps, or even provide a receiving threat on “pop passes” or on screens.

The Rams have options. While they could still end up signing a free agent early in the season or after teams make roster cuts, seeing what they have is the best option for the time being.

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