With the achilles injury to running back Cam Akers, the Los Angeles Rams will now be reliant on third year player Darrell Henderson. There are some obvious concerns with Henderson. The main concern is whether or not he can stay healthy. Over the last two seasons, Henderson has finished the season on injured reserve. The second is whether he can carry the load. Last year, Henderson had 20 or more carries in just one game.
While the same injury concerns could have been had with Akers prior to the injury, the rookie running back at least proved that he could carry the load at the end of last season.
Some are pessimistic about Darrell Henderson taking over as the lead running back. One of his concerns coming out of Memphis was that he was too small and wouldn’t be able to carry a NFL workload. Others are optimistic and believe that he is guaranteed to rush for 1200 yards and six touchdowns this season. Meanwhile, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
Darrell Henderson’s 2020 Season
Despite just going into year two, some considered Henderson to be a bust for the Los Angeles Rams given his small workload during his rookie season. Henderson put those words to bed pretty early during his sophomore campaign.
In Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, “Hendo” racked up a career high 81 yards on just 12 carries and it was his touchdown late in the fourth quarter that put the game away. Henderson followed that up with a 114 yard performance against the Buffalo Bills the following week. The Bills game was the lone game in which Henderson got 20 carries.
Henderson got 10 or more carries just eight times last season. In those games, he averaged 58.2 yards. Among those games, he got just 15 or more carries three times. In those games, he averaged 71.7 yards.
Henderson’s best stretch of games during 2020 game in Weeks 3-7. In those games, he had 72 carries for 324 yards. If you stretch that over 250 carries, Henderson would have finished with 1125 yards.
The sophomore running back finished the season hurt after an ankle injury against the Seattle Seahawks. However, he showed ability that many fans were unsure that he had.
Coming out of the American Athletic conference, the adjustment to the NFL was always going to be a big one for Henderson. There’s large difference between the AAC and the ACC or another power-5 conference. Heading into year three, Henderson should be ready to move ahead full steam.
Henderson’s Role Prior to Akers’ Injury
Prior to the Cam Akers injury, Henderson was seen as the number two back. However, unlike last season when the carries were nearly an even split, it was seen that Akers would take on more of a full-time role in 2021. The Los Angeles Rams 2021 backfield belonged to Cam Akers.
Henderson likely was still going to have a large role in the offense, but it might have only meant a 30% or 35% share of the carries. He also could have been featured primarily in the passing game and in the red zone.
In today’s NFL, the best teams have two capable running backs. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones. The Green Bay Packers have Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray lead the backfield in New Orleans.
Akers and Henderson were going to be that for the Los Angeles Rams and hopefully become one of the more dangerous running back duos in the NFL. With Akers hurt, that seems to no longer be the case.
What to Expect From Darrell Henderson in 2021
Earlier this offseason I gave my stat projections for the entire Los Angeles Rams offense. I projected 363 carries for the Rams, with Cam Akers taking 65% of those carries. My final stat-line for Henderson was 129 carries for 606 yards and eight touchdowns.
There are concerns about Henderson’s health. Prior to last season even starting, he went into Week 1 coming off of a hamstring strain that he suffered during training camp. Given his history, it’s probably fair to say that he won’t play all 17 games. However, somewhere in the 12-14 range seems a lot more likely.
It will also be interesting to see just how much of the load the Rams and McVay put on Henderson. In games that Akers missed last season, Henderson got 60% or more of the carries in four of the six games. Akers got three carries against Philadelphia before leaving with an injury. Henderson and Malcolm Brown split the carries with the Memphis running back leading the carries 12-11.
The following week against Buffalo, Henderson dominated the carries, taking 20 of the 27 attempts. However, the following week against the New York Giants, it was more of a 50-50 split with Brown leading the charge, 9-8.
Later in the year against the San Francisco 49ers, Henderson took 14 of the games 16 carries. Against the Bears the next week, it was a more even split. Henderson received 60% of the carries with 15 while Brown took 10. While Henderson left the Seattle game in Week 16 early, again, it was a more even split. Henderson got 12 carries, or 63%, while Brown was given seven.
There were games last season that Henderson took almost 75% or more of that game’s carries, while there are others where it’s almost an even 50-50 split or close to 60-40.
Can Darrell Henderson Carry the Load?
Last season the Los Angeles Rams at least had Malcolm Brown. This year, behind Henderson, the Rams have Xavier Jones. While the Rams have said that they are planning on standing pat on the running back position, it would not be surprising to see them make a move.
This is especially the case if Henderson suffers a hamstring injury during training came or gets injured early on in the year. Given how the preseason goes, they could even opt to sign a veteran back to pair with Henderson instead of Xavier Jones.
In either case, the way the Rams handle the backfield could be significantly different. If it’s Jones backing up Henderson, it’s likely that Henderson dominated the carries with a 70%+ workload. However, if the Rams sign a veteran like Adrian Peterson, it could be closer to a 60-40 or 65-35 split. That’s the scenario that’s much more beneficial for Henderson and will keep him fresh throughout the year.
Projecting Darrell Henderson’s 2021
As mentioned, prior to the Cam Akers injury, I gave Henderson 129 carries for 606 yards and eight touchdowns. It’s like that Henderson ends up with 100 more carries and closer to the 225 mark. If Henderson averages 15 carries and plays 14 games, that puts him at 210.
Let’s say Henderson ends up with 217 carries next season and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. That would put Henderson at 998 yards which seems like a realistic number for him. While he could certainly surpass the 1,000 yard mark, this gives some leeway for injury and Henderson missing up to three games.
As mentioned, that 998 yards could turn out to be closer to 800 if the Rams go out and sign a veteran running back. If Henderson ends up with closer to 178 carries because the Rams sign Peterson or Alfred Morris, Henderson could end up with 818 yards.
I still think that Henderson plays a large role in the passing game and in the red zone. Henderson will be the lone running back on the Rams roster that can be trusted in pass protection. He’ll get third down and passing down work which could turn into production in the receiving game. It’s possible that he ends up with 30 receptions with Matthew Stafford at quarterback.
Given his effectiveness in the red zone last season with four touchdowns inside the five, Henderson will be the main running back in that area as well. While I had him slotted for eight touchdowns, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him with 12 rushing touchdowns and two receiving touchdowns.
The Los Angeles Rams are going to have to adjust to how they handle the running game this season. With Matthew Stafford at quarterback, the Rams won’t have to rely on the running game as much as they would have with Jared Goff. However, in one sense that’s also not what the Rams wanted. Stafford came to Los Angeles because of the threat of a running game.
In Sean McVay’s offense, the running game is always going to be a priority, but without Akers, Stafford will likely have to carry more of the load as he did in Detroit. The good news is that the Rams still have Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods as opposed to Quintez Cephus and Danny Amendola.
At the end of the day, the running back position is the least valued position on offense. The Rams will be able to plug and play much like they did in 2018. However, like in 2018, the Rams will just need to find a system that works and commit to that system.