Los Angeles Rams: Can Sony Michel Replace Cam Akers in 2021?

by Blaine Grisak
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The Los Angeles Rams traded a 2022 sixth round pick and 2023 fourth round pick for running back Sony Michel on Wednesday. After losing Cam Akers, the Rams lacked running back depth. Darrell Henderson hurt his thumb and Xavier Jones and Jake Funk didn’t give the Rams coaching staff a lot of confidence.

While analytically Darrell Henderson was one of the NFL’s best running backs last season, it’s clear that the Rams want to pair him with another running back in order to keep him fresh.

Sony Michel Bouncing Back in 2020

A former first round pick, Sony Michel didn’t live up to his draft status. He had an impressive rookie season in which he rushed for 931 yards. However,  he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry during his sophomore season. Last year, Michel showed flashes from his rookie season once again. During the final three games of 2020, Michel was one of the Patriots most efficient players on offense.

During that stretch, Michel took 36 carries for 219 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. That was consistent with the rest of his season in which he averaged 5.7 yards per carry on just 79 carries. It isn’t a large sample size, but it was a good sign nonetheless.

Additionally, Michel performed better in the analytics as well. After a disappointing 2019 in which Michel ranked 27th in Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and 29th in DVOA, the Patriots running back improved in 2020. Among all running backs with 75 or more rushing attempts, he was ninth in yards after contact per attempt (3.3).

It’s only the preseason, but it seems as if Michel has picked up right where he left off in 2020. Against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2, Michel had seven carries for 34 yards for an average of 4.9 yards per carry.

A Rough 2019 For Michel

Michel showed flashes, but seemed to be hampered by injuries since. In fact, he missed seven games last season alone due to a quad injury. Darrell Henderson gets the injury-prone label and he’s missed just four games with the Los Angeles Rams in the last two years.

2019 was a forgettable one for Michel. His -0.2 rush yards over expected was the 14th worst mark in the NFL among running backs with over 85 attempts. He was also one of the least efficient running backs according to NFL Next Gen Stats with a 4.25 efficiency rating which was the eighth-highest mark. In other words, Michel was much more of an east-west runner than a north-south runner.

After a promising rookie season in which Michel had four 100 yard games, Michel severely disappointed in 2019. He’s had just one 100 yard game since his rookie season which came last year. While he still managed to rush for over 900 yards, he only averaged 3.7 yards per carry in the process.

Can Sony Michel Replace Cam Akers

The Los Angeles Rams might have plugged a hold to their running back depth problem, but given Michel’s history, it’s unlikely that the they solved it.  Michel has missed games in every season he’s been in the league. The same can be said about Darrell Henderson. A fourth and a sixth round pick is a hefty price tag for a one-year rental with a long injury history.

Michel will likely play the Cam Akers role for the Rams this season that Akers held in 2020. Henderson should be the lead running back until Michel gets up to speed and then it wouldn’t be shocking to see the former Patriots running back start to carry more of the load.

Up to this point in his career, Michel has been quite inconsistent. He had a very good rookie season that was capped off with an 18 carry, 94 yard performance and victory against the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. With a change of scenery, Michel will be looking to get back to that level.

Michel may not ever live up to his 31st overall pick status. However, he may just be exactly what the Rams need him to be this season.


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