There is not a lot of excitement when it comes to the LA Rams offense anymore. This is probably not due to the loss of Andrew Whitworth, even as valuable as he is, because there wasn’t much to be excited about with regards to the offense before he tore his MCL. Not as compared to the 2017 and 2018 Rams.
Those were the years when Todd Gurley proved how much a running back mattered to Sean McVay.
In addition to Gurley’s dual MVP caliber seasons, Brandin Cooks caught 80 passes for 1,204 yards in 2018 and Robert Woods contributed 86 catches for 1,219 yards. In Cooper Kupp’s eight games that year, he had 40 catches for 566 yards and his six touchdowns tied Woods for the team lead despite missing half of the season. The team also employed Whitworth, John Sullivan and had a strong offensive line, which can’t be discounted.
With this group, the Rams led the NFL in scoring in 2017 and then finished second in 2018, though it should be noted they still averaged three more points per game in their Super Bowl season.
But LA’s scoring dipped from 32.9 points per game and ranking third in points per drive in 2018 to 24.6 points per game and ranking 18th in points per drive in 2019. Gurley was ineffective, the line played poorly and it didn’t matter that Woods and Kupp both topped 1,100 receiving yards.
This season, the Rams are averaging 23.9 points per game and rank 21st in points per drive.
Of their two touchdowns in Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, one came via Aaron Donald and Troy Hill on a forced fumble. The other was a one-yard run by Cam Akers that came shortly after a 61-yard run by that same rookie.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that McVay will be able to hand the reins over to Akers as he did with Gurley in 2017. At least, that’s what all of McVay’s signs are pointing to.
Though it is fair to note that Gurley was in his third season in 2017, we can’t ignore that he played in 76% of the snaps that season. He had played in 48% as a rookie (which would have been higher if not for missing three games) and then 74% of the snaps in 2016, the year before McVay arrived. Gurley could be trusted as a pass blocker and receiver, not only as a runner.
That has not been the case for Akers, despite him clearly being the most talented and explosive runner that LA has on the roster.
In Sunday’s loss, Malcolm Brown led all running backs with 25 snaps, Darrell Henderson had 20 and Akers had 17. The Rams used a second round pick, their first overall, to take Akers out of Florida State but he has not proven to be anything more than a runner through his first 11 games.
Fantasy owners may only care about a player’s ability to run, but coaches have needs that go beyond that one skill. They also go beyond the skill of being a receiver, though Akers has not proven to be adept at that yet either and that’s another reason that he has only played in 15% of the snaps this season He has missed two games, but it’s hard to imagine that McVay would have used him much in those contests anyway.
A major reason why being that when Akers is on the field, defenses know that there is a greater than 50% chance that he will be handed the football:
Akers has played in 111 offensive snaps and he has carried the ball 59 times. He has caught three of three targets.
By comparison, Washington rookie third rounder Antonio Gibson has played in 46% off his team’s snaps and he has 139 carries for 645 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also being targeted 39 times. Gibson has caught 32 passes for 233 yards.
J.K. Dobbins was selected by the Ravens three picks after Akers went and even playing in a crowded backfield, he has played in 46% of his team’s offensive snaps. Dobbins has run the ball 72 times for 380 yards and caught 17 of 22 targets for 103 yards.
Undrafted rookie James Robinson has played in 70% of the Jaguars offensive snaps this season and he has run the ball 194 times for 890 yards with six touchdowns. He has caught 36 of 47 targets for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
These are only a few examples but we didn’t need to know about them to know that Akers is clearly behind the development everyone had hoped for when he was drafted. Unless McVay is waiting to unveil Akers at a later date, which would be befuddling given LA’s struggles on offense and lack of explosiveness lately, it doesn’t appear that he will be getting additional playing time until after he proves to be capable as a blocker and receiver. I’m not sure there was any evidence at Florida State that those skills are coming.