clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Can Cam Akers, Van Jefferson give Rams offense much-needed second half boost?

LA hasn’t been explosive enough through the first eight games of the season, will rookies be able to contribute?

Los Angeles Rams v Miami Dolphins Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

LA Rams rookie running back Cam Akers got his most carries since Week 5 and his most snaps since Week 1 in Sunday’s 28-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Akers finished with nine rushing attempts for 35 yards and one catch on one target for 19 yards over 20 snaps. The 50/50 proposition that a play would be going to Akers if Akers was on the field was actually his least-predictable game of the season.

So far, teams have been able to key in on the probability that if Akers is behind Goff, he’s probably getting the football. That was less probable on Sunday, but Akers still only finished with 35 yards on his nine attempts and almost a third of that came on his first carry.

Akers had three carries for 19 yards during his first series, which took place in the second quarter, and he had six carries for 16 yards in the second half.

Will get continue to see his role increase or can we expect more sporadic moments of “Akers or No Akers” in the final eight games of the regular season? Is it reasonable to ask a rookie running back to help carry his offense in the second half of his first year in the league?

Two years ago, rookie running back Rashaad Penny had a similar first half to Akers: 42 carries for 146 yards in eight games, 3.48 YPC, zero touchdowns, and when he was on the field, he was likely getting the football.

In his next five games after that, Penny had 39 carries for 267 yards, 6.85 YPC and two touchdowns. His role didn’t increase, but his production certainly did, even if the ball going to him was predictable.

Since 2018, other first or second-year running backs to have sizable second halfs include Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb (dominant second half in both campaigns), Gus Edwards, Joe Mixon, Chris Carson, Christian McCaffrey, Marlon Mack, Miles Sanders, Phillip Lindsay, Dalvin Cook, Sony Michel and Devin Singletary. All of those players had at least 500 rushing yards in the final eight weeks or their first or second season. Lindsay and Barkley also did it twice, like Chubb.

But most of those players also showed something in the first half. Akers has not been able to get past Darrell Henderson as the most exciting back with the ball in his hands for the Rams, and he hasn’t gotten past Malcolm Brown as the most reliable and dependable and well-rounded.

In one case, someone could argue that Akers will get an opportunity if the Rams offense is stalled — as it has been the last three games — but that would only make sense if LA didn’t already have another young back with Pro Bowl potential. Darrell Henderson has 37 carries for 198 yards (5.35 YPC) over the last three weeks. He also had a couple of great games earlier in the season.

“Less Henderson” isn’t the solution and “Less Brown” doesn’t make sense because Akers doesn’t replace what Brown does. “Running back” positions need to be more specialized in terms and the player that Akers is chasing is Henderson, a guy who isn’t doing poorly.

I do not see many avenues in which Akers is a major part of the solution to the Rams’ offensive woes in 2020. It doesn’t mean that he can’t be more productive, but can he be significantly more productive than Henderson? Even if Akers was forced into the role by injuries, how much more can he really do for the offense than what Henderson and Brown have already done?

The player drafted five spots after him has an opportunity to make a more important impact.

While you can debate a couple of other potential running back picks other than Akers, that’s not the gripe someone would have with that selection, if they griped at all. The gripe would be that the Rams didn’t choose any other position besides running back given that Henderson could have been the Todd Gurley replacement all along. Conversely, Van Jefferson has to compete with a lot of other wide receivers who are making plays immediately.

Maybe none more relevant to where the Rams were drafting than fourth rounder Gabe Davis of the Bills and fifth rounder Darnell Mooney of the Bears. LA was also three spots away from Chase Claypool of the Steelers when they were preparing to be on the clock to take Akers; Claypool leads all rookies with five touchdown receptions, but he also has two rushing touchdowns.

This is not to harp on Jefferson for being “too slow to develop” or using terms like “bust” and “sleeper” after only eight weeks of a career. A year from now, we could be laughing at the idea of Claypool being better than Jefferson. Three years from now, we could be laughing at the idea of Joe Burrow being better than Jalen Hurts.

Consider opinions of Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson midway through their rookie seasons.

But what I am focusing on is the present reality, which is that Jefferson, the second-oldest player to be drafted in 2020* (receiver John Hightower is 56 days older; he was also a fifth round pick and he has the same number of catches, 45 more yards than Jefferson), is not a significant contributor at this point. And LA needs more weapons on offense, which is why this article exists.

Jefferson played in 14 snaps against the Dolphins, his highest total since Week 5 against Washington, catching two of two targets for 23 yards. It was the first time he had more than one target in a game since Week 2.

Maybe the most unexpected result I could find in the last couple of years was Robert Foster of the Buffalo Bills. He had caught two of nine targets for 30 yards in the first half of the season. In the final seven games, Foster caught 25 of 35 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns.

Foster was buried on the depth chart in 2019 and he’s been on the practice squads for Green Bay and Washington this year.

But typically if a rookie receiver is going to contribute in the second half, he’s at least been playing in the first half. Jefferson has been unable to see the field as a rookie despite the Rams trading Brandin Cooks and not doing anything to replace him other than picking Jefferson. LA is 21st in scoring and they’ve watched their offensive passing numbers go down almost across the board, other than DVOA.

That seems a little inflated right now given how the Rams have played in the last three weeks.

Despite such positive reports in camp, Jefferson can’t get on the field for an offense that desperately needs a deep threat besides Josh Reynolds. Other than Josh Reynolds. Will they unleash him in the second half to the surprise of everybody? Is this a trick Sean McVay is waiting to pull out until people are no longer afraid of the Rams?

It doesn’t seem help could be coming from anywhere other than Jefferson. The Rams continue to hold onto undrafted rookie Trishton Jackson and returner Nsimba Webster, but McVay hasn’t shown any confidence in them as offensive players this season. Jefferson is seemingly the guy they expect to become a star, but he’s also older than: DK Metcalf, DJ Moore, Marquise Brown, AJ Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and a number of other receivers who are producing today.

Reynolds is only one year older.

The time to get on the field has to be coming soon for Jefferson. If not, I’m unsure of where the improvements on offense in the final eight games will be coming from.

Poll

How do your feelings on the Rams selections of Cam Akers, Van Jefferson today compare to when they were picked?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    I feel better about those moves
    (45 votes)
  • 26%
    I feel worse about the moves
    (65 votes)
  • 56%
    My feelings haven’t changed
    (140 votes)
250 votes total Vote Now

*Pro-Football-Reference hasn’t quite listed the age for every player, so a correction is possible here.