The LA Rams will not have Cam Akers on the field this year, setting in motion a series of events that will undoubtedly change the course of how the team is able to operate over the coming months. This is not necessarily devastating news — no more “devastating” than when the New England Patriots found out that Drew Bledsoe was going to miss considerable time in 2001, opening the door for Tom Brady to start his career — but from where we sit right now, it’s not ideal.
The odds of any player having a significant and positive impact because of a starter’s injury are not always good, and certainly few will ever be as fortunate as Brady. I only cite him as an example because we really never know how good things can get when a player goes down.
Of course, Trent Green and Kurt Warner could tell you a story about that too.
The Rams must now turn to Darrell Henderson and the rest of the in-house unit for answers following Akers’ Achilles injury (See: Rams RB depth chart) and they have surely already been scouring the free agent market since Monday evening. But what about Les Snead’s trade options? Because LA only has one running back on the roster who has taken a single offensive snap in the NFL, and Henderson is far from a sure thing.
I looked at the depth charts for all 16 AFC teams and here is one backup running back on each of those rosters who might be a trade target consideration.
Devin Singletary, Bills
Buffalo drafted Singletary in the third round in 2019, but then also grabbed Zack Moss in the third round in 2020. Right now, Moss looks like the starter, with recent addition Matt Breida, as well as Antonio Williams and Taiwain Jones, in the mix. Singletary could be surprising option on the trade market.
Last Word on Sports referred to Singletary as a limited backup.
Devin Singletary is a fine early-down runner between the 20’s, but it’s hard to imagine him being used in any other capacity. At 5’-7” and 203 pounds, Singletary doesn’t have the traditional size to be a goal-line running back. This shows up in his usage, as the former third-round pick only has four rushing touchdowns in his two-year career. Even though Zack Moss battled injury as a rookie and didn’t have a full offseason, he still managed to steal most of the short-yardage work, and it’s hard to see that changing in 2021.
Salvon Ahmed, Dolphins
Ahmed was a surprising starter a few times last year, but is not a lock to make the Dolphins roster in 2021.
Ahmed has a lot of quickness and good speed to go with it but he faces a challenge with the other running backs on the unit and only four are likely to make the roster. In 2020, Ahmed started four of the six games he played in. He rushed 75 times for 319 yards and three scores. He also added 61 yards receiving on 11 catches.
Sony Michel, Patriots
The former first round pick has had some positive moments in his career but injuries have been an issue and he fell out of favor with New England in 2020.
All in all, the 2020 season was a rollercoaster ride for Michel. On the one hand, he finished with some strong efficiency numbers — he gained 449 yards on 79 carries for an average of 5.7 yards per attempt — and caught 7 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. On the other hand, he only found the end zone once as a rusher, missed time due to injury once again and saw inconsistent playing time when active (181 of 623 offensive snaps in 10 non-IR games; 29.1%) while losing his RB1 status to second-year man Damien Harris.
The Patriots currently have Damien Harris, James White, Branden Bolden and fourth round pick Rhamondre Stevenson at the position, so Michel becomes even more expendable if they look good in camp.
Ty Johnson, Jets
The team drafted Michael Carter in the fourth round this year and he’s poised to be a big part of the offense’s plans in 2021. Johnson, a former teammate of Matthew Stafford’s in Detroit, had 54 carries for 254 yards with the Jets last season. He was a sixth round pick out of Maryland in 2019, meaning he is also a former teammate of current LA running back Jake Funk.
Justice Hill, Ravens
A fourth round pick in 2019, Hill has turned into a full-time special teamer in Baltimore with the presence of Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins. The Ravens also hosted free agent Todd Gurley recently. But Baltimore Beatdown thinks Hill deserves more playing time.
He’s demonstrated speed and elusiveness in the open field both as a runner and as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Hill’s receiving chops alone warrant him seeing some action in third down situations, but he is also an underrated rusher between the tackles.
Hill’s playing time will never be significant so long as Dobbins and Edwards are healthy, but that shouldn’t prelude the Ravens from experimenting with him as an offensive weapon on Sundays.
delayed gratification >— Justice Hill (@jhill21_) July 19, 2021
Trayveon Williams, Bengals
A sixth round pick out of Texas A&M in 2019, Williams rushed for 1,760 yards and 18 touchdowns during his final college campaign. He had no carries as a rookie, then saw the field for 26 attempts and 157 yards in 2020. The Bengals have Joe Mixon atop their depth chart, followed by Samaje Perine and sixth round pick Chris Evans, as well as undrafted free agent Pooka Williams. Is Trayveon Williams the odd man out?
How many RBs in the country are even running mid zone leads from under center in college football?— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) May 3, 2019
Great feel for the cutback alley
Trayveon Williams will fit right into an NFL run game #Bengals pic.twitter.com/fJOMWGeUYo
D’Ernest Johnson, Browns
Cleveland had to call on Johnson in Week 4 against the Cowboys last season, and he responded with 13 carries for 95 yards in only 17 offensive snaps. The Browns were unable to see more of Johnson because they have the best 1-2 in the game right now with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. On top of that, Cleveland drafted Demetric Felton in the sixth round this year and they have former Rams running back John Kelly too.
If Felton loses the camp competition between him and Johnson, then perhaps Felton becomes a trade or waiver wire target.
Benny Snell, Steelers
A fourth round pick in 2019, Snell had 108 carries as a rookie and 111 in year two. However, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry in year one and that number dropped to 3.3 in 2020. There is some thought that he won’t make the final roster and we know that the team will start first round pick Najee Harris.
The Steelers made a statement by being the first team in the 2021 NFL Draft to take a running back by selecting Najee Harris with the No. 24 overall pick. The running back room is now rather full with Harris, Snell, Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds, Anthony Mcfarland Jr. and free-agent addition Kalen Ballage.
Having that kind of depth means Pittsburgh ball-carriers will have to battle it out during training camp to secure a roster spot. Snell’s main competition is Ballage as the two young RBs play a very similar role on the offense. They are both ground-and-pound players without much receiving experience.
David Johnson, Texans
Though he could be the best running back on Houston’s roster, let’s keep in mind that he’s also the one who was entrenched in that role prior to the new regime entering the building in 2021. The Texans have since added Mark Ingram, Rex Burkhead, and Phillip Lindsay. This seems to suggest that they want a certain type of back and that they’ll be perfectly settled with those three. Could Johnson be on the block?
Johnson, 29, rushed for 691 yards on 147 carries in 12 games last season. He also caught 33 passes for 314 yards. All told, 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games isn’t bad and he doesn’t have near as much mileage on him as most backs who are approaching 30.
The Rams should go after David Johnson or Phillip Lindsay. Texans have to be sellers with their current franchise climate and both guys could add a ton of value to a win now team.— Upside Play (@TheUpsidePlay) July 20, 2021
Rams obviously don’t have a ton of picks to offer… but this is an option McVay has to consider.
Marlon Mack, Colts
Indianapolis knows that Jonathan Taylor is their number one, but they also have Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins as serviceable backups. But Mack is returning from a torn Achilles, meaning he’s a year removed from where Akers is right now.
Mack had 908 rushing yards in 12 games in 2018, then 1,091 yards in 14 games in 2019. That’s an average of 77 yards per game over those 26 contests, with 17 rushing touchdowns scored in that timeframe. Not bad and he’s not even set to be the starter but will the Colts risk trading away a running back when they know injuries could pop up at any time?
Stampede Blue has high hopes for Mack:
He may not be as fast as Taylor, but Mack can certainly make defenders miss in the open field and catch the ball out of the backfield when needed, too. When healthy, Mack has been nothing but reliable for Indy. In 2018 and 2019, the star running back had back-to-back seasons in which he rushed for over 900 yards and found the end zone a minimum eight times.
It should also be noted, however, that an Achilles injury is never an easy one to recover from. So, while it would be great for Mack to return to his normal self once he steps back on the field, it’s probably fair to temper expectations a bit until we see him during in-game action.
James Robinson, Jaguars
I was tempted to put Dare Ogunbowale here. Ogunbowale is much more “available” than James Robinson probably and the former walk-on at Wisconsin has managed to see the field a few times in the NFL: he caught 35 passes for 286 yards in 2019, then had 32 carries for 145 yards last season.
But Robinson — the 2020 undrafted free agent who surprised everyone last year by rushing for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games, while also catching 49 passes for 344 yards — is being mentioned a lot on Twitter right now as a potential trade target, so why go against that? Jacksonville first signed Carlos Hyde in free agency, then drafted Travis Etienne in the first round. I think those moves complement Robinson rather than force him out of a role with the offense, however I can’t deny that he makes some sense.
However, at what cost? Robinson might command a day two pick in trade and he was undrafted only a year ago.
The Rams have never been shy to make a trade. Could they swing a deal? I'd call the Jaguars and see if James Robinson was available.— Adam Rank (@adamrank) July 20, 2021
Darrynton Evans, Titans
When a team has a potential MVP at running back but then drafts one in the third round, that tends to draw a lot of attention. Just ask Todd Gurley and Darrell Henderson. But this was also the case for the Titans when they selected Evans out of Appalachian State in 2020, just as Derrick Henry was coming off of his most dominant campaign to date.
Now Henry has had an even more dominant season and Evans seemed to just slip on the depth chart as he was dealing with injuries, falling behind Jeremy McNichols.
Head coach Mike Vrabel insists the team remains excited about Evans’ potential, but he was even taking some reps at wide receiver in camp this year. Doesn’t he still need to work on being a running back at this stage in his development? That doesn’t seem to be clearly in the cards for him in Tennessee, so would a team try to go out and get him to be one?
Royce Freeman, Broncos
Denver drafted Javonte Williams in the second round this year, assuring that Melvin Gordon has somebody else to complement or spell him in the offense. Could that signal the end of Freeman’s time with the Broncos?
Freeman had 262 carries in his first two seasons after being a third round pick in 2018, but he had only 35 carries for 170 yards in 2020. The former star at Oregon (three seasons with at least 1,300+ yards and 15+ TD) could be on the roster bubble.
He quickly fell into Vic Fangio’s doghouse though, and didn’t play a ton last year behind Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay. Even though Lindsay is gone now, O’Halloran notes they just drafted Javonte Williams in the second round and signed Mike Boone in free agency.
Boone got $1.6MM guaranteed from Denver, so he likely isn’t going anywhere. O’Halloran writes Freeman will need to use the preseason to convince new GM George Paton to keep him as a fourth running back, or else he’ll be looking for a new team. Freeman turned 25 in February.
Darrel Williams, Chiefs
It may not be easy to pry Williams away from Kansas City, but this is also a team that drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round in 2020, a team that added Jerick McKinnon in the offseason, and a roster that also has Darwin Thompson and Elijah McGuire in the mix at running back depth. Williams only has 93 career carries through three seasons, but he showed some good potential during limited opportunities.
That includes in last year’s wild card win over the Browns, in which Williams had 13 carries for 78 yards. Would the Chiefs entertain a trade if McKinnon shows up healthy and active?
1 more week pic.twitter.com/wbS5dvqqoK— darrel williams (@darrelwilliams_) July 17, 2021
Jalen Richard, Raiders
Las Vegas signed Kenyan Drake in the offseason to form a powerful backfield duo alongside Josh Jacobs. I don’t expect this to push Richard out of a job but he seems like the most likely person of interest, assuming that Jacobs would not become available. I also think that Alec Ingold could be the number three back, further pushing Richard and veteran Theo Riddick (a teammate of Stafford’s for six years) down the depth chart.
Richard has been in the NFL for five years but is only 27 and his career numbers include a 5.1 yards per carry average: 255 attempts, 1,293 yards, four touchdowns, 179 receptions, 1,518 yards, three touchdowns.
Richard doesn’t seem to be an every down back but maybe he could complement Darrell Henderson nicely.
Joshua Kelley, Chargers
This would be early for Kelley to be pushed out of a role with the Chargers — he was a fourth round pick in 2020 — but new head coach Brandon Staley also has Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, and sixth round pick Larry Rountree III to compete at running back. Kelley was ineffective as a rookie, gaining only 354 yards on 111 attempts. The more he was given the ball, the worse things seemed to get.
Maybe Staley can try to put Kelley in a better situation without even asking him to move cities in the process.
21.06, I picked up Joshua Kelley. #SFB11 pic.twitter.com/q629dSTHJ0— Kacey Kasem (@thekaceykasem) July 15, 2021
Which of these 16 AFC backups would you be most excited about if the Rams made a trade for him?
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