When a team with legit aspirations of winning the Super Bowl loses a player expected to be instrumental in their success, the “next man up” mantra becomes a realization instead of just a common sports phrase. Now that Cam Akers will miss the 2021 season with a torn Achilles tendon, the Los Angeles Rams backfield now almost certainly belongs to third-year pro Darrell Henderson.
While many fans and analysts believe Henderson may be a step down from Akers, Head Coach Sean McVay and General Manger Les Snead are showing their faith in him and the rest of the running backs on the team by allowing the current roster to pick up the slack.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Rams “don’t have any immediate plans to pursue a free agent running back.”
Rams don't have any immediate plans to pursue a free-agent running back. They believe in Darrell Henderson, like last year's undrafted free agent RB Xavier Jones and also drafted RB Jake Funk in the seventh round this year. For now, they're standing pat, but could revisit later. https://t.co/kkIVXrySFq— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 20, 2021
Luckily for all involved, Henderson plays in a system that highlights his explosiveness, play-side to cut back vision, and ability to break tackles in the open field.
Don’t let Akers’ late season success allow you to forget that it was Henderson that led all Rams running backs in total yards with 783, compared to Akers’ 748. Henderson also tied Malcolm Brown for the team lead in rushing touchdowns at five, while Akers was behind both them with four. The Memphis product also led the team in yards per carry at 4.5.
Through the first eight weeks of the 2020 season, PFF graded the former third round pick higher than all other LA running backs. Actually, PFF graded Henderson higher than any running back in the entire NFL for the first half of the season.
Darrell Henderson was PFF’s highest-graded running back (90.2) through Week 8 in 2020— PFF (@PFF) July 20, 2021
Will he step up in Cam Akers absence? pic.twitter.com/I4qyBzfO2Y
Over at FootballOutsiders, Henderson finished the season ranked ninth in rushing DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) despite being benched in the second half of the year, and he ranked fourth in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) and 11th in success rate.
Henderson’s 55-percent success rate was well ahead of Brown at 49-percent, and Akers at 48-percent. His DVOA — which essentially measures how valuable a player’s plays are that season and then averages them out to see who had the most valuable moments — ranked only behind J.K. Dobbins, Nick Chubb, and Alvin Kamara. Brown ranked 16th in DVOA, while Akers was 41st out of 47.
This is not to say that Henderson was “better” than Akers last season — for example, a goal line back might soak up more “value” than the next guy because he’s gobbling up all those free touchdowns — and we know that ultimately the Rams were more successful when Akers took over as the main guy in December and January. But maybe Henderson wasn’t trailing him by as much as we made it out to be.
Henderson — or any of McVay’s running backs — should also face less stacked boxes this year, thanks to the presence of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Of course, LA will remain a run-first team, but I would be shocked if opposing defenses loaded the box against a Stafford-led team to the same extent they did when the quarterback was Jared Goff.
To be clear, I would rather have Akers for 17 games over Henderson. But since the football gods have decided that option will not be available for 2021, send in the DH!
I think he will work out better than what most are expecting.
Will Darrell Henderson win and retain the starting running back job for the entire season?
This poll is closed
Yes, 17 games!
Yes, but he will miss some games
He will win the job, then lose it again
He won’t be the starting running back in Week 1