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Cam Akers defying the odds with return to Rams

Torn achilles injuries normally take up to 11 months to heal.

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Was it a Christmas miracle? A nod to a young man’s willingness to work relentlessly and overcome pain? Or was it simply a case of modern medicine and physical therapy applied to a highly-tuned human body?

Whatever narrative you consider to be correct, the facts that remain are that the Los Angeles Rams:

  • Designated Cam Akers for return from the Non-football Injury List on December 23, 2021.
  • Two days later, on Christmas Day, the Rams activated Akers to the official roster.
  • On January 5, 2022, LA head coach Sean McVay announced that Akers would see action this Sunday in the season finale versus the San Francisco 49ers.

All this happening just a short five months since the injury was reported on July 20. After his surgery, the Rams kept the option of Akers return open by putting him on the Non-Football Injury List. As a preseason injury, had he been placed on the Injured Reserve List, he would not have been eligible to return this season.

The standard rehabilitation time frame

In the not so distant past, an Achilles tendon rupture took up to year to properly heal, but medical advancements are trimming down the recovery time. According to a study reported in 2017 by Selene Parekh MD,MBA, ‘Epidemiology and Outcomes of Achilles tendon Ruptures in the National Football League’, “ ...Players who did return to play in the NFL took an average of 9 months to recover after the date of injury. Advances in Microsurgical procedures and accelerated rehabilitation have improved the prospect of a fast and full return. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas came back in seven months and defensive end Terrell Suggs came back in five.

Will Cam Akers be the same runner?

Obviously, fans will be able to see for themselves this Sunday vs, the ‘Niners and there are many players who have successfully returned from this injury.

Akers has about a little less than 75% chance of returning to NFL play, according to a study published in the Foot and Ankle International Journal. Highlights of the study said, “ ... (72.4%) players were able to return to sport in the NFL ... postoperative career length was one season shorter than matched controls...postoperative performance scores were significantly worse for running backs and linebackers compared to preoperative.

The previously cited Parekh Study stated, “Across all positions, running backs saw the biggest decrease in production with a 78% decrease over 3 years post-injury in both power ratings and approximate value.”

What is the Achilles tendon and why does it rupture?

It is the largest tendon in the body and and has the greatest tensile strength. It attaches the heel bone to the calf muscle, and not only keeps the ankle joint stabilized but transfers the power of the lower leg to the ankle and foot. The tendon works likes a spring, extending and contacting with the calf muscle.

Running backs use dynamic movements, sharp cuts, stops and burst starts, sudden changes of direction and driving the lower leg forward with the weight on the toes and balls of the foot. These actions on the spring-like Achilles tendon can cause wear-and-tear or instantaneous tearing.

How are the Rams affected going forward?

Drafted at #52 in 2020, Akers was chosen as the heir apparent to Todd Gurley and after a slow start showed glimpses of his potential. He was the Rams top rusher, only starting five games, and gave the impression that he could be a three down back, His injury was a crushing blow to LA fans.

But Les Snead did his thing and made a big move. Sony Michel has filled the void of Akers absence very well. His powerful style of running is an interesting juxtaposition to the Rams wide-open passing schemes. Darrell Henderson originally replaced Akers and although seemingly constantly nicked up, has provided burst and situational value.

Of course, fresh legs and talent would certainly be of great merit during a playoff run. But with Michel being a free agent and Henderson’s injury concerns, the true value of Akers returning to form will be realized next season, for two main reasons.

First, the Rams offense has moved the ball on the ground well in his absence. Michel and Henderson are a nice one-two punch. Second, and most importantly, Akers is coming off a major injury in a remarkable short amount of time. Anything more than a gradual workload increase would be a bad business decision and bad team management by the Rams.