The relationship between the Los Angeles Rams and running back Cam Akers this season has been a complicated one to say the least. After a slow start, Akers took a step back from the team in October, taking a leave of absence. The Rams attempted to trade Akers at the deadline, but garnered no interest from other teams.
Following the trade deadline, the Rams and Akers decided to let the rest of the season play out and go from there. That leave of absence and fresh mindset seems to have brought a rejuvenated Akers in the second half of the season.
Over the last six weeks the Rams running back has rushed 86 times for 383 yards, averaging 4.45 yards per carry to go with six touchdowns. This is a significant improvement from the season’s first five games in which Akers had 51 carries for 151 yards, averaging 2.96 yards per carry with a single touchdown.
Akers’ strong six game run was capped off on Sunday with a 23 carry, 118 yard, three touchdown performance. It was Akers’ first 100 yard game since January 9, 2021 in the wild card game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Since then, it had been mostly disappointment for Akers. In the first five weeks of the season, Akers’ three yards per carry and -0.98 rush yards over expected per attempt according to NFL Next Gen Stats rank dead last in the NFL. That was combined with a pretty disappointing playoff run in 2021 in which Akers nearly fumbled the Rams’ Super Bowl hopes away.
It would be unfair not to mention Akers’ torn achilles in the middle of all that. Still, outside of the five game stretch to end the 2020 season, Akers’ numbers left a lot to be desired.
The last six weeks, however, have given some reason for optimism when it comes to Akers. Among running backs with at least 75 carries, Akers’ 383 yards ranks 12th and his 4.5 YPC ranks inside the top-10 at number eight. Akers is also inside the top-10 in yards after contact, ranking ninth with 247.
It’s hard to argue that Akers hasn’t been good over the last month and a half. His EPA per rush ranks ninth among qualifying running backs at -0.04. Akers’ rush yards over expected has improved, but he still ranks just 15th out of 18 qualified rushers at -0.44.
With all of the drama that has surrounded Akers this year, the question becomes, has he done enough to show that the Rams should keep him heading into 2023?
Even in the midst of a strong run, Akers’ flaws have reared their ugly head. Against the Las Vegas Raiders, it was an Akers fumble that stopped a strong offensive drive before halftime. Akers’ fumble could have been costly, but a defensive turnover on the other end mitigated the damage. Ball security has been a consistent problem for Akers.
The Rams running back room has been a huge weak point of the offense this season. They cut Darrell Henderson around the same time that Akers finally got going and also resorted to bringing back Malcolm Brown.
With all of that being said, it all depends what the Rams feel like they want to do. With how the running back room has performed for the majority of the season, they could decide to completely rebuild it and find another player or two to pair with Kyren Williams. However, with needs on the offensive line, in the secondary, and at edge rusher, they could also opt to stick with what they have and attempt to carry this momentum into 2023.
It’s worth noting that this free agency class is set to be stacked at running back with players like Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, and David Montgomery set to hit free agency.
There will also be options in the draft with players such as UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet, Syracuse’s Sean Tucker, and Auburn’s Tank Bigsby. If the Rams want to move on from Akers by either cutting him and saving $1.4M or trading him and gaining a draft pick, they certainly can.
With how Akers has played over the past six weeks, he would have more trade value and could have more interest than he had when the Rams initially attempted to trade him at the deadline.
The Akers of the past six weeks is the player that the Rams have hoped for over the last two years. His 100 yard game against the Broncos was the team’s first this season. The Rams and the fanbase have known what Akers is capable of, he just hasn’t been able to consistently show it. That’s a player worth building around.
It also likely isn’t a coincidence that Akers has improved ever since Thomas Brown took a larger role again coaching the running backs after first-year coach Ra’Shaad Samples left for Arizona State.
Brown had been coaching the Rams running backs since 2020 before being moved to tight ends last offseason. With the Rams struggling at running back, McVay moved Brown back to his old position to assist Samples. Samples then left and Brown has since completely resumed coaching running backs along with his tight end responsibilities.
It’s fair to wonder if the “difference in philosophy” that Akers was referring to this season was with Samples. Since Brown has taken over the running back room, Akers has been running much more successfully.
The next two weeks will say a lot in what the Rams decide to do with Akers going forward. He needs to keep this momentum going. Based on the last two years, the performance against the Broncos is the exception with Akers, not the rule. He’s had many more sub-par performances than games where he’s taken over.
If he can continue show that consistency and be a player that the offense can rely on, the Rams should absolutely keep Akers as the primary back in 2023. Either way, the Rams will have a big decision to make this offseason.