If a team loses its starting running back in late July, it’s difficult to do better than having Sony Michel as his replacement by Week 1. Never the star that Patriots fans hoped he would be as a first round pick in 2018, Michel had been a starter on a Super Bowl team and had a lot of experience without being over-utilized. The Rams didn’t have the benefit of looking for a starter in March and April, so it was lucky that New England was ready to move on from him and only wanted a day three pick swap in return in August.
But even though Darrell Henderson and Michel have been considered “starting running backs” in the past, there was still a clear difference on the field between them in 2021 and Cam Akers in late 2020.
Some fans may think that a team’s starting running back being ranked 13th on this list would be too high. Others, like fans of Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, or Nick Chubb, would be proud of the fact that their team’s running back is in their top-three.
Maybe this is too high for Cam Akers. If he starts out the season like he ended the 2020 season, then it will be too low.
#13 - RB Cam Akers
Darrell Henderson started ten of the first 11 games of the season and not a single one of those contests felt like a “Darrell Henderson game”. His single-game high was 90 yards and then when Michel started in his place in Week 13 against the Jaguars, he had 121 yards.
Call it unlucky timing for Henderson to not get to face Jacksonville’s defense, no question, but there was a feeling of some spark by Michel in the back third of the season and then that disappeared in the playoffs.
Michel had just 80 yards on 26 carries over four games. Different year, different circumstances, but Akers had 221 rushing yards in his two playoff games in 2020.
Michel also had the third-most carries inside of the 20-yard line last season, but he only caught one pass in the red zone and production was lacking: Henry had 32 red zone carries and scored eight touchdowns, whereas Michel had 45 red zone carries but only scored four times.
I was shocked to see that— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) July 7, 2022
Sony Michel was 3rd in the NFL with 45 carries inside of 20-yard line last season
9th in carries inside of the 10
Are we attributing those high value touches enough to Cam Akers (RB18) ahead of this season? pic.twitter.com/sZh1bpXfRF
But Akers had 31 red zone carries in 2020 and only scored twice. Given the opportunity to be the number one back in Week 1 for the first time in his career, Akers can raise his stock considerably by simply executing at a higher level on one extra red zone carry per game.
He was also only a rookie that year and there is a lot to learn in Sean McVay’s playbook, so where could he be now if he has an extra year of study and is back to being healthy?
Akers was drafted just 11 spots behind Jonathan Taylor, who scored 14 red zone touchdowns last season, so fans are allowed to have high expectations for his ceiling even if we’ve only seen glimpses of it through his first two years in the NFL.
Cam Akers with a stiff arm that would make Derrick Henry proud. pic.twitter.com/tOmtlGhw9h— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) January 17, 2021
Though Akers was far less successful during his second trip to the postseason, rushing for 172 yards on 67 carries with no touchdowns and two key fumbles against the Bucs, I don’t really care because it’s weird that he was even playing after tearing his Achilles only six months earlier.
Unanswered though are questions of whether Cam Akers will ever be the same as he was prior to the injury, as well as skepticism before the draft that he is a three-down back.
The “good news” for Akers, presumably, is that once again there is no other running back on the roster who should challenge him for the starting role when healthy.
Kyren Williams has the benefit of being a drafted rookie running back, which never fails to generate more hype than it should. There were 163 running backs drafted on day three from 2009-2018, and only 25.7-percent of them have over 1,000 career rushing yards. Only 11-percent of them have at least 2,000 career yards. And the only three over 5,000 yards are Alfred Morris, Lamar Miller, and Latavius Murray.
In Henderson’s case, I do think he has to compete for a role in the Rams offense this year. If Williams looks like an adequate complement to Akers, Henderson could be an attractive trade option for a team that was in L.A.’s position last preseason.
Even having missed most of last season, and even though the Rams won the Super Bowl without any great running backs, I see Akers as a player who can have a more significant impact on the offense than any other running back who has been in his position since pre-2019 Todd Gurley. So he’s my #13 player.
Which of these players is most important to the 2022 Rams?
This poll is closed
RB Cam Akers
S Jordan Fuller
LG David Edwards
C Brian Allen