There may not be a Los Angeles Rams player entering a more important season that running back Cam Akers. The former second-round pick has never been able to find consistency over a full season in the Rams offense. Outside of a four game stretch to end 2020 and a similar stretch in 2022, Akers has been relatively ineffective.
Following a season in which he was placed on the trade block and his future on the team seemed uncertain, 2023 will be crucial for Akers moving forward. With no Darrell Henderson, Akers will be “the guy” in the Rams backfield for the first time in his career. What will be do with that opportunity?
2022 Season in Review
Akers’ 2022 season was a dramatic one to say the least. He began the year in Sean McVay’s doghouse as he received just three carries in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills. McVay said after the game that he needed to see “more urgency” from his running back. In the first five weeks of the season, Akers had 51 rushes for 151 yards which is an average of 2.96 yards per carry.
The Rams then benched Akers and attempted to trade him. When they were unable to do so, Akers returned to the lineup and started to pick up some momentum. Over the season’s final four weeks, Akers had 410 yards. That’s 52 percent of his season rushing total over a four-week span.
Still, the Rams running back finished 24th in the NFL in rushing yards over expected and 35th in Football Outsiders DYAR which measures a running back’s total value. What began as a disappointing season, ended a promising one Akers. He’ll need to carry that into 2023.
The Good/Best Case Scenario
While Akers’ 2022 season was inconsistent, the good news is that he did start to pick up some momentum towards the end of the year. Early on, he looked like a player that didn’t have a lot of confidence and wasn’t running with any authority. That wasn’t the case when Akers rushed for three consecutive 100 yards games to finish the season.
Now, he enters 2023 as the Rams’ indisputable number one running back. The question becomes, what can he do with that opportunity? In two years of significant playing time, Akers doesn’t have 1000 yards in a season. However, if you take the final eight games and stretch them over the course of 17, Akers finishes with 1,296 yards. That would have been good for fifth in the NFL last year behind Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, and Saquon Barkley. Finishing the season fifth in the NFL in rushing may be too much to ask, but it would be nice to see Akers take control of the running back room and finally eclipse the 1000 yard mark.
The Bad/Worst Case Scenario
The primary issue with Akers is the lack of consistency. He’ll have a stretch like he had at the beginning of last season in which he averaged 2.9 yards per carry and then he’ll have a stretch like he had to finish the year to keep you believing that he can be a true star running back.
When it comes to Akers’ career, it’s a story of two four game stretches and taking advantage of bad run defenses. Between the four game stretch to end 2020 and the four game stretch to end last season, Akers has a combined 750 yards. That’s 53 percent of his career output in the regular season in eight games.
Looking back at the eight games to finish the season last year, the average defense EPA ranking that the Rams faced was 25th. Meanwhile, the average defense EPA ranking in Weeks 1-9 that the Rams faced when Akers was struggling was 13.75.
In the six games in which Akers had 10 or more carries and rushed for over four yards per carry last season, only one ranked inside the top-20 in defense EPA or run defense DVOA.
He ranked 23rd out of 32 qualifying running backs in yards after contact per attempt and continues to have issues when it comes to protecting the football. Akers also needs to improve as a receiver out of the backfield.
The worst case scenario for Akers next season is that it’s more of the same rather than what we need to see. This would leave the Rams with a decision to make at the end of the year when Akers is set to be a restricted free agent.
It’s important for Sean McVay to commit to the run game and running the football. At the end of the day, it’s up to Akers to give McVay the confidence to lean on the run game so that the offense can remain balanced.
Biggest Question: Can Cam Akers finally be the guy to lead the run game?
This is the question that Akers has to be able to answer this season. Whether it was the presence Darrell Henderson or other factors such as the achilles injury, Akers hasn’t ever been “the guy” to lead the Rams run game. When he has been given the opportunity to be the number one running back is typically when he’s found his stretches of success.
Cam Akers with probably the best blitz pickup block I’ve ever seen. pic.twitter.com/jPaPGGTo7X— Brian Shacochis (aka Shack, aka Shacknado) (@DynastyTools) January 1, 2023
However, the Rams can’t give 15-20 carries to a player if they aren’t being efficient or having success with those touches. It’ll be up to Akers next season whether or not he can be the guy to carry the load and be someone that can be relied on in the run game. He needs to get the tough yards, be reliable in pass protection, and close out games in the fourth quarter when needed.
Akers doesn’t really have a roster battle. He’ll be the starting running back to begin the season. There has been outside speculation that Zach Evans could take over Akers. That could certainly happen in the middle of the season if Akers is ineffective. To begin the year however, the Rams starting running back will be Cam Akers.
2023 Outlook and What to Expect
Following his stretch to end the 2022 season, there is a lot of positivity and optimism when it comes to Akers. If he can pick up where he left off and run with the same amount of urgency, he’s a top-12 running back in the NFL.
The Rams drafted Steve Avila and if they can remain healthy and consistent on the offensive line, there should be plenty of holes for Akers in the run game. The Rams running back will be expected to take on a leadership role in the offense and take some control in the offense.
Chances of Making Final Roster
Despite being on the trade block last season, Akers isn’t getting cut in training camp.
Final Roster Confidence: 10/10