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Do Rams need to move on from Cam Akers after another slow start?

Cam Akers averaged just 1.3 yards per carry against the Seahawks. Is it time to move on?

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

When it comes to Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers, throughout his career he’s shown just enough when he’s hot only to go cold again. That was the case on Sunday in the win against the Seattle Seahawks. Following a stretch at the end of last season in which Akers finished with three consecutive 100-yard games, he averaged just 1.3 yards per carry on 22 attempts in Week 1.

Akers’ 1.3 yards per carry is the seventh-lowest mark in NFL history among running backs with at least 22 carries in a game. In NFL history there have been 36 games in which a running back has averaged 1.6 yards per carry or less on 20 attempts. Akers has two of them and only Adrian Peterson and Ericct Rhett have accomplished the same feat.

The issue, however, is that Akers is much closer to Rhett than he is Peterson. Peterson’s games came nine years apart in 2008 and 2017. Rhett meanwhile was also a second-round pick.

The former Florida State running back has been consistently inconsistent since being drafted in 2020. A slow start is nothing new for Akers. In his career, Akers has 99 carries for 293 yards, and averaged 2.95 yards per attempt in September and October. He also has zero 100-yard games.

Contrarily, after the month of December, Akers has averaged 4.1 yards per attempt on 303 carries with 1,245 yards. He has five 100-yard games.

One stat line is very good and shows a starting caliber running back. The other not so much. It’s a problem and he’s off to yet another slow start.

Looking at the advanced analytics and it’s even more telling. In Weeks 1-7, Akers has averaged -0.22 EPA per rush and -0.96 rushing yards over expected per carry. From Week 12 on, that jumps up to -0.1 EPA per rush and a positive 0.14 rushing yards over expected per carry.

Late in the season, Akers seems to have more urgency and becomes a more physical player. In the first two months of the season, Akers has averaged just 1.88 yards after contact per attempt. Contrarily, late in the season he averages almost a full yard after contact more at 2.69. On Sunday, Akers averaged 1.68 yards after contact which was the fewest among running backs with at least 15 carries.

There’s something to be said about a running back that gets better as the season goes on and running more physical in December and January when that type of football typically wins games. Again, however, the issue is the lack of consistency.

Looking at just Sunday’s performance, the difference between Kyren Williams and Cam Akers was noticeable. On 15 carries, Williams averaged nearly three times as many yards per attempt as Akers and averaged 2.87 yards after contact per attempt. Among running backs with at least 15 rushes, His 2.87 yards after contact per attempt ranked sixth in the NFL.

Williams’ 0.15 rushing yards over expected per attempt ranked 14th in the NFL. Meanwhile, Akers -41 total rushing yards over expected ranked last and his -1.94 rushing yards over expected per attempt ranked second-last ahead of only Rachaad White.

It’s fair to note that Akers faced a heavy box with eight or more defenders on 45 percent of his carries. This usually happens for a few reasons. In the case of players like Rachaad White, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley, this is because the opposing defense doesn’t respect the quarterback. That obviously isn’t the case with Matthew Stafford.

Another reason for this is that the running back doesn’t show a threat in the passing game and when they are on the field, it’s a tell that the offense is running the ball. That’s the case with Akers.

Right now, Akers is a very one-dimensional player. He doesn’t have a lot of value as a receiver and Williams is better in pass protection. Akers played 28 snaps on Sunday. The Rams ran the ball with Akers 22 times. Meanwhile, Williams played 53 snaps. The Rams ran the ball on just 15 of those plays with Williams and on 36 passing plays, he ran a route 77.8 percent of the time.

It’s also worth noting that the Seahawks made it a point to improve their run defense this offseason. They brought back Bobby Wagner and signed Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed to the defensive line.

So, while it’s true that Akers faced tougher looks, there’s a reason for that and it’s more than just “the offensive line needs to do better run-blocking.” That last part is true as the Rams ranked 22nd in run-blocking according to PFF and 20th in run-block win-rate according to ESPN Analytics. At the same time, part of it is just limitations in Akers’ game.

On Sunday, only one of Williams’ carries went for negative yards. Meanwhile, ten of Akers 22 carries went for either no gain or negative yardage. That’s 45 percent of Akers’ rushing attempts.

The hope is obviously that Akers gets going as the season goes on. There’s no questioning his overall talent as a player. However, there are legitimate question marks about his efficiency and consistency as a runner as well as his ability in the passing game. These are things holding him back from reaching his full potential.

With matchups against the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles over the next four weeks, it’s tough to see Akers getting going before the midseason mark. By then, will it be too late and the Rams put more trust in Williams?

In past years, the Rams have paired Akers with Darrell Henderson. With his injuries and inability to stay on the field, Henderson wasn’t a player that could carry a full workload. That’s not the case with Williams. If the Rams feel like they need to go to the second-year player more often, using Sunday’s snap count as proof, they can have confidence in doing so.

This will be a situation to monitor going forward in terms of how the Rams use their running backs. A few more performances like Sunday and Williams may officially take over as the Rams’ starting running back.