The Los Angeles Rams surprised most fans by making Cam Akers a healthy scratch vs the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, handing the reins over to second-year player Kyren Williams in Week 2. Williams has now scored a league-leading four touchdowns in two games, two in each contest, so do the Rams finally have the lead back they were searching for or is it time to replace Akers with a true number one like trading for Jonathan Taylor?
One positive for Williams is that he seems to have completely bought into Sean McVay’s “we not me” mantra, per Rams reporter Stu Jackson on Twitter:
“I’m in there to pass pro(tect), to catch the ball and run the ball, and do whatever (head) coach (Sean McVay) asks me to do. This is why I love the game of football, I love the game of being a running back and all the involvement I have in the offense.”
Williams has walked the talk, having success in pass protection blitz pickup so far this season, while being a multi-tool on offense with touchdowns both running out of the backfield, as well as through the air.
This is a stark contrast from Akers, who has been criticized in the past by his coach and media for his lack of interest in pass pro, as well as his unwillingness to buy into the team’s culture.
Laura Okmin from Fox Sports gave some more insight into the issue saying after Akers benching:
“What I’ve heard all morning is it’s fair to connect the dots from last year’s issues to this year’s with Cam. With all these young guys, culture is a big focus right now. Akers, I was told, wasn’t adhering to that. Two main principles of this culture, I was told: Do what’s expected of you, and accountability.”
In 2022, McVay said that Akers needed to improve “without the ball in his hands” and “really continue to learn how to compete without the ball”. Akers was also having issues with his usage vs Darrell Henderson in 2022, something that, in theory, could have sparked Akers current issue with the team, as he and Williams split carries almost evenly in Week 1.
This is now Williams’ job for the foreseeable future, as McVay confirmed Monday that even if a trade did not develop for Akers, there would not be an opportunity for him to rejoin the team this time around.
“That won’t be an opportunity,” McVay said, via a transcript from the team. “It’ll be an opportunity to make a move. . . . I feel good about the opportunity to move him, but we won’t go back and forth on it.”
Williams, for his part, has earned the starting role with his play. He has been very solid for the Rams through two weeks, leading the NFL in scrimmage touchdowns with three rushing and one receiving, as well as 104 yards on 29 carries and six receptions for another 50 yards.
Looking at his Next Gen Stats, Williams had only one run deemed “negative”, consistently picking up yards with his opportunities against the 49ers, who are considered one of the best defenses in the league right now.
Williams also brings a physical mentality as a hard nosed runner, which has lead to the Rams having the best red zone scoring percentage in the league thus far. He has set the tone moving forward for a young team, something McVay probably appreciates after the rumored issues with his last running back.
However, not all has been perfect for Kyren Williams either.
The 2022 fifth round pick out of Notre Dame who missed significant time during his first year in the league has carried the ball 29 times for 104 yards, averaging 3.6 yards per carry and catching just six-of-12 targets for 50 yards. He has been blamed for two drops by Pro-Football-Reference, including one that led to a Matthew Stafford interception against the 49ers.
There is some risk to choosing Williams as the lead back for the rest of the season because he is still relatively unknown and he’s yet to really have a single breakout game on the ground. However, he was facing a 49ers run defense that ranked second in the NFL last season and playing behind an offensive line that has yet to prove they can block for anyone, whether it be Williams, Akers, or Jonathan Taylor.
He has forced several missed tackles and could be a bargain starter who gets the job done in the red zone.
Should the Rams trade for Jonathan Taylor?
Some fans have been wanting Jonathan Taylor, the NFL’s leading rusher in 2021, ever since the 24-year-old running back requested a trade from the Indianapolis Colts. Taylor is currently on the PUP list and won’t be eligible to play for any team until Week 5, at the soonest. There have been no solid updates on whether or not the Colts continue to talk to teams about Taylor’s availability or if he will play for Indianapolis when he returns from PUP.
If the Rams see themselves as contenders in the NFC between Taylor’s return from PUP and the October 31st trade deadline, adding a weapon of his caliber could be a consideration even with Williams proving as an upgrade to Akers because the Colts’ former All-Pro is better than most at the position. It wouldn’t just cost L.A. draft picks, but also a new long-term contract for Taylor, who wants to be one of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL despite missing the final six games of 2022 with an injury and holding out from playing this year.
The fact that Kyren Williams has been good enough means that the Rams don’t have to feel rushed to make a blockbuster move for Taylor, instead holding onto their resources and saving cap space in the future to make upgrades at other positions. Ones that could help Williams instead of replacing him.