One of the most fascinating and frustrating things about the NFL is that all of our offseason research and assumptions can be detonated in just one game.
Coming into the 2022 season, the widely held assumption was that Cam Akers would begin as the starting running back for the Los Angeles Rams, with Darrell Henderson serving as the primary backup.
Henderson didn’t just lead the Rams backfield, he dominated snaps and touches. Henderson played 55 of the team’s 67 snaps, while Akers played just 12 snaps. Henderson got 18 touches to Akers’ three. And even worse, Akers didn’t gain a single yard in L.A.’s season opener, while Henderson racked up 73 yards and looked like the better back throughout the game.
Initially, the speculation was that Akers was limited for health reasons. He did suffer a torn Achilles injury in July 2021, and that’s typically a nasty injury for running backs that can carry future injury issues. But the real reason why Akers didn’t play might actually be worse. I’ll let Sean McVay take it from here:
“No matter who you’re talking about, you want to see guys do the little things the right way, compete with and without the ball. There were some instances where there were some positive things and some things that he can do better, but we want to see just an increased level of urgency and accountability snap in and snap out from him.”Sean McVay, via Pro Football Talk
Is this an effort issue? A concentration issue? It’s hard to know specifically. But clearly, McVay and the Rams coaching staff aren’t exactly happy with the Florida State product.
Unlike Akers, Henderson has seemingly built up trust with McVay. Just last year, Henderson served as the team’s starter and made good on the opportunity. Henderson had racked up 648 rushing yards, 172 receiving yards and scored eight touchdowns in 10 starts before an injury sidelined him for four of the team’s final six games. Henderson’s built up equity with his coach could make getting the starting duties back an even taller task for Akers.
Public sentiment also seems to have turned on Akers, at least from a fantasy football perspective. After closing draft season ranked as the RB22, per FantasyPros’ Expert Consensus Rankings, Akers enters Week 2 ranked as the RB37, while Henderson sits as the RB22.
But as we know, running back situations can be quirky. And oftentimes, coaches will ride the hotter hand on a week-to-week basis. And while Henderson will likely start Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, McVay said Akers will get a chance this Sunday against Atlanta.
“He’s gonna get an opportunity to do it this week,” McVay said on his YouTube show. “Really, it’s not just one guy. I know what Cam’s capable of, but I know what we’re capable of as an offense as a whole. This isn’t about one individual, this is about coaches and players competing and performing to the best of their abilities.”
McVay clearly answered that question from a macro-level perspective. But the point remains, not all hope is lost for Akers. It frankly never should be for a running back as talented as he is. But in order for Akers to take back his starting job, he’ll have to pay closer attention to the little things. Until then, it looks like Henderson will be the lead guy.