One of the most frustrating positional groups for fantasy football managers has been the Los Angeles Rams running back group. Last season, RB Todd Gurley was a fantasy stud, and his departure left a huge gap to be filled. Would second-round draft pick Cam Akers be fantasy gold this year, or would it be second-year player Darrell Henderson? What about veteran Malcolm Brown? Through 13 weeks, the answer might finally be coming to light.
Cam Akers recent performances show fantasy promise
When rookie running back Cam Akers was drafted by the Rams, a lot of fans and analysts expected him to replace the departing Gurley right away. Through the first 10 weeks or so, Akers hadn’t really earned the RB1 role, but in the last couple of weeks, he’s turned it around.
Cam Akers recent emergence
Cam Akers has shown that he deserves the RB1 role on the offense over the last two weeks. In Week 12, Akers rushed nine times for a team-leading 84 yards (9.33 ypc) and a touchdown. Last week, he rushed 21 times for a team-leading 72 yards (3.43 ypc) and another touchdown. He also caught his only target in Week 13 for 22 yards. In PPR scoring, Akers has been the best Rams RB both weeks as well.
The team is leaning on him more as the season progresses, but they’re also not quite ready to force-feed him the ball alone just yet. Last week was the biggest share of the rushes that Akers has seen all year, and it’s entirely possible that we’ve seen the changing of the guard. Of course, that only really matters if Akers can stay healthy.
Cam Akers injury concerns
On Monday, Akers missed practice due to a shoulder injury. Technically, the practice was only a walkthrough since the team has a short week, but it still wasn’t a promising sign. The team finally leaned on him to carry the load, and it appeared as if one of his shoulders couldn’t handle it.
The team reported that Akers logged a limited practice on Tuesday, however, and was a full participant on Wednesday. Head Coach Sean McVay showed his support for the rookie, saying that he expects Akers to play against the New England Patriots in Week 14. Barring a crazy setback in warmups, Cam Akers should be on the field, but should you start him in fantasy?
Rams running back competition
Before we look at the Week 14 matchup in more detail, we first need to look at the other running backs vying for touches on the Rams offense. Whether Cam Akers misses or not, there are definitely other options for the team to lean on.
Darrell Henderson has done well
In terms of stats for the season, Darrell Henderson has shown that he has fantasy RB2 potential. For the year, Henderson is RB25 in PPR scoring, with 123 rushes for 559 yards and 5 TDs. He has also caught 15 of 23 targets for 154 yards and another TD through the air. In terms of Consistency Score (CS), Henderson is RB37 with a 2.76, the highest on the team. He’s also RB14 in Fantasy Points Differential (FPD) with 17% more points than expected, also highest on the team.
The season-long stats paint a very clear picture: Henderson has been the team’s starting RB, and it shows. However, with the recent emergence of Cam Akers, it’s hard to see these kinds of numbers continuing too far into the future. If Akers misses time, Henderson is a lock for your lineup, but with Akers in the rotation, Henderson is a flex option at best going forward.
Malcolm Brown has faded entirely
Veteran Malcolm Brown, on the other hand, looks like a solid backup when looking at the season-long stats. For the year, Brown is RB37 in PPR scoring on the season with 90 rushes for 368 yards and 5 TDs. Brown has caught 20 of 27 targets for 150 yards with zero scores. Of the three running backs, Brown is second in CS with a 2.53 (RB43). He also has an FPD of 5% over expected (RB27). If you didn’t look at the recent trends, Brown comes off as the flex option behind Henderson, but he’s really dropped off lately.
With the emergence of Akers, Brown has clearly been the one to suffer. Brown’s best week was in Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. In that matchup, Brown had a season-high 18 rushing attempts for 79 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught 3 of 4 targets for 31 yards receiving and scored 26 PPR points. Since then, he’s only broken 12 PPR points once, and that was in Week 10 when he scored two touchdowns again. Brown has been hot and cold all year, but he’s freezing cold recently when Akers plays.
Cam Akers or Darrell Henderson: Who should you start tonight?
So, with all of that, who should you start tonight? Well, for starters, the Patriots aren’t exactly a cakewalk for opposing running backs. Through 13 weeks, the Patriots are 18th best against running backs in Defensive Points Allowed Consistency (DPAC). This means that they bend but don’t break most weeks and aren’t a group to target when making decisions.
That being said, Cam Akers’ fantasy value is on the rise in all formats. He’s the hot hand I’d choose if he suits up tonight. If word comes out that Akers will be limited or will sit out entirely, then Henderson is a fine pivot. Brown, on the other hand, is someone I’m benching everywhere I have him rostered. Don’t expect a huge game from either running back, but both Akers and Henderson have enough upside to make them playable this week.
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Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering the NFL and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewHallFF.