After what looked like the start to a promising career, it appears Los Angeles Rams’ breakout RB Cam Akers will miss the 2021 NFL season after reportedly tearing his Achilles. As both the Rams and fantasy football managers look to move on quickly, what does Akers’ injury mean for Darrell Henderson’s fantasy value in 2021?
Cam Akers’ injury opens the door for Darrell Henderson
It seems every season, there is at least one big-name player who suffers a significant injury early in the offseason. Unfortunately for the Los Angles Rams, RB Cam Akers sustained a torn Achilles, according to NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero.
This injury is expected to keep Akers out of the 2021 NFL season. Just two weeks before training camp, one of the NFL and fantasy’s brightest stars is done for the year.
In 2020, Akers took control of the Rams’ backfield starting in Week 13. Over the final five weeks (four games), Akers rushed 86 times for 340 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 8 passes on 11 targets for 96 yards. If you include his two playoff games, Akers averaged 24.3 opportunities per game (0.67 pts/opp) and 118 total yards after becoming the lead back.
Stepping into his place and into a massive opportunity is Henderson. A third-round pick in 2019 (No. 70 overall), the Memphis product has a chance to have the breakout season.
As part of a committee last year, Henderson played on 33% of the snaps and saw 38.3% of the rushing share along with Akers and Malcolm Brown. From Weeks 2 through 7, Henderson served as the Rams’ RB1, averaging 16.2 opportunities, 85.9 yards, and 0.7 touchdowns per game. On a powerful offense led by Matthew Stafford, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Tyler Higbee, he now projects to be the clear RB1.
Darrell Henderson enters the 2021 season with minimal competition for touches
Although the Rams were seventh in rushing attempts (473) last season, the rotating door of running backs made it difficult for any single player to take advantage of the opportunity. That likely will not be the case this season. While the injury to Akers is the most impactful change to the backfield, it is not the only one.
The Rams watched Brown leave in free agency earlier in the offseason and head to the Miami Dolphins. Brown, who saw 42% of the snaps and 26.3% of the rushes, represented a large portion of the 154 vacated carries for the Rams.
Now without Akers, that number skyrockets. With Akers’ injury, the Rams have the fourth-highest percentage of vacated carries with 63.2% and are second in carries (299), behind only the Atlanta Falcons.
Henderson will likely absorb the majority of these opportunities (210 to 230 total opportunities) as the Rams’ defacto RB1. He should be viewed as a mid-level RB2 and in the RB18-RB20 range in PPR formats.
Who are the running backs on the Rams depth chart that could step up following the Cam Akers’ injury?
While all eyes are on Henderson for fantasy following the Akers’ injury, the Rams do have other options on their team and are likely to run a committee approach as usual. All of them were either seventh-round picks or undrafted players. It’s also worth noting that there are several running backs on the free-agent market. I would be surprised if the Rams are not active in it as they look for a legitimate RB2 option with Henderson.
Funk was a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft by the Rams at pick No. 233. He was a five-year player at the University of Maryland, where he recorded 1,102 total yards on 158 touches for 13 touchdowns. Funk also battled his way back to the field following a pair of torn ACLs during his college career. He sees himself as a versatile player and could use the upcoming camp and preseason to earn the RB2 role.
A 2020 UDFA from SMU, Xavier Jones will be in the mix for touches assuming he makes the 53-man roster. Jones played 177 special-teams snaps over 13 games during the 2020 regular season. While at SMU (redshirt senior), Jones recorded 3,922 total yards and 48 touchdowns on 732 touches. Jones flashed at times during the last offseason and could be a sneaky contributor for the Rams.
Playing on just 34 special-teams snaps (8%), Raymond Calais had a quiet rookie season. The seventh-round pick from Louisiana had 7 kick returns for 152 yards. Calais was an explosive player in college, and his skills could translate into more than just a special-teams role now that Akers is likely out for the season due to his injury.
In four seasons at UCF, Otis Anderson rushed 358 times for 2,182 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also caught 91 passes for 1,025 yards and 9 touchdowns. Signed as a UDFA, Anderson is likely viewed as more of a plug-and-play special teamer than a massive contributor in the rushing game.
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Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football and a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association). You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.