This is the fourth in my series, taking a deeper dive into the fantasy ramifications of some of the top positional battles in the NFL. This week, we are looking at the Los Angeles Rams fantasy running back battle between rookie Cam Akers and “incumbent” Darrell Henderson. Two will enter, but only one will leave victorious! FIGHT!
Rams Fantasy Running Back Battle: Cam Akers vs. Darrell Henderson
2019: Bye Bye Gurley
Todd Gurley was at one time a perennial top-five RB in fantasy football. He was the kind of player who would put your fantasy team on his back and lead you to the title, thanks to his large usage in the offense, both in rushing and receiving. But in 2019, a nagging knee injury and a depleted offensive line sapped him of his ability to produce at that elite level we all came to know.
The 2019 version of Gurley was fairly underwhelming. While he finished as RB14 in PPR scoring and only missed one game on the season, a lot of his stats went down from 2018 to 2019. His yards per carry was down from 4.9 to 3.8, his PPR points per game went from 22.4 to 12.6, and he never went over 100 yards rushing in a game. Something has changed, and clearly, he’s not the Gurley we all came to know and love.
This was no secret to the Rams either, as they decided to cut 25-year-old Gurley in the offseason rather than restructure his large contract or try to trade him on the cheap to another team. They were just done. All signs pointed to 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson being the Rams fantasy running back to own in 2020, but the Rams threw a curveball at the 2020 NFL Draft.
A new challenger has entered the arena: Cam Akers
Most experts agreed that the Rams’ biggest need was on the offensive line, and while the team didn’t have a first-round pick, most expected them to draft a guy to help with their first overall pick at number 52.
Instead, the Rams decided to draft Florida State RB Cam Akers as the fourth RB off the board and throw everyone for a loop. Sure, they needed some RB depth with the departure of Gurley, but to use this early pick on a guy that doesn’t necessarily help right away made little sense to many draft experts.
PFN’s Tony Pauline had this to say about Akers, whom he had ranked as the 10th best RB available in the draft: “I’ve never been high on the FSU ball carrier. He’s a solid running back yet possesses no outstanding trait in his game.”
The only offensive lineman the Rams drafted was in the seventh round with Tremayne Anchrum from Clemson, not exactly a starting level talent. Why draft Akers if you already have Henderson waiting in the wings? Who will block for him if you’re not going to improve the O-Line with your earlier picks?
Needless to say, the pick left some people scratching their heads, both from an NFL standpoint and a fantasy one. With Akers joining the team, we need to look ahead and see what 2020 may have in store from a fantasy mindset.
Akers vs. Henderson in 2020
This Rams fantasy running back battle is probably the murkiest one of the bunch that was created at the draft. Andy Gallagher wrote that Akers’ “upside is huge, given that he has the potential to be the RB1 for one of the top offenses in football, but it looks as if he will be sharing the workload early on.” Scott Gorman wrote that “Akers should be an early candidate for rookie of the year” while giving the Rams a solid B draft grade. This is the problem. His range of outcomes is far too wide for fantasy players to trust him as a starting running back right away.
And let’s not forget about the competition he faces. Akers will need to beat out the sophomore Henderson, whom the Rams took on day two last year, meaning they invested highly in him as well. Then you add in veteran RB Malcolm Brown and a guy that hasn’t gotten a full shot to succeed in John Kelly, and this backfield is just a mess.
So which Rams fantasy running back is the one to own? Honestly, it’s hard to say, but based on pure talent and draft capital, it’s hard not to say that Akers will likely be given a solid chance to earn the role in 2020. What he does with that chance is obviously up in the air, but he’s the one to own at the moment, much to the dismay of all of the Henderson truthers out there.
Winner: Cam Akers, but good luck
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Andrew Hall is a writer for PFN covering the NFL and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndrewHallFF.