Next Ram Up: Why 2 College Stars Are Built to Replace Cam Akers

Darrell Henderson

Getty Darrell Henderson runs upfield against the Chicago Bears in a 2020 Monday Night Football game with the Los Angeles Rams.

The Los Angeles Rams are experiencing deja vu when looking at their current offensive situation.

During the 1980s, the team rode the legs of Southern Methodist star Eric Dickerson. Then in the mid-1990s to the 2000s, a former Memphis Tiger standout named Isaac Bruce helped ignite the Rams.

Now, Cam Akers is out for the year and the Rams are in a situation where they will likely turn to an SMU and Memphis guy to spark the offense. Sound familiar?

Sean McVay already has the vote of confidence in the current backfield. And again, the Rams have a chance to rely on rekindling the old magic SMU and Memphis has given the “Rams House” in the past.

Two men who covered Darrell Henderson and Xavier Jones during their breakout season in college spoke to Heavy about this surreal moment, and share why Jones and Henderson are both built to be the next Ram up.

Jones the Next SMU Star on the Rams?

The Athletic’s Damon Sayles, who covered Jones in 2019 for The HillTopics, SMU’s affiliate through, got the chance to watch Jones break running back records at the Dallas university. Sayles himself notices the situation for Jones given his Hilltop past.

“Sometimes the stars align for you, and I think that’s perfect for Xavier,” Sayles told Heavy by phone.

Sayles described Jones as a 5-foot-11, 208-pounder who had “a little bit of everything” in a running back: Quickness, burst and ran with power. He also covered Jones shattering one record once held by the legendary Mustang and Ram.

“The year I saw him was when he set the school record for season touchdowns. He surpassed Eric Dickerson in rushing TD’s, so that says something right there,” Sayles said.

While playing in an Air Raid system, the Mustangs still fed Jones the ball. He responded with 23 touchdowns through the ground game in ’19. He also dashed his way to two 1,000-yard seasons in 2017 and in ’19. Jones brought a shifty element to the Mustang offense, seen below.

Shiftiest RB You’ve NEVER Heard Of || SMU RB Xavier Jones 2019 Highlights ᴴᴰSubscribe, Like this Video & Turn On Notifications! (↓↓ click show more ↓↓) Instagram: Twitter: Facebook: SMU RB Xavier Jones Senior 5’11 208 lbs SMU RB Xavier Jones has shown flashes of the legendary Reggie Bush with how smooth & shifty he is. He jukes defenders out of his cleats with his…2019-12-14T21:00:48Z

Jones sounds like he’s ready for what the future holds by sending out this tweet.

Sayles adds that even if Jones shares the load in the absence of Akers, he’s shared backfield duties before: He ran the ball alongside Ke’Mon Freeman in college. But Sayles said Jones still has that No. 1 RB mindset.

“He wants to be the guy. It may seem like he’s a better fit as a complimentary back or a back who can share the load with someone else. But he wants to show everybody that he can be your 1,400 or 1,500-yard back,” Sayles said. “He wants the role and he’s going to do what he can to make sure he gets the ball. Got to respect that.”

Could the Rams Find Success with Another Memphis Star?

Isaac Bruce once went from beloved Memphis Tiger to revered Ram by rewriting the franchise receiving record books.

He’s obviously not a WR, but Henderson is the latest Memphis Tiger to be tasked with igniting the Ram offense.

Evan Barnes of The Commercial Appeal covered Henderson in 2018, during Henderson’s breakout season that saw him rumble for 1,909 yards and score 22 touchdowns at Memphis. Barnes recalled the first thing he remembers in Henderson.

“When you talk speed, Darrell had great, great speed. You give him a hole, he was gone,” Barnes told Heavy. “And I think Ram fans have probably seen some of that with a little bit of that burst. He’s a get-out-and-go guy.”

Here’s one prime example of Henderson’s speed and burst during his time in the 901.

Like the Jones/Dickerson connection, Bruce’s name is linked to Henderson given their college tie-in.

“It’s funny because Isaac Bruce is still well loved here in Memphis. And when Darrell got to the Rams, for some people it became deja vu,” Barnes said. “It’ll be fun and Memphis fans will definitely be curious on how Darrell does.”

It’s a tough task to replace Akers for the Rams, given the spark he showed in the playoffs and late in 2020. But Barnes has seen what Henderson is capable of, with the feeling Memphis success for the Rams could repeat itself.

“When you lose someone like Cam Akers, obviously it’s not easy to say ‘OK, next guy let’s go.’ Obviously in the NFL, the lead guys are the lead guys for a reason. But Darrell, I think, has shown himself to be very capable these past two seasons,” Barnes said. “Now he’s comfortable in the offense. Hopefully this will be a year he can show why he was an All-American here.”

In Akers’ absence, L.A. can still turn to the former college stars. But this time, the Rams can hope for a redux of the past SMU and Memphis greatness seen by the franchise before.

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