Ground Punishment: Rams Aiming for Improved Results in the Backfield

Darrell Henderson

Getty Darrell Henderson busts the stiff arm during the Los Angeles Rams' week two win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Henderson is expected to help energize a new-look Rams RB room this season.

Outside of the deep attack, guess what else has been missing for the Los Angeles Rams on offense?

A 1,000-yard rusher – for two consecutive seasons.

Todd Gurley represents the last Ram to top the four-digit mark through the ground game, accumulating 1,251 yards in the 2018 season. But since that time, the Rams’ top rusher has reached 857 and a lowly 625 yards, the latter number coming last year.

Why the drop off?

The backfield did endure injuries last season. Same with the guys clearing the road for them in the offensive line. But going with a multitude of backfield options left most Ram fans confused.

Last year, L.A. tried a committee approach with the ground game. But even that fielded mixed results and confusion from fans, especially when the Rams got tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett to carry the football once, while three different wide receivers additionally took handoffs on jet sweep plays.

The Rams may have totaled 2,018 team rushing yards in 2020, but head coach Sean McVay has faith that one guy can emerge as the every-down back, while the rest of the running back room will produce. Here’s a deeper look at the Rams’ backfield.

‘I Think He’s a Special Player’

Cam Akers was the Ram who collected the 625 to lead the way in rushing. While it’s not a stat that gets defined as astronomical, McVay has seen Akers’ work ethic and potential first-hand, to the point he believes Akers will reach another stratosphere this fall.

“I think he can continue to play at a high level. Really, I think he’s an every-down back. I think he’s a special player,” McVay said during a video conference on February 25.

Akers has shown his bruising side, especially in the playoffs. He ends up winning the battle of rookies versus Green Bay’s Krys Barnes in this red zone touchdown.

The rook from 2020 also delivered the grown man stiff arm to 2020 Pro Bowl linebacker Za’Darius Smith in that same playoff game at Lambeau Field.

But outside of burying his shoulder and busting the long arm, Akers has shown his versatility on receptions, and bailing his team out on third-and-longs.

In the playoff game against the Packers, Akers scored out of the wildcat formation. Is he hinting at doing more out of the formation? He told Mitch Goldich of Sports Illustrated on Friday that he could channel his high school quarterback days in the look, since he played QB at Clinton High School in Mississippi.

“It’s fun, man. It’ll be more fun when I’m able to throw it,” he told Goldich.

But he hasn’t specified if the Rams will allow him to spell Matthew Stafford in the passing game, telling SI “If I told you that, it wouldn’t be fun no more. We just gotta see.”

All signs indicate Akers will get an increase of touches. One national NFL writer predicted he’ll lead the league in rushing TD’s. But who else will touch the ball out of the backfield?

Memphis Star Being ‘Slept On?’

On June 30, Next Gen Stats unveiled its top 10 “Most Explosive Runners of 2020.” Darrell Henderson made the cut at No. 9.

But it’s not just the ranking that got the former Memphis Tiger’s attention. A fan tagged the Ram accusing the site of sleeping on Henderson, which prompted a retweet from the second-year RB.

Maybe, it’s secret motivation for the third rounder from the 2019 draft. And Henderson has shown his own flashes of potential.

Henderson only trailed Akers by one yard in the top team rushers category (624 yards). But he scored more rushing TD’s with five. He even led all Ram RB’s in average yards a carry with 4.5.

Here’s one example of his explosive side: He forces the cornerback opposite of where the play is going to halt him.

When called upon, Henderson forces the second or third defender to stop him, viewed here in this 2020-21 highlight reel.

So Akers is capable of RB1 and Henderson for RB2. But how does the rest of the room shape up?

‘The Funk’ and Other Versatile Options

Seventh round selection Jake Funk already has people popularizing his surname, including the Rams.

Funk, though, has battled many setbacks from fighting for playing time to coming back from two season-ending injuries. But the Rams scouting department still saw potential.

Inside The Draft: 'Work Horse' Jake Funk A Welcome Addition To Rams | Ep.8Take a look inside the Los Angeles Rams 2021 Draft as scouts evaluate footage from Maryland running back Jake Funk's college career. Subscribe to the LA Rams Channel: For More Exclusive Content follow the Rams: Twitter: Instagram: Facebook: Website: Get the latest on the LA Rams news, photos, and more…2021-05-23T16:00:05Z

Xavier Jones saw action on special teams a year ago and could join Funk there. Raymond Calais adds a special teams background to the Rams as well. Then there’s June 25 signing Otis Anderson Jr. of Central Florida, who is another special teams option.

Final prediction: The committee approach is deceased and the Rams will ride Akers first, then give Henderson his reps. Funk, though, could be the breakout surprise with his reported 4.4 40-yard dash time and athleticism. Overall, the ground punishment and versatility returns to the Rams’ RB unit.

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