Cam Akers was poised to break out as one of Fantasy's great second-year running backs. Those plans changed when the 22-year-old tore his Achilles, all but certainly ending his 2021 before training camp even began. The injury forces coach Sean McVay and the Rams to reconsider their entire run game, including whether or not to commit to Darrell Henderson as their workhorse.
When Akers got hurt in Week 2 and either sat out or barely played in the next five games, Henderson worked as the Rams' main running-downs guy. In those six games total, he smashed for at least 18 PPR points three times and totaled at least 14 touches five times. His efficiency was impressive -- 4.8 yards per carry, 12.1 yards per catch, 15 missed tackles forced and 2.81 yards after contact per carry. And he also converted six carries inside the 5-yard line into three touchdowns.
But never did he work like a full-time stud. Henderson ceded valuable snaps and touches to Malcolm Brown. Heck, Henderson saw only 13 targets and played only 13 snaps on third downs over those six games.
And as soon as Akers was healthy in Week 8, Henderson got the cold shoulder. He may have started several more games, but his playing time cratered to under 35% of all snaps in six of eight games before ending 2020 on Injured Reserve with a high-ankle sprain.
Henderson may profile as a quality running back, but this coaching staff never quite warmed up to him. They might have to now.
The Rams' backfield depth behind Henderson isn't impressive. Undrafted running back Xavier Jones offers some physicality with a dash of shifty feet and vision but doesn't have breakaway speed; Raymond Calais is a small-sized, lean back best suited as a change-of-pace speedster, as is undrafted rookie Otis Anderson; and Jake Funk is a SPARQ-score phenom who is speedy and has come back from two torn ACLs but has small hands and doesn't play with much power.
The Rams' options in free agency also won't get many folks excited. Le'Veon Bell (29 years old) could fit into any role thanks to his three-down experience and has previously thrived in zone-run schemes like the Rams have; Duke Johnson (27) and Dion Lewis (30) are established third-down running backs; Adrian Peterson (36) could provide some muscle and depth; and perhaps a reunion with Todd Gurley (26) shouldn't immediately be ruled out.
How the Rams move forward will tell us just how much they want to trust Henderson. If they add no one, then either they're committed to Henderson or they're in love with someone else on the roster. If they sign one veteran, that's not exactly a good sign for Henderson but at least he should be in a position to get near 15 touches per week. If they sign two veterans (they'll all come cheap), then that's evidence Henderson just won't ever get big touches consistently.
My hunch is that the Rams sign one veteran and make that guy the co-pilot in the run game and the insurance policy in case Henderson disappoints. If that happens, Henderson would stand out as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy running back worth a look between 50th and 65th overall.
And if you do decide to draft Henderson, know this: the Rams' schedule to begin the season is not easy. In the first six weeks, they will take on the Bears, Colts, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Seahawks and Giants. Literally every one of those defenses figures to be better against the run than the pass. It's a treacherous start for L.A.'s run game.
Want to dive even deeper on the Akers injury fallout? Of course you do! Jamey and Adam broke it all down on FFT:
All of this brings up a silver lining: Matthew Stafford's ceiling just zoomed higher.
McVay was already giddy about putting Stafford in his offense -- now he has the license to cut him loose. The Rams were run-heavy late last season when Akers was doing his thing, but now that he's out of the picture, it wouldn't be a shock to see McVay dial up a lot of passing. Los Angeles finished in the top-12 in pass attempts each of the past two seasons (top-5 in 2019). They're a cinch to land there again, which means Stafford should have gobs of opportunities to raise his stats.
I pushed Stafford into my top-12 quarterback rankings, just ahead of Joe Burrow. This revelation also helps raise the guidance for tight end Tyler Higbee since he could pick up more targets in the wake of the run game becoming suspect. It also stabilizes the values I already had for receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp -- Woods is a borderline No. 1 Fantasy receiver with the potential of a career year ahead of him, while Kupp is a staunch No. 2 choice with a better touchdown upside than he had when Akers was in the mix.
Henderson might become a trendy pick in Fantasy, but make no mistake about it, this will quickly become an offense that runs primarily through Stafford.