Cam Akers is done for the year and, most likely, as a potential NFL starter.
It's sad news to see injury alter a young talent's carer but barring significant advances in surgical and rehabilitation science, Akers is done as a fantasy-relevant player. Mikel Leshoure, Jonathan Williams, and D'Onta Foreman had starter potential before their injuries. While they were good enough to make rosters, they were only close to returning to their previous form.
While many won't share my view because they spend more time looking at stats than studying the position on film, Isaiah Crowell's athletic and rushing talents were on par with Akers—if not better—and his Achilles' tear cost him his career.
Many fantasy managers are likely going through denial. If that's you, my best advice with Akers after sucking it up and accepting the likelihood that he's done as a future starter is to monitor Marlon Mack's return. Even so, you're likely waiting to see if Mack earns a significant role in 2022 with a new team because he's stuck behind Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines this year.
What about the Rams? Is Darrell Henderson a future fantasy starter, and if so, what's his ceiling? Are there potential fantasy surprises on the depth chart? Which veterans have the skills to be a match in L.A., and what is the coaching staff seeking from its current stable in August before pulling the trigger on an established talent?
This week's Gut Check has these answers and more.
Here's a quick breakdown for those of you who need answers and trust them from me:
- During the Sean McVay era, the Rams have displayed organizational blind spots with selecting running backs based on raw skills and either not recognizing the value of refined skills or giving the raw skills time to develop.
- Darrell Henderson is good enough to earn 12-17 touches per game and averaged 10 last year. With quality touches, he can earn solid-to-strong RB2 value in 12-team leagues in this offense as a runner and underrated receiver.
- Expect 10-12 touches as the baseline, which, for conservative managers, is fantasy RB3 territory if Henderson and the depth chart struggle with pass protection and the Rams have to add a veteran back.
- Jake Funk will get a lot of love, but he's a speedster with an unproven workload and fundamental issues with the Rams' blocking schemes. His selection reinforces the same organizational tendencies with running backs.
- Xavier Jones is the player to watch in camp. If he performs well enough in short-yardage and pass-protection, the Rams could stay with its current depth chart, and Henderson is the greatest beneficiary for production.
- If pass protection is the only issue for the depth chart, there are a lot of backs the Rams can add who won't kill Henderson's value, so the player added will tell you a lot about its confidence in having Henderson as the lead or a key figure in a two-back committee.
- If you're going to add a Rams back as a late-round speculative play with upside, Jones is the best option despite the likely clamoring for the Funk. Jones also has the most every-down upside beyond Henderson.
- Otherwise, Henderson is the best current option, and you can either wait for a signing or stockpile other positions and shop for an established running back during the season.
- See my advice at the end of the article for some fine points about exploiting reactionary fantasy managers.
These nine points are enough to help you move forward. If you want more — and most of you do — keeping reading.
The Rams are in Evaluation Mode
Here's what Sean McVay initially told the media after learning the news about Akers' injury via the Footballguys' newswire headline and blurb:
L.A. Rams in no hurry to sign veteran RB
Los Angeles Rams RBs Darrell Henderson, Raymond Calais, Xavier Jones, and Jake Funk each figure to get a long look in camp, based on comments from head coach Sean McVay following the season-ending injury to Cam Akers (Achilles) recently.'I don't know that veteran route is something we'll rule out, but it's not something we're looking at right now,' McVay said.
McVay parsed his words with the skill of a veteran head coach, and this news item is an example of Media Ciphering 101 for beginning fantasy football managers: The Rams don't know what they have at running back.
That's the current answer, and this is the case with most teams beyond its second or third running back. Most running backs at the bottom of the depth chart have the job based on special teams and athletic ability.
In L.A.'s case, the team has four backs — three of them have fewer than two years of experience. Even Henderson is a lesser-known commodity for a lead back.
The Rams want to evaluate its current stable of runners and decide whether it needs to sign a veteran back and which veteran offers the best combination of skills and his fit with the scheme and ledger.
Aside from every runner staying healthy through training camp — the most important factor involved with L.A.'s impending decision to add a veteran back — here are the questions facing the Rams before they seek a proven runner via free agency or trade:
- Do they have at least two players who can win in short-yardage?
- Do they have at least two backs who can pass protect?
- Do they have at least two backs who can play in the two-minute offense as receivers?
- Do they have at least two backs who can touch the ball 12-15 times per week without wearing down?
If the team can answer these four questions affirmatively, they won't be signing a veteran. The answers to these questions will also determine which veteran back(s) it targets in free agency or via trade. At this point, the answers to three of these four questions are, at best, incomplete. If the season began today, the answer would be 'no.'
Before we answer those questions, let's begin with the most obvious: Can Darrell Henderson be a lead-back and significant fantasy factor?
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