Fantasy Football 2020: A Nightmare in the Los Angeles Rams Backfield

by Alex Kurpeski

 

With the departure of Todd Gurley from the Rams offense, the team’s backfield has become the breeding ground for various topics of discourse regarding the potential distribution of touches and whether or not the team will use a RBBC approach following the release of Gurley. Once the gold standard in regards to excellence at the running back position, Gurley’s 2017 and 2018 seasons were the stuff of legend, as the team relied heavily on the former first-round pick as the catalyst for one of the most prolific offenses of the 2010’s. While Gurley’s heavy usage eventually caught up to him, the fact that the team’s McVayian offense was able to harvest back-to-back 300+ point total seasons from a back makes the open competition between second-year back Darrell Henderson and rookie Cam Akers quite intriguing. The offense did take a step back in 2019, mostly due to the injury issues faced by Gurley and fellow key playmaker Brandin Cooks. Although this group is different than the one that lit up fantasy football blogs throughout the 2017 and 2018 seasons, there should be plenty of upside for whoever the lead back ends up being. 

usa_today_13837903.0

Henderson, who set a Memphis team record by averaging 8.9 YPA in his final collegiate season, was one of the most promising rookie backs selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. An explosive runner in the open field, Henderson was hyped as Gurley’s successor last offseason, with the potential to form a 50/50 punch reminiscent of the one employed by the Saints when they drafted Alvin Kamara in 2017. While Gurley did see his role diminished last season, Henderson was not the back who took on the complementary role, as veteran Malcolm Brown saw a 20% share of the backfield compared to Henderson’s measly 11.6% share. The explosive back who we saw in 2018 was nowhere to be found, as Henderson averaged a mere 3.8 YPA while failing to earn the trust of the Rams coaching staff. With the team’s investment in Akers, the looming presence of Brown, and the rostering of perennial preseason standout John Kelly, it’s unlikely that we will be seeing Henderson as the workhorse back for this offense anytime soon. 

 

As for Akers, the former FSU back has all of the tools to become a true bellcow for an NFL offense, as he displayed a very all-around skill set during his time with the Seminoles, overcoming terrible offensive line play to shine through as one of the top running back prospects in the nation. Yet, as talented as Akers is, it’s likely that he (like Henderson last season) will have to earn the trust of the coaching staff before he is given a significant workload. Unlike Henderson, Akers is much more “NFL Ready” than Henderson was coming out of college, while also having been battle-tested by facing off against some rather stout ACC defenses (mostly Clemson) compared to those Henderson saw. If anyone is going to separate from the pack in this backfield, it’s going to be Akers. 

 

Perhaps the most trusted back on this roster, Malcolm Brown may very well be the biggest winner of this whole pandemic we have been living with in 2020, as his familiarity with the Rams system in conjunction with the inability to integrate Akers into practice sessions (because you know, Covid-19), could ultimately lead to him opening the season as the team’s starter. It’s not impossible for Brown to lead the Rams backfield in touch% this season, although his upside is significantly lower than Akers and Henderson’s. While he did manage to score five rushing touchdowns in a semi platoon role last season, Brown’s YPA and reception totals were actually worse than Henderson. Should he continue to produce mediocre averages, Brown will likely cede the majority of whatever touches he gets to another back on the team. 

 

Kelly, who ended up on the team’s practice squad last season may face some competition from undrafted rookies James Gilbert and Xavier Jones for the final spot on the depth chart. Given the limitations of this pandemic shortened offseason, I’m expecting the veteran to hold onto his spot. With that sorted, let’s discuss some projections for this backfield. 

 

Darrell Henderson

 

  • 487 rushing yards
  • 98 ATT
  • 1 rushing TD
  • 19 receptions
  • 151 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 88.8 fantasy points (RB49-58)

 

Cam Akers

 

  • 611 rushing yards
  • 138 ATT
  • 4 rushing TDs
  • 37 receptions
  • 279 receiving yards
  • 2 receiving TDs
  • 162 fantasy points (RB24-30)

 

Malcolm Brown

 

  • 345 rushing yards
  • 76 ATT
  • 3 rushing TDs
  • 7 receptions
  • 54 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 64.9 fantasy points (RB60-70)

 

John Kelly

 

  • 43 rushing yards
  • 13 ATT
  • 0 rushing TD
  • 1 reception
  • 4 receiving yards
  • 0 receiving TD
  • 5.7 fantasy points (RB100+)

 

Essentially, I see this being a three-man split in 2020, with Akers slowly earning more touches as the season goes on. Both Brown and Henderson could have their moments of fantasy relevance, but I see Akers as the only viable starting option from an otherwise underwhelming group. 

 

Agree or Disagree? Let us know!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: