By Scott Engel, The Game Day
During the Los Angeles Rams run to the Super Bowl, the excitement of Cam Akers rejoining the offense was a significant story at the start of the playoffs. By the end of the postseason, though, Akers had faded into the background, even though he received his commemorative cap and shirt and became part of a championship team in just his second pro season.
It still seemed like a miracle that Akers was able to return to action just six months after suffering an Achilles tear in the summer. But after looking back at the past postseason, it became apparent that he was still working his way back into playing form.
Cam Akers: How Productive Will He Be In 2022?
A Surprising Return, But Mediocre Results
Injuries have been issues for Akers in each of his first two pro seasons. Can the Rams count on him to be their No. 1 running back next season?
It does seem that Akers, who was drafted in the second round in 2020, will at least get another opportunity to play a significant role again next season. The Rams did deal for Sony Michel prior to the 2021 season when they needed to further bolster the backfield after Akers went down, but Michel is not expected to be back with the Rams.
This leaves Akers and Darrell Henderson, who has dealt with injury problems of his own, as the two primary running backs on the roster prior to the NFL Draft. Jake Funk and Xavier Jones are also on the roster, but it became apparent last season that both are regarded more as depth options. The Rams first selection isn’t until pick 104, and with limited draft capital, there aren’t many NFL mock drafts that have them adding to the running back position.
The fact that Akers was able to return at all last season was a stunner to many observers. He also looked better than expected in the first round of the playoffs against the Cardinals, totaling 95 yards from scrimmage and catching a 40-yard pass on a trick play. He displayed some of his featured speed and elusive moves, and also had another chance to catch a deep ball that he was missed on by Matthew Stafford.
There was optimism surrounding Akers as the Rams headed into a divisional-round matchup with the Buccaneers. Sean McVay indicated he would give Akers more work and he did. Akers carried the ball 24 times but rushed for just 48 yards. Yes, it was a tough matchup against one of the league’s best run defenses, but Akers didn’t bounce back from the disappointing outing in his next two playoff games.
In the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, Akers rushed for 69 yards on 26 carries. In the three playoff games after the Wild Card Round, Akers caught seven passes for 36 yards, so he was not much of a receiving factor, either. Fumbling twice in the Tampa Bay game may have also led to a reduced workload in the final two playoff games, although McVay expressed confidence in Akers publicly.
The initial enthusiasm that Akers generated about his status at the beginning of the postseason quickly receded. Having him as part of the backfield, though, was still an encouraging sight when many assumed we would not see Akers again until the next year.
Expectations For Cam Akers Ahead Of A New Season
Not bringing back Michel or making any moves at running back in the offseason points to the Rams readying to go with Akers and Henderson to lead the backfield in 2022. But both players have dealt with health issues in the past two seasons. The Rams have certainly been concerned about Henderson’s durability, as that has been no secret over the past two seasons. Akers was slowed by a rib injury early in his rookie campaign and also suffered an ankle injury late in the season.
A healthy Akers can still be one of the promising young running backs in the league. During the final three postseason games, he did not show much ability to create running room or make defenders miss. He certainly was willing to grind for yardage, but ultimately didn’t accomplish much in that regard.
Now, however, Akers will have a full offseason in which to further put the Achilles injury behind him, and should head into the 2022 campaign with a better outlook. Many NFL observers still have some lingering skepticism about running backs who have returned from Achilles injuries, but there have been advances in the procedure to address that. Evaluating running backs who did not make successful returns from such injuries in previous seasons and comparing them to Akers may not be a truly effective method to project his outlook going forward.
We have already seen Akers come back sooner than we thought, and he will return to action further removed from the injury next season. Of course, it is hard to predict just how much of his top form will be fully regained. We will have to wait and see if he can still be very productive early on. There will still have to be some patience in terms of expectations.
Ultimately, Akers’ somewhat surprising return for the playoffs and the exit of Michel point to him being an important part of the Rams backfield for 2022. We may initially see a timeshare between him and Henderson, in an effort to not overwork Akers and also challenge defenses with two quality running backs. Akers seems to be on a positive path to re-emergence, but we should look for progressive steps to him possibly being a potential feature back again at some point.