Last week some awful news came out of Los Angeles as one of the Rams’ second-round picks from a season ago running back Cam Akers has torn his Achillies while training for this upcoming season. Akers led the Rams’ backfield in rushing yards a season ago. The news of Akers injury was broken first by NFL Networks Tom Pelissero.
#Rams RB Cam Akers suffered a torn Achilles while training, per source.
Brutal blow for L.A., which loses its leading rusher from last season a week before camp begins.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 20, 2021
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported shortly later that the Rams have faith in their current running back room without Akers. Xavier Jones, an undrafted free agent from a season ago, is expected to have a role for this offense in Akers absence. But Los Angeles’ 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson is expected to be the team’s lead back. Besides Henderson and Jones, the Rams have 2021 seventh-round pick Jake Funk, Raymond Calais, and kick returner Otis Anderson making up the rest of their running back room. Henderson is the only player in the Rams running back room that has ever taken a carry in a regular-season game.
The Rams can likely get by with their current backfield, but if they want to reach their expectation of a Super Bowl they should consider adding to what they already have on their roster. So Los Angeles may consider bringing in a veteran to take some carries away from Henderson and Jones once they realize their current backfield may hold them back as a team. Especially since there are multiple proven veteran running backs still available to be signed.
Multiple of these free agent running backs are former Pro Bowlers that showed a season ago they could still play a role in a team’s backfield. Los Angeles could also opt to trade for a running back who could be a part of a crowded committee and could be in need of a change of scenery. Here are some of the free-agent running backs the Rams should consider adding to their roster.
Veteran Free Agent Running Backs
The best option for the Rams to bring in for this situation is future first-ballot Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson. Last year Peterson started ten games for the Detroit Lions. He averaged 3.9 yards a carry despite being 35 years old and having plenty of tread on his tires throughout the years. In the last few seasons, the fifth all-time leading rusher was more than capable of leading backfields in Washington and Detriot at an effective level.
If he lands in Los Angeles, Peterson won’t be asked to lead the team in carries as he has over the last few seasons but it is possible that he could outshine Darrell Henderson during a few games in the regular season. He could serve as a change of pace back that keeps Henderson fresh and this backfield a committee like it has been over the last few seasons. Also, Peterson would be an outstanding veteran presence to a team trying to reach the Super Bowl this season. Playing in Los Angeles would also give Peterson his first opportunity to make the playoffs since the 2015-16 season. The future Hall of Famer has not played meaningful football in over half a decade.
There is a chance that Le’Veon Bell has played his last snap in the NFL. After being let go by the New York Jets Bell had the opportunity to become the lead back in Miami or Buffalo but decide to join a sure contender in Kansas City who had invested a first-round pick in running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire early that year. Even though Bell had joined a dynamic offense, he did not look anything near like the player he was in Pittsburgh when he had an opportunity to shine in an expanded role.
The former All-Pro could possibly change how people feel about him and his production in recent years by joining a team like the Rams. Bell should not be expected to be the player he was in Pittsburgh but in a creative Sean McVay offense, Bell may thrive in a change of pace role. If he is willing to take a slight backseat to Darrell Henderson, he could reinvent himself into a dominant receiving threat out of the Rams backfield. Signing Bell would be a boom or bust move for Los Angeles, but this is the type of move the Rams brass has shown they would make in order to try to return to the Super Bowl.
Duke Johnson Jr.
Since being drafted, Duke Johnson Jr. has been one of the best complimentary backs in the league. Despite only starting 17 of 91 career games, he has been an important part of the offenses he has played for during his time in Cleveland and Houston. During his time in Cleveland Johnson Jr. was considered one of the best receiving backs in the league. Last season in Houston, Johnson Jr. became the backup to David Johnson. When Johnson Jr. started for Houston in David Johnsons’ absence he showed that he isn’t just a backup and that he could still be a contributor in an NFL backfield. However, Houston cut Johnson Jr. this offseason and replaced him with multiple veteran backs.
Bringing in a player like Johnson Jr. is not the flashy move Rams general manager Les Snead has been accustomed to in recent years, but it may be the right move. At this point of his career, Johnson Jr. shouldn’t have the ego to demand too many carries away from Darrell Henderson. But he could return to the change of pace back role he had during his prime in Cleveland and be an important player to this team’s offensive success.
Shortly after the news broke that Cam Akers would miss the 2021-22 NFL season multiple members of the media pointed to a Todd Gurley return to be an answer to the Rams backfield. After being cut by the Rams last offseason, Gurley returned to the state where he played his college ball Georgia signing with the Atlanta Falcons. Despite not having the outstanding bounce-back year he planned on having, the league learned that Gurley is still a dominant red zone and short-yardage running back.
Out of all the remaining free-agent running backs Gurley has received the most interest from teams so him landing with a team with a need at running back in the near future isn’t that crazy. Since that team happened to be where Gurley spent his first five seasons in the league and the coaching staff who got the most production out of him is still there it makes that signing sound like a great low-risk transaction. Gurley is not going to be anything near what he was in his prime for the Rams, he may not even be able to beat out Darrell Henderson for the starting job. But at worst he is a short-yardage back familiar with the offense that the Rams can rotate in whenever they get close to a first down or touchdown.
It would also give the Rams legend the opportunity to play possibly his final season with his original team. It wasn’t too long ago that Gurley was considered one of if not the most dominant running back in football during his time with the Rams.
Running Back Trade Targets
Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos
The best running back in the NFL that may be available for the Los Angeles Rams is former Los Angeles native and current Denver Bronco Melvin Gordon. Denver signed Melvin Gordon to a two-year $16 million contract last offseason despite having Phillip Lindsay on the roster who rushed for 1,000+ yard seasons during both of his first two seasons in the league. This offseason they let Lindsay walk and traded up to draft North Carolina running back Javonte Williams in the second round. According to NBC Sports, Williams may be the favorite to start for Denver over Gordon. Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post believes that Williams will lead the team in rushing attempts and yards next year. If Williams is dominant out of the gate, wouldn’t; that make a veteran like Gordon expendable?
Gordon may be two years removed from his last Pro Bowl season, but would absolutely be the favorite to start over Darrell Henderson if he was traded to Los Angeles. He is a great pass catcher and touchdown machine. Gordon may not have the upside that Akers would have had for Los Angeles this year, but the Rams backfield likely wouldn’t skip a beat with the combination of Gordon and Henderson splitting carries.
Los Angeles Rams receive: Melvin Gordon
Denver Broncos receive: 2022 Fourth Round Pick
Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
If Los Angeles wants to make a deal with the Denver Broncos but either side does not want to make a big-time deal Royce Freeman may be the answer. Freeman was drafted in the third round by Denver in 2018 and projected to be the lead back until undrafted free agent rookie Phillip Lindsay beat him out for the job. After Melvin Gordon signed with Denver last season Freeman became a total afterthought in this offense. That status has not changed since the addition of Javonte Williams.
Coming out of Oregon, many liked Freeman’s NFL potential. Possibly landing in a new situation where he is more likely to receive carries may do him some good. He wouldn’t be expected to take a majority of the snaps and carries away from Darrell Henderson. But Freeman is a veteran back who has a higher upside as a backup than who they have on their current roster.
Los Angeles Rams receive: Royce Freeman, 2022 Seventh Round Pick
Denver Broncos receive: 2022 Sixth Round Pick
Sony Michel, New England Patriots
One of the most crowded backfield in the NFL at this point belongs to New England. As it currently stands Damien Harris is expected to be the teams primary running back. But on passing downs, James White will continue to pass protect and be a threat to catch the ball all over the field. Especially after taking Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round, it doesn’t seem like former first-round pick Sony Michel has a role in this offense. Entering the last year of his rookie deal, Michel has been a disappointment the last few seasons in New England.
Only in his rookie season did Michel take firm control of the Patriots backfield and play up to his first-round selection. Michel was a vital piece of the Patriots’ offense who defeated the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. He rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on eighteen carries during that game. But after the disappointing two seasons that followed a change of scenery may be best for Michel.
An offensive guru like Sean McVay may be able to bring out what made Michel a top-40 prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft and what made him so special during his rookie season. He likely wouldn’t take over as the team’s lead back unless he really broke out next season in Los Angeles. Instead, he could split carries with Darrell Henderson in what would essentially be a tryout for him to earn a decent contract next season with a different team.
Los Angeles Rams receive: Sony Michel and 2022 Seventh Round Pick
New England Patriots receive: 2023 Fifth Round Pick
Mark Ingram, Houston Texans
After Baltimore Ravens’ season ended they released veteran running back Mark Ingram. This isn’t a total shock considering Ingram was phased out of the Ravens’ backfield over the second half last season. Baltimore’s offense will now run through 2020 Second Round Pick J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Ingram likely had a couple of options if he would have remained available at the start of free agency. However, Ingram shockingly signed with the Houston Texans in early March. Ingram joins a backfield that features David Johnson along with other recent signees Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead. Each of the veterans has played major roles for their previous teams so it’ll be interesting to see how Houston distributes carries between the four. According to ESPN Houston Texans’ reporter Sarah Barshop, Ingram may be the odd man out of the backfield.
If Los Angeles traded for Ingram they would be getting a known commodity. At age 31 Ingram may not be able to carry the workload of a backfield by himself. But the former Heisman winner could be capable of splitting carries with Darrell Henderson and being an impact player in Los Angeles. Either of the two could start for the Rams at any given week but they would likely split carries down the middle if they were paired in the Rams backfield. Ingram is not only a rock-solid running back, but he is a fantastic leader and player to have in a locker room. Houston would be giving up a player who could help establish a new culture that the team desperately needs. But they would be receiving draft capital for a player they only signed a few short months ago.
Los Angeles Rams receive: Mark Ingram
Houston Texans receive: 2022 Sixth Round Pick
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
After the Indianapolis Colts traded up to draft Jonathan Taylor in the second round in 2020, the writing was on the wall that Marlon Mack was likely no longer in the Colts’ long-term plans. He was entering the last year of his rookie deal. During the first game of the 2020 NFL season, Mack tore his Achillies which ended his season. It was unclear what kind of market Mack would have since he was a running back looking for a second contract coming off a major injury. The Colts shockingly brought him back on a one-year $2 million deal. This was surprising because Indianapolis already has a stable of running backs besides Taylor on the depth chart who could carve a role in their offense. Those backs include Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. Mack will be likely competing with Wilkins to be the primary backup to Taylor.
It may be in the Rams’ best interest and take advantage of the Colts’ backfield depth and trade for a player who for over 1,000 yards over a season ago. Indianapolis should be willing to move Mack considering he didn’t appear to have a role in their backfield. Adding a veteran like Mack to pair with Darrell Henderson would be enough for this backfield not to hold this team back. This makes a lot of sense for the Colts because essentially they would be taking on a $1 million dead cap hit to add draft capital.
Los Angeles Rams receive: Marlon Mack, 2023 Sixth Round Pick
Indianapolis Colts receive: 2022 Fifth Round Pick
Matt Breida, Buffalo Bills
It seems despite where Matt Breida plays that he is unable to take control of the backfield he is a part of. After starting 13 of the 14 games he played in 2018 the 49ers decided to go replace Breida with multiple other running backs the following season. After being traded to Miami for a fifth-round pick during the 2020 NFL Draft, it was believed that Breida would emerge as the Dolphins lead running back while splitting carries with veteran Jordan Howard. But instead, second-year player Myles Gaskin emerged out of nowhere to become the Dolphins starting running back last season. This offseason Breida decided to join the Buffalo Bills who have struggled to run the ball with former third-round picks Devin Singeltary and Zack Moss splitting carries. According to ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter Marcel Louis-Jacques, the recently signed Breida may not make the Bills final 53 man roster. He believes that if Breida shows the inability to play special teams, the Bills may go with a special teams a capable running back over him as their RB3.
If Breida was cut the Rams should jump on him immediately. However it may be in their best interest to trade a late draft pick for him instead. Breida would be a complimetary back to Darrell Henderson. His speed would be a huge asset to the Rams who already have a lot of speed on offense. Sean McVay could have a field way with a player with the homerun speed that Breida does. He could show the league that he is still a valuable piece to running back commitees and that he is more than a backup.
Los Angeles Rams receive: Matt Breida, 2023 Seventh Round Pick
Buffalo Bills receive: 2022 Seventh Round Pick
Jordan Howard, Philadelphia Eagles
It has been unfortunate to see how far Jordan Howard has declined in recent years. Ever since he was traded from Chicago to Philadelphia he has not been the same back he was earlier in his career. Howard was a Pro Bowler his rookie season after finishing second in the league in rushing. The next season he rushed for 1122 rushing yards and 9 rushing touchdowns. During his third and final season in Chicago Howard rushed for 935 yards and five touchdowns. After Chicago realized they did not want to extend Howard long term they traded him to the Eagles where he started four of the ten games he played in that saeson. Howard shared the backfield with 2019 second round pick Miles Sanders that season. He then signed a two year $9.75 million deal with the Miami Dolphins but played poorly in his five games (three starts) with them before he was cut late in the year. Howard finished the season with the Philadelphia Eagles and was resigned during this offseason.
ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter Tim McMCanus believes that Howard could be the odd man out of the Eagles crowded backfield. This offseason Philadelphia added Kerryon Johnson and fifth round pick Kenneth Gainwell to a backfield that features Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. It is hard to figure out how Howard could contribute to this backfield besides being a solid depth piece.
Los Angeles likely would explore multiple options before trading for Jordan Howard. But the Rams could get Howard for a premium and they would be getting a veteran back who could be a capable backup to their new starter Darrell Henderson. Best case scenario is that Sean McVay rejuvinates Howard’s career and puts him in a position to look like the running back he was during his time in Chicago, but that seems unlikely.
Los Angeles Rams receive: Jordan Howard
Philadelphia Eagles receive: 2023 Seventh Round Pick