Update August 31: Henderson (hamstring) has been cleared for some light agility work and Akers still appears to be the favorite to start in Week 1. There is some belief that Akers could establish himself as the feature back before the midway point of the 2020 season. The absence of Henderson could be key to Akers breaking away from the pack.
Update August 24: Akers is getting first-team reps, and Darrell Henderson is dealing with a hamstring injury. While Sean McVay says the Rams could take a running-back-by-committee approach, Akers appears poised to be the Week 1 starter.
In this series we will look at the most important fantasy football position battles for each NFL team. Opportunity is king in fantasy, as you can’t produce fantasy statistics without getting on the field. So, the first step when looking for value plays is to project, correctly, which players will win training camp battles.
For the Los Angeles Rams, there will be three battles raging, as new running back Cam Akers will look to win the starting job over Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, Josh Reynolds will try to beat out rookie Van Jefferson for the No. 3 receiver job and Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett will fight for starting tight end duties.
All of these battles are important to fantasy, but the most impactful will likely be for the starting running back job.
Todd Gurley was released this offseason, which has opened up a bunch of snaps and touches for whoever can win them. At the moment, we have three backs who can take that work, Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown.
Henderson was a darling of the fantasy football community last season, as he was often compared to Alvin Kamara. When you think of a player like Kamara in Sean McVay’s system, it’s hard not to be giddy. The trouble is, Henderson ended up seeing just 39 rushing attempts and six targets while Brown had 69 carries and six targets. Neither topped four-yards per carry but Brown was efficient near the goal line with five touchdowns.
Then Akers burst into the conversation when he was drafted in the second-round with the 52nd pick. And if we’re comparing draft capital, Henderson was drafted in the third round at 70th overall while Brown was an undrafted free agent.
Brown’s ability as a goal line back could help him see work in that area, but the overall ability of Henderson and Akers should keep them as the backs McVay would like to see lead the way. Henderson did have offseason ankle surgery but should be ready to go for the season, while Akers should be first in line for work.
Akers has the draft capital while Henderson couldn’t garner more touches last season. Much will come down to how they perform in training camp but Akers has the inside track. He also has played in a zone-blocking scheme which will help him right out of the gate. If Akers can’t run away with the job, there is a good chance we see touches split up more than fantasy players would like.
Recently, coach Sean McVay praised how Kyle Shanahan handles his backfield. He wants to balance touches and go with the hot hand, per RamsWire’s Cameron DaSilva. That is a little disconcerting, but I still think Akers is the best fit to lead the team.
Akers has the ability to win the every down job and should be given the first chance to do so. I like his chances to be a useful fantasy back in McVay’s system.