As important as Matthew Stafford and the passing game will be for the Rams this season, Sean McVay still loves to run the football – as evidenced by his heavy usage of Todd Gurley in 2017 and 2018.
Cam Akers is expected to be the lead back this season after finishing last year on a high note in the playoffs, but it’s important to have depth at a position that suffers more injuries than most other spots. Fortunately, the Rams have exactly that.
Darrell Henderson Jr. is a good backup, while Xavier Jones and Jake Funk offer plenty of upside, too. The biggest question is how many running backs the Rams will keep.
Will it be three? Four? Five? We’re previewing each position group ahead of camp, and there are some decisions to be made within the running back unit.
Darrell Henderson Jr.
Akers and Henderson are going to handle the bulk of the carries at running back, especially with Malcolm Brown now gone. They’ll both make the team and play key roles on offense, though Akers is expected to have a bigger workload in Year 2 after an encouraging rookie season. Henderson will mix in as a change-of-pace back and a receiving threat, giving Sean McVay options in the backfield. He’s capable of being a starter, too, which is important because Akers battled injuries last season.
Likely to make it
Count me among those who believe the Rams will keep four running backs. They need a No. 3 back to replace Brown, and Jones is a good candidate to fill that role. Les Snead even said this offseason that they almost turned to him as their starter late last year when Akers and Henderson were both banged up. The team is high on him. Funk also has a good chance to make the team because of his special teams ability. He can return kicks, cover punts and play on every special teams unit. He’s also an explosive athlete when healthy, giving him a shot to contribute on offense. Seventh-round picks don’t always make the team, but Funk is a guy to watch and someone McVay really likes.
On the bubble
If the Rams keep Calais, it’ll be strictly because of his return skills. He’s not going to do much at all on offense, but as a kick returner, he has potential. Anything he can show as a running back will help his odds of making the 53-man roster, but Calais is a special teams player first. He is shifty, has good speed and had a long kickoff return of 41 yards last season, so the potential is there. He just needs to establish himself as a threat in the return game.
Anderson is in a similar position as Calais, only he’s an even greater long shot to make the team. He was signed last month, primarily as a punt returner. He’s an undrafted rookie who has experience at both running back and wide receiver, and in the return game, he took back one punt for a touchdown in 2019.
Projected depth chart
Akers and Henderson both missed time due to injury last season, and although that’s not an indication of things to come in 2021, it is relevant. And the Rams will probably keep that in mind this summer when they’re deciding whether to keep three or four running backs on the active roster. I think they’ll go with four, keeping solid depth to go along with special teams value thanks to Funk. Five would be excessive, but Calais and Anderson are both return specialists first, so it’s possible the Rams will keep one of them for that phase of the game. Training camp could help clarify the chances of Jones, Funk, Calais and Anderson making the 53-man roster because none of them are 100% safe.