Losing Cam Akers is a significant blow to the Los Angeles Rams running game. Set to be the No. 1 running back in an offense that was was going to utilize his talents in the passing game, Akers was set up for a breakout season and a key contributor for the Rams Super Bowl title hopes.
“I think he can come alive in the pass game,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said back in March. “I think he can continue to play at a high level. Really, I think he’s an every-down back. I think he’s a special player.”
The Rams had high hopes for McVay heading into year two, but Los Angeles must figure out how to utilize its running game with him lost for the season. Darrell Henderson should get the first opportunity as the No. 1 running back, but there isn’t much insurance behind him. Xavier Jones and Raymond Calais have never taken a carry in an NFL regular season game, while Otis Anderson is an undrafted free agent rookie.
Clearly the Rams could use a veteran running back to help out Henderson and emerge as the No. 2 option. Here are a few free agents the Rams should consider signing in the coming weeks:
1. Adrian Peterson
The 36-year old Peterson has been patiently waiting for the right opportunity to come along in free agency. At this stage in his career, Peterson wants an opportunity to contribute to a Super Bowl championship roster. The Rams check off all those boxes, especially since there isn’t a power back on their roster since they allowed Malcolm Brown to depart in free agency.
Peterson has 14,820 career rushing yards, just 450 yards short of passing Barry Sanders for fourth on the all-time list. His 118 rushing touchdowns are fourth on the all-time list, just six away from passing Marcus Allen for third (123). He has the most 50-yard touchdown runs (16) and 60-yard touchdown runs (15) in NFL history. He’s tied with Chris Johnson for the most 70-yard touchdown runs in NFL history (seven). Peterson rushed for 604 yards on 156 carries and seven touchdowns in 16 games for the Detroit Lions at age 35 last year.
There’s still some gas left in the tank for Peterson, who would be an ideal fit to spell Henderson as the No. 2 option. Peterson isn’t a pass-catching back that fits what McVay wants out of his running backs, but plans change with little depth on the roster after the Akers injury.
2. Frank Gore
Gore is in the same situation as Peterson — although he’s two years older than him. The 38-year-old Gore wants an opportunity to compete for a championship and earn carries on a contending team, leaving the Rams as the best option available. No running back has ever recorded a carry at the age of 38, so the Rams would be taking a big risk here — even though Gore recorded 187 carries for the New York Jets last year.
Gore wouldn’t have been expected to carry the load much in 2021, but would play a significant role with the Rams. If Henderson suffers an injury, he would emerge as the top option. Again, Los Angeles would take a huge gamble if the Rams wanted to bring Gore back to California.
3. Duke Johnson
If Los Angeles wanted to go with a veteran back that fit what McVay wants in his offense, Johnson is the ideal No. 2 option. The 27-year-old Johnson had a career-low 28 catches for 249 yards with the Houston Texans last season, the first season he failed to have 60-plus targets and 40-plus receptions. Playing a career-low 36% of the snaps didn’t help matters either, as Johnson was behind David Johnson in the running back rotation.
Johnson still remains without a team, but is the best free agent running back available. He’ll get an opportunity to significantly contribute with the Rams, particularly in the passing game. His 307 receptions since 2015 are the fourth-most in the league amongst running backs.
4. Chris Thompson
There’s plenty of familiarity with Sean McVay here, as Thompson played under McVay for three seasons when he was the offensive coordinator for the Washington Football Team. Thompson finished with 84 catches for 589 yards in his final two seasons under McVay as a backup option for Robert Kelley and Alfred Morris.
McVay could reunite the 30-year-old Thompson in his offense as a No. 2 option, even if Thompson was an afterthought with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. Thompson is still an excellent pass-catching back that could provide another option in the passing game.