A rib injury and a high ankle sprain could not slow down running back Cam Akers as he put together a rookie year filled with milestone and franchise record-setting performances.
By the time the Rams' season ended with a divisional round playoff loss to the Packers, Akers had established a foundational performance to build off of as he turns the page to his second season.
"I definitely feel like it went good, for the most part," Akers said during an end-of-season video conference on Sunday. "I was able to learn a lot from the players, the coaches, the staff, the training staff. Ultimately, I was able to grow as a young man and as a player, and that's all you can really ask for. When you know you went out on the field and put everything you got on the line, that's all you can really ask for, is to grow and learn from wherever you went wrong. You want to build on that."
Los Angeles invested a lot in Akers by using their highest 2020 NFL Draft pick on him (No. 52 overall). While his rookie year began with him being the starter for the season-opener against the Dallas Cowboys, L.A. initially deployed the committee approach laid out by head coach Sean McVay during the offseason, which meant Akers rotating with fellow running backs Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson Jr.
Akers rushed 14 times for 39 yards in the Rams' Week 1 win over the Cowboys, then sustained a painful rib injury against the Eagles the following week that forced him to miss the next two games. He returned in Week 5, finishing with nine carries for 61 yards – including a long of 46 – to help the Rams defeat the Washington Football Team 30-10, but played just one snap against the 49ers in Week 6 and three against the Bears in Week 7.
He was much more involved against the Dolphins in Week 8, finishing with nine carries for 35 yards plus one catch for 19 yards, effectively showing signs he was becoming more comfortable.
"I would say probably about mid-season," Akers said, when asked when everything started to click for him. "That's when I started to get a good grasp on the run, the concepts, what the coaches wanted, how everything was being blocked. I kind of settled in and played football and it showed."
Indeed, it did. Two games later, Akers scored his first NFL touchdown in a Week 11 Monday Night Football win over the Buccaneers, then scored his first rushing touchdown while carrying the ball nine times for 84 yards in a Week 12 loss to the 49ers.
His best game of the season followed two weeks later with 171 rushing yards on 29 carries (both season-highs) in a Thursday Night Football win over the Patriots at SoFi Stadium. It marked the most rushing yards by a rookie in a single game and, through Week 14, the most by any player in a single game this season, as well as the most by a Rams rookie running back since Jerome Bettis' 212 against the Saints in 1993. He was rewarded with NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for Week 14.
Unfortunately, the following week was when he sustained the aforementioned high ankle sprain that caused him to miss the Rams' Week 16 game against the Seahawks, but he healed quickly enough to return for their regular season finale against the Cardinals and ensuing playoff run.
Akers finished the second half of the season with 110 carries for 477 yards and two touchdowns, plus nine catches for 100 yards and a touchdown, after posting just 35 carries for 148 yards and two catches for 23 yards in the first half. In the playoffs, he posted 46 carries for 221 yards and two touchdowns – including a 131-yard wild card round effort against the Seahawks which made him the first Rams rookie to rush for 100 or more yards in his playoff debut – as well as three receptions for 51 yards.
Across the second half of the season and those two playoff games, Akers finished the final nine games of his rookie season with a combined 156 rushing attempts for 698 yards and four rushing touchdowns, along with 12 catches for 151 yards and two scores.
"This guy's going to be a big-time player," McVay said during his postgame video conference Saturday. "He got more and more confidence as the season went (on). I have tremendous confidence in him, and I think (running backs coach) Thomas Brown did such a great job being able to help him continue to mature throughout the season. I think this guy has an unbelievably bright future."
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey shared similar views, having known about Akers long before he arrived on the Rams as a fellow Florida State product.
"He just got his opportunities and he took advantage of them," Ramsey said during a video conference Sunday. "He got unleashed and he did his thing. (It's) something that I always knew (with) who he was, he had it in him. I can't wait to see him grow from here, and I just pray that he can remain healthy and lead the offense, because we need him."