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Cam Akers injury: Free agent running backs Rams should consider as they seek Darrell Henderson backup

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Losing Cam Akers is a big blow to the Los Angeles Rams running game. Akers was set to be the No. 1 to back off in a strike that would use his passing game talents, and was set up for a breakthrough season and a major contributor to Rams Super Bowl title hopes.

“I think he can come alive in the pass game,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said in March. “I think he can continue to play at a high level. Really, I think he is a bad defender. I think he is a special player.”

The Rams had high hopes for McVay heading into sophomore year, but Los Angeles must find a way to leverage its running game with him lost for the season. Darrell Henderson should get the first chance as the No. 1 to decline, but there isn’t much certainty behind him. Xavier Jones and Raymond Calais have never played a game of the NFL season, while Otis Anderson is an uneducated free agent rookie.

Obviously, the Rams could use a veteran walking back to help Henderson come forward as the No. 2 option. Here are a few free agents the Rams should consider in the coming weeks:

1. Adrian Peterson

The 36-year-old Peterson has been patiently waiting for the right opportunity to go along in free agency. At this stage in his career, Peterson wants the opportunity to contribute to a selection of the Super Bowl championship. The Rams tick all those boxes, especially with no power on their roster since they let Malcolm Brown leave on free choice.

Peterson has 14,820 rushing yards in his career, just 400 yards short of passing Barry Sanders for fourth on the all-time list. His 118 hasty touchdowns are fourth on the all-time list, just six away from Marcus Allen for third (123). He has the most 50-yard touchdown runs (16) and 60-yard touchdown runs (15) in NFL history. He is tied with Chris Johnson for the most 70-yard touchdown runs in NFL history (seven). Last year at age 35, Peterson rushed for 604 yards on 156 carries and seven touchdowns in 16 games for the Detroit Lions.

There is still some gas in the tank for Peterson, which would be ideal for spelling Henderson as the number 2 option. Peterson is not a pass-catching back to match what McVay wants from his running backs, but plans change with little depth on the roster after the Akers injury.

2. Frank Gore

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Gore is in the same situation as Peterson, although he is two years older than him. 38-year-old Gore wants the opportunity to compete for a championship and monetize a competing team, leaving the Rams the best option. No running back has ever recorded a carry at age 38, so the Rams would be taking a big risk here — though Gore recorded 187 carries for the New York Jets last year.

Van Gore would not be expected much in 2021, but would play a significant role with the Rams. If Henderson suffers an injury, he would come forward as the best option. Again, Los Angeles would be taking a huge gamble if the Rams wanted to get Gore back to California.

3. Duke Johnson

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If Los Angeles wanted to go with a veteran that fits what McVay wants in his attack, Johnson is the ideal No. 2 option. The 27-year-old Johnson had a career low of 28 catches for 249 yards with the Houston Texans last season, the first season he failed to hit 60-plus goals and 40-plus receptions. Playing a career low of 36% of snaps didn’t help either, as Johnson was behind David Johnson in the running back rotation.

Johnson is still without a team, but is the best free agent available. He gets the chance to make a significant contribution with the Rams, especially in the passing game. His 307 receptions since 2015 are the fourth most in the league among running backs.

4. Chris Thompson

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There is a lot of fame here with Sean McVay, as Thompson played three seasons under McVay when he was the offensive coordinator for the Washington Football Team. Thompson finished with 84 catches for 589 yards in his last two seasons under McVay as a backup option to Robert Kelley and Alfred Morris.

McVay could reunite 30-year-old Thompson in his attack as a No. 2 option, even though Thompson was an afterthought with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. Thompson is still an excellent pass-catching back who could be another option in the passing game.

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