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Rams' rookies Cam Akers, Van Jefferson shine in playoff loss

Emmanuel Morgan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Football

Cam Akers is 60 pounds lighter and seven years younger than Green Bay Packers defensive end Za’Darius Smith. But for one play, the Rams’ 5-foot-10, 217-pound running back treated the two-time Pro Bowl selection like a little brother.

As Smith pursued Akers on a run, the rookie extended his right arm and forcefully pushed Smith’s facemask. Smith flopped to the ground, his arms flailing as he unsuccessfully tried to grab Akers’ shoulder pads.

The Rams eventually lost, 32-18, to the Green Bay Packers in their NFC divisional-round playoff game. But that moment was one of several that might preview what’s to come for Akers and receiver Van Jefferson, rookies who excelled on the playoff stage.

Akers finished with 90 yards rushing in 18 carries and a touchdown. Jefferson, who started in place of the injured Cooper Kupp, finished with 46 yards receiving and a touchdown.

“They’re true pros,” safety John Johnson said. “They’re only going to get better. They had a couple of flashes this year. I’m excited to see what happens in the future for them.”

Akers’ stiff arm in some ways mimicked highlights often showcased by powerful Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry. And for much of the game, Akers played like him. The back rarely went down on first contact, and often provided life for the Rams offense.

 

In an added twist, coach Sean McVay used Akers in a wildcat formation four times, one play resulting in a touchdown. With just one minute remaining in the third quarter, Akers — who played quarterback in high school — caught the direct snap and ran to the right side. Krys Barnes collided with Akers just past the line of scrimmage, but he dragged the linebacker into the end zone for a seven-yard score.

“The more you can have the ball in Cam Akers’ hands, I think we’re in a good position,” McVay said. “This guy is going to be a big-time player. He got more and more confidence as the season went on. I have tremendous confidence in him.”

Akers, a second-round draft pick last April, enters the offseason seemingly as the No. 1 option at running back. McVay opened the season with a running-back-by-committee approach with Akers, Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown. But Akers’ role slowly increased as the season progressed. Including the playoffs, he finished with two 100-rushing-yard games and five touchdowns.

The man who previously held his spot, Todd Gurley — whom the Rams released last March — offered his compliments, tweeting “Akers” with a flexing emoji.

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