THOUSAND OAKS, Calif .– When running back Cam Akers sustained an Achilles end-of-season injury prior to the start of training camp, it was a devastating blow to the Los Angeles Rams and their overhauled offensive, led by newly acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford.
But the timing of Akers’ injury gave the Rams ample opportunity to formulate an emergency plan.
The Rams starred Darrell Henderson Jr. and had more than seven weeks until the season opener to see if some of their young talents – sophomore Xavier Jones and seventh-round rookie – Jake Funk – could make up quickly develop into bigger roles.
But after nearly four weeks of training, two preseason games, and with the season opener against the Chicago Bears on September 12, it became more and more apparent that the Rams needed to look for reinforcements outside of their facility to keep the Super Bowl aspirations going.
Now they’re hoping Sony Michel’s fourth year rewind is the key to electrifying a quiet backfield.
“We are definitely overwhelmed where we are as a squad,” said Rams managing director Les Snead on Wednesday after he traded a pick for the sixth round in 2022 and a pick for the fourth round in 2023 to the New England Patriots in exchange for Michel .
As the Patriots’ first round pick (# 31 overall) in 2018, Michel is available at relatively low cost and should enable the breakout from the backcourt that the Rams missed when they installed their playbook around Stafford.
“What he brings with him is that element of making a cut, going north and south, and going north and south with a little force,” said Snead. “The physics he brings to the table – let’s call it a flavor or a genre that we thought would complement our group.”
Michel is playing the final season of his rookie deal after the Patriots refused to take his rookie option. He is said to make $ 1.79 million.
In 28 starts in the last three seasons, Michel has scored 2,292 yards and 14 touchdowns.
It is unclear how the workload will be split between Henderson and Michel, or whether Michel could eventually take on the starting role of Henderson, who was selected as the pace change in the third round of the 2019 draft.
The 5-foot-8, 208-pound Henderson and 5-11, 215-pound Michel have contrasting running styles as Henderson often jumps outside of the tackles while Michel runs downhill.
Matthew Berry analyzes Darrell Henderson Jr.’s fantasy projections after swapping rams for Sony Michel.
Rams trainer Sean McVay has emphasized his confidence in Henderson’s ability and ability to be a three-down back, but has also warned of the need for a measured approach to using Henderson on health grounds.
“There’s nothing we don’t believe Darrell is able to do from his abilities,” McVay said during training camp. “It’s just about really figuring out that sweet spot in terms of getting the right amount of snapshots to keep it fresh during a 17-game season and hopefully more after that.”
Henderson is currently struggling with a minor thumb sprain that has resulted in him wearing a cast or braces on his left hand. And over the past two years, he’s had a variety of injuries that sporadically sidelined him, ending each season prematurely after being put on injury reserve with ankle injuries at week 16 in 2019 and 2020. Both injuries required off-season surgery.
In 28 career games, including 11 starts, Henderson has scored 771 yards and five touchdowns and also caught 20 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown.
Despite receiving praise from coaches and proven healthy throughout the Patriots’ training camp, Michel – a Super Bowl LIII champion Patriots member who beat the Rams, has some injury concerns of his own.
Last season, Michel was put on injury reserve after week 3 with a quadriceps injury and missed six games. He also struggled with knee problems coming out of Georgia that continued in the NFL.
However, with the Rams keeping an eye on a deep playoff run, any injury concern Michel might take is a risk worth taking to gain experience, explosiveness, and depth down the field.
“We identified Sony for many reasons,” said Snead. “Number one is his experience – and experience, that is, like a player who carried the ball in big games and in those big games where there were big moments, big drives and big series.”
The Rams hope Michel is the missing piece to carry them through well into February.