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NFL Player Profile

Is Clyde Edwards-Helaire The Easy Rookie RB1?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: May 7, 2020, 1:46 am ET

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

The Chiefs drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the No. 32 overall pick of the 2020 NFL draft. The 5-foot-7 and 207-pound back burst onto the scene during his junior season at LSU, posting absurd 215-1,414-16 rushing and 55-453-1 receiving lines in 15 games of action.

CEH joins a decorated group of players who were the first RB selected. The last handful of No. 1 RBs from the draft have gone on to post fairly-amazing rookie seasons after a sporadic start during the AP-era (2007-2020):

There's been a ton of hype for Edwards-Helaire due to both the rookie's three-down skill-set as well as the Chiefs' already-unbelievable offense. What follows is a breakdown of both factors as well as a projection on what we should expect in 2020.

CEH can do everything you want a RB to do

Edwards-Helaire didn't post alarming numbers in the 40-yard dash (4.6 seconds) or bench press (15 reps), but his 39.5-inch vertical and 123-inch broad jump places him in the 89th percentile of RBs when it comes to Burst Score (per Player Profiler).

He's not the biggest, strongest, or fastest runner, but more importantly CEH has already demonstrated the ability to convert his rare explosiveness into productiveness on the football field. He graded out well in a variety of tackle-breaking metrics from PFF in 2019:

  • Yards after contact: 781 (24th among 226 qualified RBs)
  • Yards after contact per attempt: 3.65 (56th)
  • Forced missed tackles: 71 (14th)
  • Forced missed tackles per attempt: 0.33 (14th)

All of this is even more impressive after considering that Edwards-Helaire was consistently playing against the highest-level competition possible. None of Auburn (187 total yards, 1 TD), Alabama (180 yards, 4 TD), Georgia (118 total yards, 0 TD) nor Clemson (164 total yards, 0 TD) had an answer for LSU's featured back.

The main part of Edwards-Helaire's game that makes him so special is his ability as a receiver. Coach Andy Reid has already comped his new rookie RB to former Eagles' great Brian Westbrook, noting, "He can block for you. He can run routes. He’s got tremendous vision and lateral abilities with cuts and route running, all those things. He’s just a real good football player." Furthermore, CEH was also apparently Patrick Mahomes' preferred pick.

RB-guru and Fantasy Points analyst Graham Barfield called Edwards-Helaire the "best route runner to come into league since Christian McCaffrey."

I'm not inclined to disagree.

NFL.com draft guru Lance Zierlein noted Edwards-Helaire "needs to crank up commitment level in pass sets" and "has the talent to become a good, three-down back in time, but needs to improve in pass protection." This isn't great news, but it's also a skill that Kansas City hasn't made a habit of asking their starting RB to utilize. Damien Williams had eight or fewer snaps as a pass blocker in literally every game he's played with the Chiefs. Kareem Hunt never even surpassed five snaps as a pass blocker during his time in Kansas City.

It's clear Edwards-Helaire is a talented back with more than enough ability to function on all three downs. He also just so happens to be in one of the best situations imaginable as far as coaching, scheme and teammates are concerned.

Andy Reid loves himself a high-producing fantasy RB

We've seen 21 different versions of Reid's offense since he took over as the Eagles' head coach in 1999. The players always change, and the scheme is updated, but one of the larger trends that has persisted over time is the presence of a high-end fantasy RB:

Andy Reid

Reid has truly helped revolutionize the way that RBs are used in the passing game.

And then we have Mahomes, who can make pretty much any throw imaginable, but the Chiefs' combination of brilliant scheme and speedy play-makers resulted in him posting a bottom-four rate in tight-window throws last season (Next-Gen Stats). The Chiefs ranked 17th in target percentage to RBs in 2019, a figure that could feasibly rise now that they have a player with CEH's unique talents in the passing game.

Westbrook averaged 96 targets per season during his five-year apex under Reid from 2004-2008 despite missing 11 games along the way. Charles averaged 81.5 targets during the 2013-2014 seasons as a healthy featured back for Reid. Shady McCoy (75.7 targets per season from 2010-2012) was also heavily utilized as a receiver.

Last season Christian McCaffrey (142 targets), Austin Ekeler (108), Tarik Cohen (104), Leonard Fournette (100), Alvin Kamara (97), James White (95) and Le'Veon Bell (78) were the only RBs with at least 75 targets. Edwards-Helaire has the skill-set to warrant this type of usage, and the coach that has a history of feeding his No. 1 RB this level of role.

That's right: CEH will almost assuredly be the Chiefs' No. 1 RB by the time everything is all said and done next season.

First-round RBs aren't drafted to sit on the bench

I mean no ill-will towards Damien Williams, who has balled out in basically every playoff game for the Chiefs over the past two seasons. The man possesses true three-down ability himself.

Still, historically first-round RBs have been fed the ball to their heart's desire as a rookie:

Altogether, 12 of the last 16 first-round RBs racked up at least 180 touches during their debut season. 29 RBs had that many touches in 2019, meaning the worst-case scenario with Edwards-Helaire is a starting-RB worthy role inside of a probable top-three scoring offense that will be more fantasy-friendly than most considering the likelihood for plenty of pass-game work.

CEH is the only player in SEC history to gain 1,000 rushing yards and catch at least 50 balls in a single season. The talent, projected workload, and ideal surrounding cast are all good enough for CEH to be considered the clear-cut rookie RB1. It remains to be seen where his average draft position will shake out, but he's certainly worthy of being a top-20, if not top-15, or dare I say top-12, consideration among RBs in PPR-drafts of all shapes and sizes.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.