After becoming the first running back selected in the 2020 NFL Draft (and the only one selected in Round 1), there was quite a bit of hype surrounding Clyde Edwards-Helaire—so much so that the former LSU standout didn’t get out of the first round in many fantasy drafts.
Edwards didn’t exactly live up to that hype—he finished his rookie season 19th among running backs in Sharks League Scoring. That “disappointment” has led to a dip in Edwards-Helaire’s ADP heading into his second season—per Fantasy Football Calculator, Edwards-Helaire is currently coming off draft boards in Round 3 as the 16th running back and 29th pick overall.
The question is whether a young back who was overvalued a year ago is actually being undervalued now.
The Hype Got Out of Hand
The hype surrounding Edwards-Helaire last year was at least somewhat justified. In LSU’s march to a National Championship in 2019, the 5’7″, 207-pounder tallied almost 1,900 total yards and 17 touchdowns while averaging over 6.5 yards per carry. Lance Zierlien of NFL.com compared Edwards-Helaire to former Atlanta Falcons standout Devonta Freeman.
“Compact, sudden back who runs low to the ground with power and balance to break tackles and the agility to bob, weave and shake them in tight quarters,” Zierlein wrote. “Edwards-Helaire runs with instinctive eyes and quick-cut foot speed. He doesn’t really have tells or tendencies and can alter the rush track when needed, which makes him so unpredictable for defenses.”
The Chiefs saw enough that they liked to make Edwards-Helaire the final pick of Round 1, and in the season-opener against Houston, it looked like a wise pick—Edwards-Helaire gashed the Texans for 138 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries.
But from there things went downhill. Edwards-Helaire lit up the Buffalo Bills for 161 rushing yards in Week 6, but that came after four weeks of averaging four yards or fewer per carry with less than 65 rushing yards in a game. That game against the Bills would be the last time Edwards-Helaire would eclipse 100-yards on the ground in the regular season.
There was also his ankle injuries that wiped out the final two games of Edwards-Helaire’s first season. It wasn’t a bad year by any stretch—he piled up 1,100 total yards, scored five touchdowns and averaged a respectable 4.4 yards per carry on the way to ranking 21st among running backs in fantasy points per game.
Edwards-Helaire was drafted in 2020 to be a fantasy RB1. He wasn’t. And the sting of that has lingered into 2021.
Time for a Rebound?
While some fantasy managers may have lost faith in Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs haven’t—with a pro season under his belt and last year’s bizarro-offseason in the rearview mirror, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said that he expects bigger and better things from the young tailback in 2021.
“Well, the thing is just making sure that he has a better understanding of exactly what we’re doing,” Bieniemy said, via Nick Kosko of 247 Sports. “When you come in as a rookie, obviously, everything is brand new — and every week is a new playbook for you, in a sense. And so, he’s had an opportunity to get a season under his feet. Now, obviously, he’s had an opportunity to get out here and listen, be a part of the meetings. And so, everything is starting to make more sense to him. And so, with him growing with the wisdom that he has obtained in our system, it’s going to help him to know exactly what we expect him to do when placed in those certain situations. So we’re counting on Clyde to be Clyde. Clyde is a tremendous kid. And on top of that, he’s a hell of a football player. He’s going to accept any role and accept any challenge that’s placed upon him.”
There are other reasons for optimism regarding a rebound from Edwards-Helaire this season. Veteran running backs Le’Veon Bell and Damien Williams are gone in Kansas City, leaving a depth chart behind him that isn’t exactly imposing—Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson and oft-injured former 49ers scat-back Jerick McKinnon.
Even though the Chiefs ranked just 23rd in the league in rushing attempts in 2020, It’s not at all difficult to imagine Edwards-Helaire sailing past last year’s 217 total touches this year.
The offensive line in front of Edwards-Helaire should be greatly improved in 2021 as well. Injuries took a toll on that line as the season wore on last year—a toll that became painfully evident in Kansas City’s blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs added guard Joe Thuney in free agency, traded for Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and will get guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif back after he opted out of the 2020 season.