The Kansas City Chiefs have dominated the NFL draft since 2017. According to ESPN, the Chiefs rank second in the NFL in draft efficiency since 2012. The team has drafted three likely future Hall of Famers in that span: Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill. Beyond the big three, there are many ups and downs in the Chiefs’ draft classes. Trey Smith, Creed Humphrey, and Nick Bolton make up some of the best (and most recent) picks by General Manager Brett Veach in the NFL Draft.
Others, including Jehu Chesson, Breeland Speaks, and KeiVarae Russell make up the not-so-great draft picks by the franchise in recent years. Another name is often included in that group by fans of the team after a somewhat disappointing start to his career. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was drafted by the Chiefs with the 32nd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He’s missed ten games to injury over his first two seasons in the league. The Chiefs could have drafted Jonathan Taylor or D’Andre Swift with the pick, both of which still remained on the board when Edwards-Helaire was drafted.
Although Currently Overshadowed, Chiefs Should Have Faith In Clyde
Clearly, the career of Edwards-Helaire has been overshadowed by the two running backs drafted after him in the 2020 Draft. Is that assessment fair? Without question, Jonathan Taylor has been the best running back of the trio. In 2021, he led the NFL in rush attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and averaged 5.5 yards per rush.
As for Swift, well the results aren’t as clear. In three fewer games, Edwards-Helaire has amassed 200 more rushing yards in his career than Swift. He’s averaged more yards per rush as well. Where Swift has fared better is in the touchdowns and receiving yards departments. Swift has 13 career rushing touchdowns (to Edward-Helaire’s 8) and nearly double the receiving yards.
When comparing Edwards-Helaire to those running backs, however, it’s important to put their contributions into context. That context involves Patrick Mahomes. The Lions are 8-24 since Swift was drafted. The offense, led by Stafford in 2020 and Goff in 2021, has ranked 20 and 25 in each of the last two seasons. The Colts have fared better, finishing 20-13 over the last two seasons. However, their offense has been led by a (very) veteran Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz over those two seasons. The offense in Indy is built around the run while the Chiefs’ offense is built around MVP Patrick Mahomes.
Edwards-Helaire has not been the running back that Jonathan Taylor has become. He hasn’t had a touchdown or receiving game impact like Swift has made in Detroit. This is because Edwards-Helaire hasn’t been necessary like those running backs have been to their respective teams. Clyde isn’t going to dominate for touchdowns when future Hall of Famers Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are dominating touches. He isn’t going to dominate in the receiving game when Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are busy setting the franchise record for single-season receptions in back-to-back seasons.
With Tyreek Hill in Miami and the offense re-made, it’s possible we see a different role for Edwards-Helaire entering next season. His new role, although unlikely to make him as effective as Jonathan Taylor, could pay big dividends for his production and impact as a running back.
Chiefs’ Andy Reid Has A History Of “Slow” Starting Running Backs
The “need” for Edwards-Helaire on offense isn’t the only thing that’s limited his production thus far into his career. Andy Reid, long-hailed as an offensive mastermind in the NFL, has an advanced playbook. It takes time for some players to become acquainted with his system. We’ve seen this not just with wide receivers (Josh Gordon last season) but also with running backs.
I compiled the statistics of running backs during Andy Reid’s history as a Head Coach. I looked at running backs stepping into the Reid system and how they fared on the field in their first two seasons. Those stat lines are below:
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 23G, 1,320 rush yards, 8 TD, 4.4 Y/A, 426 rec yards, 3 rec TD
Brian Westbrook: 30G, 806 yards, 7 TD, 4.9 Y/A, 418 rec yards, 4 rec TD
LeSean McCoy: 31G, 1,717 yards, 11 TD, 4.7 Y/A, 900 rec yards, 2 rec TD
Correll Buckhalter: 30G, 1,128 yards, 10 TD, 4.4 Y/A, 263 rec yards, 1 rec TD
Spencer Ware: 25G, 1,324 yards, 9 TD, 4.6 Y/A, 452 rec yards, 2 rec TD
Kareem Hunt: 27G, 2,151 yards, 15 TD, 4.7 Y/A, 833 rec yards, 10 rec TD
Damien Williams: 27G, 754 yards, 9 TD, 4.7 Y/A, 373 rec yards, 4 rec TD
When compared to Reid’s running backs historically, Edwards-Helaire doesn’t seem that far off from what backs have done in the past when learning the offensive system. Sure, there are some standouts. Kareem Hunt had one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory for a running back. However, outside of Hunt, the average running back new to Reid’s offense has been good for 1,145 rush yards, 9 touchdowns, and 4.66 yards per rush over their first two seasons. Edwards-Helaire is right on track and even slightly exceeding some of those marks thus far into his career.
Not only is he right on par with those running backs of the past: he’s done it while playing in some of the most pass-heavy offenses we’ve ever seen from Andy Reid. In his third season under Andy Reid, LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing touchdowns. Brian Westbrook never led the league in rushing or touchdowns but was selected as an All-Pro in 2007 for the Eagles.
The best is yet to come for Edwards-Helaire next season. The addition of Ronald Jones will take some touches, but don’t be confused: Clyde is the top running back on the totem pole. He knows the offense, he has seen success in the offense, and he will be the lead back next year. The Chiefs felt comfortable in letting Darrel Williams go into Free Agency for a reason:
They feel that Clyde Edwards-Helaire can be even better, and are ready to give him the chance in 2022.
Do you think Clyde Edwards-Helaire can reach a higher level as a member of the Chiefs? Leave a comment below to enter the discussion!
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