For those of you that are new to the Clyde Edwards-Helaire hype train, welcome! If you read my review of him in February on Arrowheadguys, you’ll know that I was very much in favor of trying to add this weapon to the Chiefs’ arsenal. I didn’t expect it to be a first-round selection, however, I was much more prepared for the second round, possibly the third in the unlikely scenario that he fell, but the first? I was very certain the Chiefs wouldn’t select him there. Them taking him in the first shows you how little I knew back then about the value the Chiefs placed on him improving the running back position and how they valued the position, to begin with. I am one that doesn’t believe you need or should take a running back in the first round, there is clear value in the middle rounds, Jamaal Charles and Kareem Hunt to name a few, but that doesn’t mean I hated the pick. The two are not mutually exclusive.
I was very excited to see Edwards-Helaire inserted into this offense, and I was so confident in his ability to contribute right away that I wrote this piece about how he could win the offensive rookie of the year award, if he won the job outright or in the event that Damien Williams got hurt. Due to the opt-out of Damien Williams, which I completely respect, Edwards-Helaire inherited the starting job. He was already the most talented running back on the team and it only made sense that he would be named the starter.
With week one in the books, I get to turn my attention to what he was able to accomplish as the starting running back. He received 67% of the offensive snaps, doubling Darrel Williams’ snaps, and was given 25 rushes during the game which is a number I did not anticipate. If you watched the game preview I did with Ryan Tracy over at RGR Football on YouTube, you’ll remember that I did call for the Chiefs to use Edwards-Helaire quite a bit and get him involved early…in the passing game. That’s not to say he wouldn’t get many carries, I just didn’t see 25 in the cards. What he did with those carries is what I expect from him. He rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL game. The biggest thing that he adds to the running back position is efficiency, now, looking at his goal-line reps, the blame isn’t solely on him for not converting. The defense largely knew the Chiefs were going to run the football down in the red zone. The game was already well in hand and the bulk of the carries inside the ten-yard line came after he already had 15 carries in the game. They knew it was coming and the offensive line couldn’t do much to help.
I fully expect this to change as the season goes on and Edwards-Helaire will score touchdowns in the red zone. From everywhere else on the field, the Texans were essentially welcoming the Chiefs to run the football. They were so worried about Mahomes lighting them up deep down the field that the Chiefs faced many six-man boxes and this was the case on his touchdown run in the third quarter to push the score to 24-7 in favor of the Chiefs. I was given permission by J Moyer to use the fantastic breakdown he posted on Twitter for this article. He’s an incredible follow and breaks everything down so well, especially running backs, you can find him on Twitter @JMoyerFB.
This video perfectly demonstrates how Edwards-Helaire came into the NFL as a mature runner who understands how to manipulate linebackers and use space to his advantage. The gap recognition is incredible and it’s something he displayed quite frequently in this game. When a defender gets in the backfield early meaning a blocker loses quickly, he knows where his holes are and all the options he has on the table. Keeping his shoulders square to both the A and B gaps allows him to change direction quickly when he decides to go with the B gap. Watching him press the A gap and get through the B gap quickly is one of the more mature things about him. Then we get to see him make a safety look silly on his way to the end zone.
One thing I didn’t realize that J points out, is that he totally is watching where the closing defender is, so he can avoid him on his way to score. Such an incredibly smooth and smart thing to do from a rookie. The runs in the red zone took away from his yards per carry, which finished at 5.5 for the game, but really isn’t indicative of how he played most of the game against the Texans. I spoke to adding efficiency to the running back position and this is what I’m talking about.
This is an impressive run which was set up by pretty good blocking upfront by the Chiefs offensive line. They do a good job of opening a lane up to the right side of the field and get Edwards-Helaire one on one with a linebacker in space. To start, he keeps close to Osemele as he’s engaged with his man and steps hard to the outside backer that’s attempting to feel out where Edwards-Helaire is going and when he forces the linebacker to dive at his legs, he cuts back to the right side and up the lane created by Schwartz, Fisher, and Wylie. When he gets going into the second level, he’s not going to go down easy on first contact often. He breaks the tackle attempt by Reid and then drags a couple more defenders for an 18-yard gain.
His vision is much better than you’d expect from a rookie and the way he can set up defenders and make them do what he wants to do, is the sign of a mature runner. He routinely manipulates linebackers and creates more yards on plays where the defense might think they have him stopped. His center of gravity makes him a load to bring down when he gets going as well, something the Texans found it in a big way.
This is a great sign for the young back, especially considering it was his first live-game action. No preseason to acclimate to the speed of the game or the physical nature of the NFL. He played in the SEC, so I think he was as prepared as a running back prospect could be getting into the NFL, but there’s still a next step to the NFL level. He showed patience, balance, vision, elusiveness, toughness, among other traits that the Chiefs saw on his college tape.
Want to know the scariest thing about this game for upcoming defenses? He didn’t catch a pass for the Chiefs. He was uber-efficient, when you take out goal-line touches, in racking up these stats, and he didn’t have to catch a pass to do it. We know he was the best route runner and pass catcher in the 2020 draft and when the Chiefs unleash that on defenses, look out. He’s going to have a chance to really put up some ridiculous stats in this offense. The Chiefs passing offense is such a threat that he could see tons of light boxes this season, which could in turn help the Chiefs passing offense. There really is no proper way to figure this offense out and so many weapons that I’m sure it makes defensive coordinators heads spin. I’ll leave you with a final thought, Andy Reid has an obsession with running the ball on second and ten too much, it was infuriating last season. Could Edwards-Helaire make that more efficient? (whispers, yes) Again, welcome aboard.