Matt Waldman’s RSP Pre-Draft Sample: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Chiefs)

Matt Waldman shares his pre-draft sample of 2020 NFL Draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a quality contributor who was overrated due to inflated expectations over his landing spot in Kansas City and might be potentially underrated by fans who lacked a balanced understanding of his game from the beginning. 

Edwards-Helaire earned a lot of pre- and post-draft buzz for several reasons. The potential fit with the Chiefs generated a massive amount of excitement because of the potential for the 2020 rookie runner to earn a role similar to Brian Westbrook’s tenure with Andy Reid in Philly.

And if you don’t remember Westbrook, then the best way to sum up the Eagles’ runner is to label him the unsung version of Marshall Faulk of that era of football.

Edwards-Helaire also earned a lot of love before the draft because his eligibility happened around the height of the “scatbacks are king” sentiment in football analysis media.

As you’ll see, I liked Edwards-Helaire, but never loved his game. The euphoria after the 2020 opener was borderline delusional thanks to a bias reinforced by broadcast media’s way of calling games. It didn’t take long for fans to realize that the lovefest for Edwards-Helaire was premature.

When this realization occurs, it, unfortunately, generates a backlash that results in undervaluing the player.

I had Edwards as a rotational starter ranked behind J.K. Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift, A.J. Dillon, Zack Moss, and Cam Akers. At this point of their careers, if I could switch Antonio Gibson with Moss in the order above it would be the only changes I’d make in hindsight.

This look at Edwards-Helaire below is just one example of the depth and breadth of work you’ll find annually in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio pre-draft publication.

7. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU (5-7, 207)
Depth of Talent Score: 82.5 = Rotational Starter: Executes at a starter level in a role playing to their

On the surface, Edwards-Helaire looks a lot like the Emmitt Smith starter kit. Smith was a short but stout back with a low center of gravity, sudden quickness, loose hips to make dynamic cuts, and vision and decision-making to know when to avoid contact and when to embrace it.

However, Smith had a vast reserve of balance and power that Edwards-Helaire will never have and Smith was never the receiver and route runner that Edwards-Helaire already is. The closest stylistic comparison to a current player for Edwards-Helaire is Devonta Freeman.

Both runners have receiving skills, vision, dynamic movement, and the toughness to work between the tackles. Freeman developed into a productive NFL starter and Edwards-Helaire has that potential.

Edwards-Helaire has more short-area explosion than Freeman but at the top of his game, Freeman ran with
ferocity, attacking opponents downhill. Although Edwards-Helaire likes to bully defensive backs if he gets the chance, and he’s fired-up when he works through contact that the defense initiates, I’m skeptical that his
game between the tackles will be as physical as Freeman’s.

In terms of contact balance and strength, Edwards-Helaire might be closer to Ito Smith and Jacquizz Rodgers
than Freeman. If this is the case, Edwards-Helaire will need to land in a spread offense in order to have long-term success as a starter. If his power and contact balance are closer to Freeman’s his scheme versatility as a potential starter becomes greater.

The foundation for Edwards-Helaire’s game is his vision: What he sees as a runner and how quickly he processes solutions to obstacles. Edwards-Helaire has the best vision in this class. Adept at running gap, zone, and man blocking, he reads the defense before and immediately after the snap. He’s skilled at identifying penetration or the unblocked second- or third-level defender that he must manipulate to help his offensive line generate a crease.

When he spots favorable inside leverage for the safety and edge defender, Edwards-Helaire will press the crease and bait the defenders inside so he can access the cutback lane. If a defensive end earns penetration into
the backfield, Edwards-Helaire anticipates and avoids the attack and finds the open lane for positive yards.

He excels at pressing deep into the line, setting up defenders across multiple gaps at the line of scrimmage and the level behind it. He reads the leverage of the defenders on his blockers and makes decisions based on

Although Edwards-Helaire didn’t participate in the shuttle and cone workouts at the NFL Combine, his film is
enough to classify him as an elite mover. In addition to a sudden and tight spin move that’s the best in this class, he can make the first man miss with a wide range of movements.

Edwards-Helaire has a simple but sudden stick to bait a penetrating defensive end to one side and then slide away from the penetrator into the lane, leaving the end behind. He jukes linebackers in the hole and he has a
jump-stop that he’ll pair with another hop to slide inside of penetration at the edge of the rushing lane.

Edwards-Helaire often combines 2-3 movements to make pursuit miss but only once have I seen Edwards-Helaire attempt one move too many. As a rule, he’s efficient with his choices.

A quick-twitch athlete with the loose hips to execute wide-ranging jump-stops, Edwards-Helaire can also flip
his hips and execute tight turns. This is helpful as a route runner and when forced to work away from penetration into the backfield.

His strength, balance, and agility to transition downhill after a sideline-to-sideline approach is average for an NFL back—requiring 2-3 prep steps to complete the turn.

Otherwise, when it comes to making defenders miss—especially when breaking them down—Edwards-Helaire’s movement is elite.

Edwards-Helaire has NFL-caliber burst but he lacks speed. Swift linebackers can catch him at the edge on a
short corner, including middle linebackers sliding to the flat in pursuit. Safeties beaten early in the run make up ground over the course of 40 yards to wrap him. There are games where defensive ends run him down over the same distance.

Although he’ll rarely break away from a defense, the fact that Edwards-Helaire gains 35-40 yards before being
chased down is good enough for the NFL. Edwards-Helaire is a tough back but he’s not physical.

He’ll ward off pursuit from outside linebackers and defensive backs with his stiff-arm and because of his low
center of gravity, he’s difficult to wrap when he gets compact at the point of attack in the crease.

Still, Edwards-Helaire does not generate much push. He’s better at dragging defenders or carrying them on his
back for 3-5 yards after contact during his best moments. Otherwise, Edwards-Helaire isn’t a pile mover
unless he’s in the secondary or he remains upright long enough at the line of scrimmage for his teammates to
rally to him and start a scrum.

Although he pulls through reaches to his lower legs and wraps from linebackers at his waist, Edwards-Helaire is at his best warding off contact before it reaches his body. He has a balance-touch maneuver that helps him work through hits to his lower legs and if the linebacker hits and wraps Edwards-Helaire while the back has generated significant downhill momentum, Edwards-Helaire will maintain that momentum moving forward.

Most often, defensive backs, linebackers, and tackles can knock Edwards-Helaire backward with direct contact or even pull him backward. There’s film of Edwards-Helaire earning a stalemate against a defensive tackle when he hit the crease, but he’ll rarely earn a push—even when he hits the crease square and with authority.

His vision and movement are the reasons he has limited success as a short-yardage runner. When asked to hit the crease hard, drop the pads, and work under, over, or through a defense, he repeatedly fails to earn a push.
Edwards-Helaire may not be a powerful runner but he’s a reliable ball carrier. He carries the ball high and tight and uses the correct arm to avoid the nearest pursuit.

When I watched him fumble the exchange inside the Vanderbilt five-yard-line late in the first half this fall, it
was 1 of 2 career fumbles in 480 attempts at LSU—a rate of 1 per 240 and on the high end of the elite range of the RSP’s Ball Security Tier.

Edwards-Helaire is among the top receivers in this class. His route running stands out. He understands how to
manipulate his stems with shakes, pacing, and footwork to set up his breaks.

He has an excellent crossover at the top of his stems. He drops his weight and snaps his turns on hitch routes. His angle routes have tricky pacing to set up the break and his breaks on all inside routes have sharp dips.

Edwards-Helaire’s patiently sets up option routes, and this will be his wheelhouse in an NFL passing game. He’ll need to flatten his out cuts because he has a tendency to route them off or drift during the break and allow his opponent an opportunity to break up the target.

Edwards-Helaire has competent hands. Although he’s a much better route runner than D’Andre Swift at this point in their careers, Swift’s hands have a greater range of facility and he’s better at creating when structure breaks down.

Edwards-Helaire uses the correct framing of his hands for the trajectory of the target and tracks the ball over his shoulder in the open field as well as targets placed low and away from his frame. But when he feels defenders coming downhill and he has to extend for the ball, he drops passes as well as targets when he’s open against tight trail coverage.

Edwards also drops the ball when the target isn’t in stride and he’s forced to turn behind the path of his break—he doesn’t turn enough to address the ball. If the pass has more velocity than expected but is still catchable, Edwards-Helaire drops the ball. And, if the ball forces an extension that’s manageable but forces Edwards-Helaire to break stride, the ball also winds up on the ground.

Those five different instances of drops have shown up in his game. He’s doesn’t drop on-target passes and he’ll make some plays with a defender wrapping his back but there are too many catchable passes that he drops because he lacks the comfort and range to extend for the ball to consider him an elite receiver from the backfield.

The team that drafts Edwards-Helaire will use him as a receiver far more than as a pass protector, but he still
needs to address his blocking if he wants to earn meaningful playing time. His diagnostic skills are promising. Edwards-Helaire picks up safety blitzes and tackle-end twists.

He squares and shields edge-blitzing linebackers. He also has the punching power to deliver a shot with some force against linebackers and defensive backs. When working inside, Edwards-Helaire must punch with a
better base. He must move to the point of attack with greater urgency so he’s not late to earn position and
misses angles.

His size is already a liability when facing defensive ends in the stand-up game so he must earn every advantage possible in order to deliver any value in these situations. He’s more likely to slow box defenders
when he leads with his shoulder.

Edwards-Helaire’s cut blocks are a liability. He dips his head into contact, which is dangerous for his long-term health, and the trajectory of his shots is off. He’s either shooting forward rather than across the defender’s body or he’s too low. He’s close to becoming a competent blocker but there’s work to do to keep him from being a liability to his quarterback in one-on-one situations.

Edwards-Helaire’s skills fit with most teams in the NFL. It’s a matter of which schemes deliver the most upside with his game. If Tampa Bay wants a young James White with Dion Lewis’s agility, Edwards-Helaire would fit well as Tom Brady’s new White-Lewis-Kevin Faulk option.

Atlanta could pair Edwards-Helaire with Todd Gurley and it would give the Falcons a year to determine if Edwards-Helaire has Freeman’s upside.

The Jets, Titans, Dolphins, and Jaguars could all use a scat back. And, if the Chiefs are enamored with his route skills, Edwards-Helaire could earn a higher pick than expected if the right team covets his skills as a perfect it.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire Highlights

Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Edwards-Helaire has strong PPR potential, but his touchdown production has high variance because the offensive system will dictate his participation in the red zone. If he becomes the next James White for Tom Brady, he could earn a lot of looks.

However, that potential drops if he’s part of a big/small running back committee. Before the NFL Draft, I’d feel comfortable taking Edwards-Helaire in the mid-to-late second round in PPR leagues and the third round in non-PPR. Depending on his landing spot, his value could change plus or minus a round.

For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), download the 2022 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95. 

Matt’s new RSP Dynasty Rankings and Two-Year Projections Package is available for $24.95

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

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