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 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
The Chiefs met just about every 2020 preseason expectation laid out for them besides their obvious trip up against the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. Regular season record of 14-2? That’ll work. Two relatively easy AFC playoff wins? Check. First-team All Pro campaigns for Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to go along with another MVP-worthy season from Patrick Mahomes? You bet.
For everyone other than the most devout Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman truthers, the only real “disappointment” for the 2020 Chiefs was the production of first-round RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. This isn’t to suggest that CEH was bad: 1,100 total yards from scrimmage and five trips to the end zone in 13 games is good. However, the man boasted an average draft position as the PPR RB5 in fantasy land by the time last season eventually came around.
What follows is a breakdown on Edwards-Helaire’s potential to have the sort of season everyone was hoping for last year and what we should make of his current standing in fantasy football.
Contrary to popular belief: CEH was pretty damn good as a rookie
It’s pretty tough to find a meaningful metric that paints Edwards-Helaire as a bad rusher:
- PFF rushing grade: 76.8 (No. 18 among 47 qualified RBs)
- Missed tackles forced per attempt: 0.19 (tied for No. 14)
- Yards per carry: 4.4 (tied for No. 25)
- Yards after contact per carry: 3.0 (tied for No. 19)
The rookie didn’t fumble all season. We didn’t see the sort of McCaffrey-esque receiving ability that some were expecting, but it’s also unfair to call CEH a liability in the pass game. Overall, Edwards-Helaire reeled in 36 of 50 targets for 297 yards and a score. His issue was overall volume, not efficiency.
Generally only good things happened when the Chiefs got the ball to CEH in 2020.
Best of Clyde Edwards-Helaire as a rookie pic.twitter.com/zQmBrc7yQ1
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 18, 2021
The elephant in the room: Edwards-Helaire at the goal line. All in all, he converted just two of his 10 attempts inside the 5-yard line into scores. And guess what: I’m not concerned. Primarily because 1) the Chiefs don’t seem to be, 2) fellow Chiefs RBs Darrel Williams, Le’Veon Bell, Darwin Thompson and DeAndre Washington converted just one of their combined six rush attempts into a score, 3) the film from most of CEH’s failed attempts demonstrates the reality that these were hardly walk-in opportunities, and 4) this offensive line has ranked outside of the league’s top-16 units in yards before contact per carry in each of the past two years. Here’s to hoping the Chiefs’ plethora of offseason moves at the line of scrimmage leads to these RBs having a bit more of a runway in 2021 and beyond.
Luckily, we have a rather absurd amount of evidence that CEH could be entering a more than viable fantasy situation if we zoom out a bit more on the timeline.
Andy Reid knows a thing or two about enabling a high-end fantasy RB
We’ve seen example after example of coach Andy Reid enabling a high-end fantasy RB over the past 20-plus years.
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Two of the group’s worst seasons coming over the past two years certainly isn’t ideal. The Chiefs are one of the league’s most fantasy-friendly offenses because they score so many damn points, but Mahomes hasn’t necessarily made fantasy life all that great for his RBs. This offense has slipped to 17th and 25th in rush attempts inside the 5-yard line over the past two seasons since releasing Kareem Hunt. Their status as the 14th- and 10th-ranked unit in targets to the backfield is better; we just haven’t seen a single RB all that consistently hold onto the job due to a mix of injuries and meh performance over the past two seasons.
In 2019, Damien Williams played more than 50% of the offense’s snaps in just seven of 11 games due to a mix of injuries before coming on strong in the playoffs. CEH worked as the fairly undisputed featured back before two things happened:
- Bell was brought into the equation.
- Late-season injuries limited his availability.
Through it all, Williams worked as the:
- Typical low-volume lead back when somebody was banged up.
- Primary two-minute guy to siphon away pass-down work.
Here’s the thing: The 2021 landscape looks more clear than ever for CEH. Only Joe Mixon, Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry had more touches than Edwards-Helaire before the Chiefs signed (now free agent) Bell last season. Remaining competition includes incumbent backups Williams and Thompson paired with former Jets RB Eli McGuire as well as ex-Vikings/49ers scatback Jerick McKinnon.
CEH played at least 60% of the offense’s snaps and racked up 18-plus combined carries and targets in every game in Weeks 1-6 before the whole Bell experiment. However, we never saw Bell unseat the Chiefs’ first-round pick; more than anything the former Jets and Steelers RB took snaps away from Williams. There was a low-volume stretch for Edwards in Weeks 7-9 when Mahomes decided to largely go nuts on everyone, but the Chiefs were back to giving the rookie 15-plus touches in three of his final four games.
The infamous stomach flu in Week 13 left a bad taste in the mouths of fantasy managers around the world, while hip and ankle injuries sidelined him for the final two games of the regular season as well as the Chiefs’ Divisional Round win over the Browns. Credit to CEH for gutting out 66 playoff snaps; just realize it would’ve likely been far more with better health.
Add it all together and …
Edwards-Helaire is a clear value in fantasy land
CEH is presently going off the board as the RB15 over at Underdog Fantasy. This is exactly where I have him ranked. I wouldn’t disagree with anyone that wants to slot him as high as RB10; he’s in my “with some luck these dudes could bounce up two tiers” section. That is the ceiling for Reid’s RB1, and we’re able to obtain that asset at a fraction of the cost as last season.
We had no idea how Edwards-Helaire’s game would transition to the Chiefs’ offense entering 2020. We found out that he was more than capable of holding his own as both a rusher and receiver, but a banged-up and at-times ineffective offensive line limited the overall scoring upside, and ultimately the rookie couldn’t function as the offense’s three-down back down the stretch due to illness and injuries.
Better health in 2020 could’ve helped CEH push for 1,500 total yards and (with some luck) double-digit scores. This outcome, and honestly more, is again on the table in 2021 as the undisputed lead back inside of anybody’s idea of a top-five offense. Evaluate a fantasy player on what we expect to happen in the upcoming season instead of penalizing them for what happened last year; only Kenyan Drake (-19), James Conner (-22) and Mark Ingram (-43) join CEH (-13) as RBs that boasted a top-24 PPR ADP in 2020 only to have fallen double-digit spots ahead of 2021 (via fantasy football calculator).
Obviously the former three RBs are (understandably) being penalized for changing teams, but CEH is entering the same exact situation as last season, only even more ingrained as the lead back. Perhaps the Chiefs again flirt with a veteran RB if/when they become available in late August; NFL teams need more than one player at every position. Just realize the Chiefs’ decision to not devote any sort of meaningful resources to their backfield throughout the offseason process is as big of a sign of confidence in CEH that we could’ve hoped for.
Don’t be afraid to select CEH at the end of Round 2 in fantasy drafts of all shapes and sizes; not many RBs possess his high-end floor/ceiling combo. And if you see Edwards-Helaire in Round 3 of a draft and don’t select him? I’ll consider it a personal insult. Happy drafting.