It has been an interesting offseason in Chiefs Kingdom and one of the unexpected trends has been the emphasis on the running back position.
Considering Kansas City spent a first-round selection on Clyde Edwards-Helaire in 2020, the expectation would normally be that the said draft pick would become the bell-cow running back of the future. That has not happened with “CEH.”
Now, just two years later in 2022, a Chiefs analyst is ready to label the upcoming campaign a “make-or-break season” for the former LSU star.
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Can CEH Flip the Script?
During a Chiefs running back breakdown on June 26, analyst Caleb James of Arrowhead Live explained why Edwards-Helaire might be running out of time in KC. He wrote:
For all intents and purposes, CEH struggled immensely during the 2021 season and didn’t seem to find his way until late in the season. Injuries and inconsistent play saw his snaps and production decrease, and untimely fumbles against the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Charges contributed to losses. After posting 1,000 plus scrimmage yards in 2020, he regressed to just 626 yards both rushing and receiving in 2021. He did however show signs of his 2020 season in the playoffs where he ran with authority.
This will be a make-or-break season for Edwards-Helaire as far as his time in KC is concerned, but also for the future of his career. He was given the benefit of the doubt early on, but the coaches moved on with other players once he showed he was struggling. This offseason he revealed that complications of gall bladder surgery were a culprit in his struggles, mainly because he lost weight and lacked explosion. Hopefully, a healthy 2022 offseason will result in the foundation for a good season. With health and proper utilization in the passing game, this could be the year that turns around his career.
James really hit the nail on the head here. General manager Brett Veach has gone out of his way to bring in competition at the running back position this spring.
Along with free-agent acquisition Ronald Jones II are rookies Isaih Pacheco, Jerrion Ealy and Tayon Fleet-Davis. Kansas City also re-signed Jerick McKinnon and Derrick Gore, which should make these three or four roster spots hard to come by in training camp.
The “scholarship” has run its course for Edwards-Helaire. In 2022, he’ll have to earn snaps and touches in this offense and any stumble could lead to his eventual exit from this organization.
At the same time, an impressive campaign would most likely cement his long-term role behind Patrick Mahomes II. That’s a dream position for any NFL ball-carrier.
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Inside the Numbers
Obviously, CEH’s overall stats were much better during his rookie year but he was more efficient as well. If you look inside the numbers at the first-round talent’s rushing analytics on Pro Football Focus, it’s evident that he took a step back in multiple areas.
For example, Edwards-Helaire had a solid “yards after contact average” of 2.98 in 2020, but that number dropped to 2.39 in year two. His “breakaway percentage” — which focuses on explosiveness and big plays — also plummeted from 21.0% to 9.3%.
McKinnon and Gore trounced Edwards-Helaire from a breakaway run perspective with percentages of 29.0 and 28.9%. Darrel Williams also topped him in explosive runs over 10 yards with a team-leading 13, although CEH was second with nine 10-plus explosives.
Edwards-Helaire didn’t stand out all the much as a third-down back last season either, with a poor pass-blocking grade of 45.3 and an “elusive rating” of 32.9 out in space — which ranked behind McKinnon and Gore again. He did catch 19 of 22 targets with zero drops but had a lowly “yards per route run” average of 0.72 yards.
In the end, the 10-game campaign fell well short of CEH’s first-round status. 2022 could be his last chance to prove that Kansas City didn’t choose wrong in the draft.