Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the First Round is a Mistake
Hot off the NFL presses late Monday, Chiefs running back Damien Williams is opting out of the 2020 season. I’m currently watching fantasy twitter anoint rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire as a top-5 option at the position. The dust still needs to settle before we get some actual ADP data, but I can promise that any fantasy players drafting CEH in the first round will be disappointed.
CEH at LSU
Let’s begin by going back to where we ought to start with all rookies: the prospect profile. At LSU, Edwards-Helaire hardly saw the field at all his freshman year, buried on the depth chart behind Derrius Guice and, funnily enough, his current Chiefs teammate Darrell Williams. He was subjugated to a change-of-pace role his sophomore year behind senior Nick Brossette, who would go on to be undrafted and bounce around NFL practice squads. Going into the 2019 college football season, nobody outside of Baton Rouge thought very much of CEH.
…And then he had a historic junior year, right? Well, sort of. While over 1400 yards on the ground and 55 receptions is certainly impressive, it must be taken in the context of the historically efficient offense that LSU trotted out last year. Dominator rating measures the share of yards and touchdowns a player had within their offense. Despite posting such impressive counting stats, CEH had a Dominator of just 18.3%, in the 27th percentile of all running backs. Though he had a solid 10.2% target share, Edwards-Helaire was just fifth on the team in receiving yards, less than even transferring tight end Thaddeus Moss. As is often the case with running backs, Edwards-Helaire’s success was mostly due to the strength of LSU’s offense, rather than the other way around.
So now, after a single impressive year in one of the best offenses college football has ever seen, we’re supposed to believe that the 5’7”, 207-lb. back who couldn’t beat out Darrell Williams or Nick Brossette has the talent to be an NFL bell cow? Even with the best draft capital in the RB class (by three picks), I’m skeptical.
KC Backfield Minus Damien Williams
Regardless of how talented CEH actually is, he’ll have a great chance to put up RB1 numbers in the Louisiana State, errr…. Kansas City Chiefs offense. All 170 pounds of me might be able to manage it if I were given an 80% opportunity share on that team, and then you could draft me in the first round. However, anything approaching an 80% opportunity share would be a dangerous assumption for an undersized rookie who could struggle to pass-block effectively and learn the Chiefs’ playbook in a year without a full training camp.
If most of Edwards-Helaire’s value should come in the receiving game, that necessarily means that he may take longer to get acclimated than his more rushing-focused counterparts. DeAndre Washington, Darwin Thompson, and former LSU teammate Darrell Williams are all in the building, and any of them could conceivably eat into Edwards-Helaire’s opportunity share. Washington in particular produced as an RB1 for a couple of games last year for the Raiders when Josh Jacobs was unavailable, and boasts better long speed and a proven track record of pass-blocking success at the NFL level. The small, slow featured back is becoming an increasingly endangered species in the NFL, and it’s not as if CEH is without competition as it stands – even barring a veteran free agent signing.
Even if a 60% opportunity share is assumed, that would only put CEH among the ranks of Aaron Jones, Kerryon Johnson, Carlos Hyde, and David Montgomery last year. For reference, Damien Williams had a 52.1% opportunity share last season. To draft CEH as a top-5 running back is to expect him to put up a historically efficient, 2019 Aaron Jones-like season, in which he scores nearly 8 touchdowns over expected compared to historical TD rates. While possible, to me it makes better sense to bet on more proven talent like Joe Mixon, Derrick Henry, or even Miles Sanders with such a premium pick in what is likely to be a turbulent fantasy season.
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)