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Film review: Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire

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Let’s dive into the Chiefs’ 2020 draft class, starting with their first-round pick at No. 32 overall.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Louisiana State Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Clyde Edwards-Helaire was tailor-made to play in Andy Reid’s offense.

The conversation about taking a running back in the first round (I’m still struggling with it) has taken away from the reality that the LSU product is an absolute perfect fit to play in the backfield with Patrick Mahomes. Edwards-Helaire was one of my 10 “My Guys” in the KC Draft Guide. He’s one of my favorite players in the class. We’ve been saying for months that if the Chiefs were to take a running back early, it needed to be Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs agreed — making him RB1 in the class.

Why is he a perfect fit?

It starts with his dynamic ability in the passing game (and more on that in a minute). That doesn’t mean he’s a slouch when carrying the football.

This is the first offensive play for LSU against Alabama in the biggest regular-season game of their year. It embodies all the qualities Edwards-Helaire possesses as a ball carrier. He will flash a spin move from time to time with success and uses it here to bounce off a free defender. Edwards-Helaire quickly transitions from breaking out of the backfield to setting up top-40 pick Xavier McKinner for failure. He’s thinking one step ahead once he gets out in space, sticking his foot in the ground with a sharp cut inside as McKinney falls to the ground without making any contact. He’s a quick process in between the tackles and in space.

Edwards-Helaire saw the field cleanly and made good players miss in space. Special lateral agility paired with good vision is a dangerous combination.

Another example:

Edwards-Helaire presses the hole front side, but once linebacker Markail Benton (No. 36) flashes, he bounces and explodes to the backside A-gap. He has very good burst through holes and that’s littered throughout his tape. While he may not have great long speed, he’s sudden. The agility, burst and vision allow him to consistently set up and react to second-level defenders and that’s a valuable, translatable asset for him in the NFL.

Another trait you’ll enjoy watching in Kansas City is his contact balance. Edwards-Helaire doesn’t end up on the ground as he finishes this play — it takes two defensive backs pushing him out of bounds for the play to end.

Yes, Edwards-Helaire is good as a runner, but what should excite Chiefs fans about him is the fact that he’s one of the most complete pass-catching running backs in recent memory.

Edwards-Helaire is going to make a career running this route in the NFL. He already runs a very strong Texas route (H-Post, Angle, etc.).

This is a route Reid has utilized with backs — such as Kareem Hunt — in the past, but we didn’t see as much of it this year. I expect that to change. You’ll often see the Texas route paired with a drag route across the field. The Texas route follows behind it. The back widens to get a linebacker to widen with them before sticking his foot in the ground and crossing their face. Edwards-Helaire torched people this season with it, and he should continue that in the NFL. It’s an easy, middle-field concept that should have room to operate with the vertical threats the Chiefs offer. Edwards-Helaire can thrive in the space underneath.

As a simple outlet, plays have a chance to be more lucrative than with other backs on the roster — he’s tough out in the flat.

Edwards-Helaire is sudden out of his break to the flat, catches with his natural hands, plants his foot in the ground and cuts upfield as the linebacker overruns him. His ability to change direction and burst to get vertical is very impressive. He finishes the play for a first down.

Edwards-Helaire is a unique player that’s going to give a lot of linebackers fits in coverage while remaining a bear to bring down for secondary players. He’s a problem in many different ways. The Tigers trusted him enough to ask much of him in the passing game. He flexed out, made slight adjustments and now comes into the league with a much more advanced route tree than anyone in this class.

Edwards-Helaire was flexed out before motioning into the backfield on this play, but he runs plenty of routes on the boundary and in the slot. On this particular play, LSU runs him on a corner route out of the backfield. Jonathan Taylor would never!

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reid look to get Edwards-Helaire involved similarly in the red zone. He can be trusted to run the vertical route Hunt burst onto the scene with in Week 1 of 2017 against the New England Patriots. The opportunities he had at LSU are going to serve him well. He’s comfortable lining up anywhere on the field.

Nine of 10 targets for Edwards-Helaire are going to be 10 yards and in, but he can operate in a variety of ways in the short passing game. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a target down the field sprinkled in there from time to time — especially with Mahomes slinging it.

The bottom line

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Louisiana State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Edwards-Helaire is going to add a ton of value to the Chiefs passing game — especially with all the weapons he’ll have around him. Kansas City’s offense forces defenses to defend more blades of grass than any team in the NFL, so Edwards-Helaire will be operating against lighter boxes in the run game and vertically stretched defenses, allowing him to work underneath in the passing game.

Just because the Chiefs invested significantly in the running back position doesn’t mean they’re all of a sudden going to start running the ball more. Hunt never broke 30 carries in Kansas City. I do anticipate an RPO-heavy offense at the Chiefs dialed them up in 2018.

Reid can drop Edwards-Helaire in the offense and call anything he wants at any time. The rookie running back will never have to leave the field if Reid so chooses. That is a valuable asset for the play-caller — you’re never tipping your hand based on what back is in. That wasn’t the case last year.

The Chiefs can use Edwards-Helaire in short-yardage, in the passing game in and out of the backfield and in pass protection. He’s versatile, complete and can open up the playbook while limiting the tendencies of the offense.