In a Tuesday article detailing the winners and losers of the 2020 NFL offseason, ESPN analyst Bill Barnwell concentrated mostly on this offseason’s volatile free-agent quarterback market. But among the winners of the offseason, he highlighted just one player selected in the 2020 NFL draft: LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs with the last pick of the first round.
Winner: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Did any first-round pick end up in a more advantageous landing spot? Andy Reid told general manager Brett Veach that he thought Edwards-Helaire was better than Brian Westbrook before the Chiefs drafted the LSU back with the final pick of the first round. The only running back Reid had drafted before the third round across his career as a head coach and personnel executive before Edwards-Helaire was LeSean McCoy, who was the 53rd pick in the 2009 draft.
While the Chiefs have suggested that Edwards-Helaire will split time with incumbent Damien Williams, the future belongs to the rookie. Williams is a free agent after the season and wasn’t healthy for most of 2019 with hamstring issues. The Chiefs also said the same thing about Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware in 2017, and when Ware went down with a knee injury in the preseason, Hunt was handed the job and finished his rookie year with 1,782 yards from scrimmage. Edwards-Helaire should turn into one of the most productive backs in football; the only real question is when.
It’s interesting that Barnwell chose to highlight even one drafted rookie as a winner on his list, because he also said that in the specific circumstances of the 2020 season, all rookies will have a tough row to hoe.
Losers: Rookie coaches (and players)
It should go without saying that this is incredibly low on the list of upheavals caused by the pandemic, but while the NFL has managed to keep free agency and the draft on schedule, there’s no realistic way for football teams to practice. With team facilities closed, organized team activities (OTAs) have been postponed and will likely be canceled. Rookie minicamps are being conducted remotely. It’s unclear whether teams will be able to undergo a full training camp.
As a result, newcomers seem likely to suffer. Some rookie players already have a difficult time catching up with the speed of the league and the complexity of professional playbooks; now they’ll have to try to catch up on the finer points over Zoom. Likewise, rookie coaches who are attempting to install a new scheme and work with new players already were going to have their practice time reduced over the summer by the new CBA. They’re almost surely going to miss out on any pre-training-camp practice time.
While the Chiefs have denied that they decided to take their run-it-back approach specifically because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s likely they stand to substantially benefit from that decision. With the 20 of 22 starters (and the entire coaching staff) returning from their 2019 Super Bowl championship squad, no team will be better positioned to succeed in 2020 — especially in the early part of the season.