Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach Deland McCullough hinted that there would be an open competition at the position for the 2020 season on Thursday.
A room including last year’s starter and Super Bowl hero Damien Williams, second-year player Darwin Thompson, early 2019 contributor Darrel Williams and newcomer DeAndre Washington would have already made for the most intriguing battle on the team. Then general manager Brett Veach drafted running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the final pick in the first round of the NFL Draft.
“I like his short-area quickness, his ability to make guys miss in short spaces,” McCullough said of what Edwards-Helaire brings to the table. “I like the fact that he makes the first guy miss either by just making him miss or running through him. Probably the number one thing I like is his disposition, his demeanor, his football mind. He’s very smart.
“It’s been evident through what we’ve seen through the combine process and everything leading up to the draft. And he’s not disappointed at all during the process with all the virtual meetings he’s in.”
A day after McCullough spoke to the media, Edwards-Helaire explained that his general understanding of Andy Reid’s playbook is coming easy. But the specifics have been challenging.
To understand all the Chiefs will ask of him, he said he is relying on his football foundation, which began at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge and continued on at LSU.
Of his 1,419 scrimmage yards in 2019 at LSU in 2019, 782 came after first contact. The running back broke 70 tackles on 214 carries. On paper, Edwards-Helaire should be the most elusive running back Kansas City has had since releasing Kareem Hunt late in the 2018 season.
“It’s something that I was born with,” Edwards-Helaire said of that elusiveness. “And then, ever since, I feel like that was a gift I had is that you always try to find things to make yourself better or things to work, find a way to make it elite as some guys would say. I wanted to work on it, being quicker and faster than the next person is always the name of the game. It is what I make my game in, being quick and fast in small areas. It is the way I run the ball, it is the way I got to the Kansas City Chiefs.”
Veach and Andy Reid have compared Edwards-Helaire to Brian Westbrook, and Tyreek Hill likened him to Darren Sproles. Sproles, an Olathe North graduate and former Kansas State Wildcat, is somewhat of a mentor for the rookie.
“As soon as I was drafted, I got a text from him,” Edwards-Helaire said. “He was like, ‘My hometown — be ready.’”
Westbrook and Sproles each had highly-productive careers in the NFL, so already — even without playing a snap, the expectations for Edwards-Helaire are beginning to build.
And one would think that perhaps those expectations — combined with the talent in the room — would be a lot to manage for a 21-year-old. But coming from LSU — the reigning undefeated national champions and a program with a pedigree at his position — Edwards-Helaire feels prepared for what he is about to encounter in Kansas City.
“I’m in the same position I was in three years ago,” he explained. “Going into our college football room with Leonard Fournette, he had just left and then I was in the room with Derrius Guice, Darrel Williams, who is in my room now, Nick Brossette. I am going into a stacked room again and ultimately, I went in to learn. That is the biggest thing. If you can learn from guys who have experienced things that you are about to encounter, you can only benefit from it. I’m the young guy in the room, I’m 21 years old, and right now I’m learning. I’m a rookie, so I’m staying in my place and I’m doing what I need to do.”
That includes watching film in order to draw what he can from some of the game’s greatest players. Edwards-Helaire says he watches Kevin Faulk — the 13-year New England Patriot who won three Super Bowls before coaching him at LSU, Marshall Faulk and Barry Sanders, who many analysts consider the greatest running back of all time.
“I had a whole cassette of Barry Sanders tape. I was watching all these guys that I felt like were similar to the way that I feel like I was running at the time, and everything just kind of came into play.”