We learned on Wednesday that Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams — a candidate for Super Bowl LIV — elected to opt out of the 2020 season.
Williams’ absence this season has cleared the way for rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire to handle the lion’s share of the snaps. As a first-year player, some may not believe him to be ready, but Edwards-Helaire showed that he’s not only capable but a dynamic offensive weapon during his final season at LSU.
First play on offense for LSU against Alabama. CEH prevents a TFL in the shadow of the end zone with a spin move. Vision, anticipation and lateral agility at the second level. He's one step ahead in open space. pic.twitter.com/Wu7VXl2ZCb— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) April 27, 2020
As shown above, Edwards-Helaire has so many translatable talents as a runner and will be running a lot of blocking schemes similar to what he did with the Tigers. He’s got rare vision anticipation and lateral agility to go with great contact balance and minimal surface area to make solid contact.
Did this safety send Clyde Edwards-Helaire a Father's Day card today after he son'd him? pic.twitter.com/0va0PbyGBD— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 22, 2020
There is plenty to like about Edwards-Helaire as a runner, but what separates him from Williams and any other running back on the roster is his special ability as a pass-catcher. As you know — the passing game is critical to a Patrick Mahomes-led offense — and Edwards-Helaire’s traits in that regard are NFL ready.
You’re not getting a standard route tree with Edwards-Helaire.
Andy Reid can be more sophisticated with the running back in the passing game with Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the mix. He'll never have to leave the field because he can do it all - which means Andy Reid can dial up more creative concepts and with higher frequency. pic.twitter.com/cuJFgMcO2J— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 22, 2020
It’s not simply that he can be asked to do what Andy Reid has historically required of his running backs in the passing game — it’s that he can do more.
Here, Reid asked veteran running back LeSean McCoy to run a corner route out of the backfield. Edwards-Helaire has already shown the capability to execute that route as a player yet to play in the NFL. The LSU coaching staff did a phenomenal job preparing him for his opportunity. You don’t see college running backs doing much beyond swing routes and screens; routes like this one are uncommon.
Edwards-Helaire has the burst, foot quickness and hip fluidity to execute this route. He is more than comfortable locating the football than almost any running back you’ll see at any level of football.
A trusted target
Mahomes had Darwin Thompson wide open on an angle after the late motion caused miscommunication.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 22, 2020
Mahomes will trust Clyde on angle routes not as open as this. Edwards-Helaire is one of the best at this in recent drafts. He'll be trusted to beat linebackers - and he'll win. pic.twitter.com/omf6VKtKg3
Trust is critical between quarterback and running back on every down. Communication is critical in pass protection and in the passing game. If a quarterback does not trust you and the communication, he’s not throwing you the football. That happened in the AFC championship game between Mahomes and Darwin Thompson, who was wide open on an angle route after the late motion caused confusion.
In 2020, if Edwards-Helaire is running an angle route, defenses can’t afford to let him get lost. He’s going to be a valuable asset in creating a more dynamic element to an already impossible offense to defend.
Edwards-Helaire is one of the best angle route runners in the last few drafts. It’s a deadly route out of the backfield, and the Chiefs now have a special ability to execute. Expect it to be called a lot more in 2020. When Edwards-Helaire is running them, expect Mahomes to actively look for and trust him.
It's going to be such a luxury for Patrick Mahomes to be able to work down to Clyde Edwards-Helaire on option routes out of the backfield.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) June 22, 2020
Another safety blanket that can do some heavy lifting for the MVP with yards after the catch on easy completions. pic.twitter.com/i3Sq5WWUnW
Another short-pass weapon for Mahomes is going to be a terrifying proposition for NFL defenses. Teams have to pay such close attention to defending the vertical threats the Chiefs present that Edwards-Helaire should have space and favorable matchups.
Expect to see option routes on linebackers and space to work as teams defend deep. The last thing you want to afford Edwards-Helaire is space — he’s creative, agile and shows great decision-making and anticipation. With so many other weapons on the field, it will be easy for Edwards-Helaire to be an afterthought — and that will be a critical mistake.
As you can see in the last clip, both Williams and Edwards-Helaire found success on option routes. You can see the special potential Edwards-Helaire has after the catch — he can add his own easy yards to the stat sheet of Mahomes.
The bottom line
We’ve seen three different 2019 Chiefs running backs run three different routes — Edwards-Helaire can execute them just as well or better. He’s capable of playing on any down and doing just about anything the Chiefs will ask of him.
He’s even showing the right mentality on the one thing he may need to improve.
With RB Damien Williams opting out, this quote just days ago from first round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire holds more weight:— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) July 29, 2020
"I’ve never looked down on pass pro. That’s literally half of my job.”
His role in the offense gets bigger.
If you’re a fantasy player, draft the rookie early and with confidence — he’s not going to disappoint. You can leave him on the field and not tip off anything you’re doing offensively. That’s an invaluable asset for Andy Reid. He’s not going to have to think as much about who is on the field on what down and distance.
The runway has been cleared for the legacy of Chiefs running backs to add another great player into the mix.