The Kansas City Chiefs selected a running back in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and despite being met with some criticism for that decision, the expectations are sky high for young Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
It’s not very often a player is selected with the very last pick in the first round has expectations so lofty that he has been predicted to lead the NFL in total yards or is selected first in fantasy football drafts. Edwards-Helaire is living in that world that almost no other player has dealt with so early in his career.
The question: is he up for the challenge?
This Thursday night — as the Chiefs face off against the Houston Texans and kick off the NFL season — we will begin to see the answer. The most exciting part? It should not come as any surprise if Edwards-Helaire is heavily involved in the offensive game plan and has a big game in opening action
The Clyde Edwards-Helaire coming out party
Why is Clyde Edwards-Helaire primed to have a highly productive game against the Houston Texans beyond Andy Reid’s ability to make most running backs look successful?
History tells us that Reid and the Chiefs are very good at incorporating and using new weapons in their first live action. On top of that, the Texans have been eaten up by Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce numerous times over the last few years and will likely send most of the defensive attention in their direction.
It’s a perfect storm of a tendency by the Chiefs and opportunity afforded by the opponent.
Reid and new weapons
Everyone remembers Kareem Hunt — the last running back with Edwards-Helaire’s talent level under Reid — and his first NFL game against the New England Patriots in 2017.
Hunt got 17 carries, five targets, had more than 200 yards and three touchdowns. All of that came after fumbling the football on his first career carry. The moral of the story is Reid had a new weapon that he wanted to feature and found ways to incorporate him into the game plan at a high level.
KC vs Hou; what offensive player is primed for a big game?— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 7, 2020
Clyde Edwards-Helaire would be my bet.
Last time Andy opened up a season w/ this talented of a new weapon at RB was 2017. Kareem Hunt vs NE, and Hunt's skill set was put on full display all night. pic.twitter.com/TqjDsnkxzB
Most remember the All Go Special - Halfback Seam from that game in which Hunt got loose up the seam as Hill replaced a running back’s usual role in strong-side flat. While the play design is exceptional, the execution is just as good, and the threat and prior use of Hill on jet motions helped play a part.
A significant take-home message is that this play was dialed up to weaponize Hunt on a vertical route against a safety. The Patriots are so concerned with Hill’s motion and Kelce crossing the field that it leaves Hunt in an advantageous position and he takes advantage.
Not only was Hunt given the majority of the rush attempts, he was utilized as a weapon to attack NE's secondary as a receiver.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 7, 2020
From the oft-talked about seam route above to this goalline rub route, Andy wasn't just fielding a top end talent but scheming ways to involved Hunt. pic.twitter.com/z6adVr7DKe
The Chiefs specifically set out to make Hunt a major part of the offense. One of the Chiefs’ favorite short-yardage plays is this double-rub route that allows the running back to slip out into the flat as a ton of traffic is created from the hitch routes underneath the corner route. The Chiefs trust Hunt to make the right read and finish the play, which he does.
It’s easy to incorporate a running back into the rushing game and force-feed them carries, especially if it’s working. The usage of Hunt didn’t just stop with the 17 carries. The Chiefs made it their goal to call up high-stake passing plays designed for Hunt.
Patrick Mahomes, Mecole Hardman enter the picture
In 2018, Patrick Mahomes took the field for his second start but his first season as the starting quarterback. The Chiefs’ game plan on that particular day was quite different than what they had been doing even the year prior with Alex Smith.
More RPOs, more vertical passes and attacking intermediate holes in a zone defense led to Mahomes going for 256 yards and four touchdowns. Maybe using the most talented quarterback of all time as a comparison point in his first true start for the Chiefs isn’t fair, so let’s also discuss another position.
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman played a ton of offensive snaps in the Chiefs’ first game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2019 season but saw only one target. The injury to Hill pushed him onto the field before the Chiefs were ready to feature him. The following week, however, with Hardman as a prepared starter, he tied his career-high with six targets, had 61 yards and a touchdown.
It's not just Hunt either, Week 1 in 2018 was the Pat Mahomes show w/ a heavy dose of RPOs and intermediate throws.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 7, 2020
Week 2 in 2019 - first game with Hardman as a known starter - he tied his season high in targets. This shot play has essentially one option and it's Hardman. pic.twitter.com/8rf3NWckzM
While it was his second game seeing significant snaps, it was evident the Chiefs altered their game plan to incorporate Hardman once they knew he was going to be on the field. His targets aren’t coming in the flow of the offense or as an outlet for Mahomes, but rather from plays designed for him.
This shot play is designed with essentially two reads and everyone else occupying zone space. The first read is Hardman on the post route.
Rub routes on a speed out, working out of the backfield, and even netting the call on a scissors concept that left the corner wide open (not sure the adjustment on the route to not go w/ the corner).— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 7, 2020
Andy likes to take his new weapons and deploy them as soon as he can. pic.twitter.com/eqd0hFrh2O
It wasn’t just a single, deep play that the Chiefs tried to get Hardman involved in, either.
Using a scissors concept, the Chiefs had Hardman on what appears to have been a corner route. They used him as the speed-out player running underneath other receivers in an attempt to get the ball in his hands in space. Earlier in the game, the Chiefs used him in motion out of the backfield to see if they could get him in space, but the Raiders covered it well.
Very similar to Hunt, the Chiefs were dialing plays designed specifically for Hardman rather than just allowing him to work into the offense. The point here is that Reid loves to show off his new toys.
The Houston Texans have seen what Hill and Kelce can both do firsthand, and they will sell out to spot them.
As the half went on, the Texans adjusted their D to use the extra defender to double Kelce— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) January 14, 2020
- Two players cross with Kelce
- Splits the hi-lo and crosses clean
Running Man Free w/ the Hill bracket as much as Hou was, that extra def walling a TE left Mahomes unaccounted for pic.twitter.com/l0dXWQ6Uuq
The Texans spent the entire Divisional round game bracketing Hill, and then as Kelce was having a monster game, they adapted to bracketing him as well. Mahomes was able to take advantage of that with his legs as four defenders were trying to account for two receiving options.
The Texans will be in the same dilemma Thursday, but now the Chiefs add a unique and exceptional receiving option in Edwards-Helaire.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire runs the best H-Post (Texas, Angle, whatever you prefer to call it) coming out of college recently. Andy Reid will be calling more of these for his rookie running back than he did last year. Oh hey, another play showing contact balance and lateral agility. pic.twitter.com/BuF5x9UNRC— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) April 28, 2020
The bottom line
There is little doubt that the Chiefs’ offense will start rolling at some point in this upcoming game against the Texans.
The hard part is trying to narrow it down to how they are going to look impressive and what they are going to do. You can take it to the bank that Reid will have new looks and plays designed for this season, and there is strong historical evidence supporting the heavy usage of his new toy on offense.
Edwards-Helaire is in the rare position of having incredibly high expectations but also facing a defense that likely turns its attention elsewhere based upon recent matchups with the Chiefs.
From Hunt to Mahomes to Hardman, the Chiefs have always allowed young, new players to shine as early as possible in their careers as starters. This game screams, “coming-out party for Edwards-Helaire” from every level, and that’s without even having to dive into the mismatch with the Texans’ personnel.
Edwards-Helaire will have plays drawn up isolating him on Benardrick McKinney, Zach Cunningham and Brendan Scarlett and he should make the Texans pay for being forced into that situation.