When the Kansas City Chiefs selected running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the No. 32 overall pick in 2020, it was thought to be a perfect match. As a dual-threat back out of LSU with more than 1,400 rushing yards and 450 receiving yards his final year, Edwards-Helaire could make head coach Andy Reid’s offense “positionless.”
Reid and general manager Brett Veach compared him to Brian Westbrook — and on night one in Kansas City, the hype train began. NFL Network’s (Arrowhead Pride advocate) Peter Schrager suggested to fans they ought to make him their first overall fantasy pick as a rookie.
But then 2020 became what it became — the pandemic struck, the offseason was entirely virtual and there were no preseason games. Edwards-Helaire reflected on his first year during a Zoom media availability on Wednesday.
“I would just say it feels like two different seasons,” described Edwards-Helaire, as he compared 2020 to 2021. “I was coming in really not knowing anything last year, so everybody was kind of having this perspective of, ‘This is what it should be’ or, ‘This is how it feels’ or they were asking players who were in the league before, but that was my first thing. I had my entire OTA season pretty much off just to work out and then we came in for our camp and then I want to say, like two weeks in, I was named the starter. So, as far as how much we were doing, Zooms and everything, it wasn’t like I was behind on the actual plays. I got drilled because everybody was telling me coach Reid’s playbook was outrageous, and I mean, I went out there, and I performed. That’s why I got drafted where I did, and as far as my football IQ, he put me in a position because he knew that I would go out there and perform.”
Ready for Week 1
To Edwards-Helaire’s and the Chiefs’ credit, he managed to be ready to start Week 1 — and he had a great season from a production standpoint, rushing for 803 yards and four touchdowns while catching 36 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown by year’s end.
When a rookie rips off 1,100 scrimmage yards in 13 pro games, there is undoubtedly some nitpicking involved when identifying problems. That said, short-yardage attempts proved to be a struggle, and many felt the Chiefs needed to utilize him more in the passing game to justify selecting a running back in the first round.
The Chiefs targeted Edwards-Helaire five or more times in only five of his 13 games — and only five total times in the playoffs. Now there is a desire by the team to use him more in the passing game this season.
“I think Clyde is an extremely special player,” said Veach last month in an interview with Pro Football Talk. “I think if he stays healthy — with the addition of the linemen that we added this offseason — we certainly expect big things from Clyde and in particular, I think you’ll see him more in the passing game and just, being able to utilize him in all different ways.”
Edwards-Helaire noted that he was completely healthy when he met virtually with the media on Wednesday. He managed to recover enough from the devastating ankle-and-hip injury he suffered last year against the New Orleans Saints in time for the AFC title and Super Bowl, but Wednesday he specified he was 100%.
“Understanding of exactly what we’re doing”
100% means he has been able to take all the reps throughout OTAs, where offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has been able to work with him in person.
“The thing is just making sure that he has a better understanding of exactly what we’re doing,” Bieniemy said of Edwards-Healire earlier this month. “When you come in as a rookie, obviously, everything is brand new — and every week is a new playbook for you, in a sense. And so, he’s had an opportunity to get a season under his feet. Now, obviously, he’s had an opportunity to get out here and listen, be a part of the meetings. And so, everything is starting to make more sense to him. And so, with him growing with the wisdom that he has obtained in our system, it’s going to help him to know exactly what we expect him to do when placed in those certain situations.”
Edwards-Helaire clarified that as getting better at reading defenses before the football being snapped — staying composed so he can identify fronts, recognize man or zone and understand where a linebacker or safety may go as they pursue him.
“The better you can be at that, the better player you become, the more you understand your role and the more you understand what the next guy’s going to do,” he said. “From a pass protection stand point and-or run, we make calls before we run the ball that may switch up a blocking scheme. We also make calls before throwing the ball, which are sometimes implemented in the pass game and-or I’m blocking, so just knowing what’s being called, what’s being switched up — it’s those big things you need to learn.”
Measures this offseason
Edwards-Helaire explained that to improve upon the physical aspect of the passing game — actually catching the football — he worked different catch angles by using a JUGS machine this offseason. It is also worth noting that Greg Lewis, the Chiefs’ receivers coach from 2017-20, is now the running backs coach after Deland McCullough’s offseason departure.
“[Coach Lewis] brings in that receiving coaching aspect as far as the routes that we are implementing and putting in,” started Edwards-Helaire of the change, “just those little things that you don’t get taught from a running backs coach, but you get it from a receivers coach. Then also, it’s not like he hasn’t been in the league eight years and seen some good backs and then also coached some great receivers, so he’s kind of seen it all. Then, with the help of EB also being around and being in the room, you still can get help from a running back standpoint, so everything is meshing and working well, so I’m loving it. And also, G-Lew is—who doesn’t love G-Lew?”
“G-Lew” teaching Edwards-Helaire everything he knows will be critical for the Chiefs this year, as they look to perhaps utilize the spread offense even more in 2021.
“Everything is based off the things that we install,” said Edwards-Helaire. “Talking to coach Reid and also Pat (Mahomes), there are things we’re implementing to get the ball to the back and just get the ball spread out more. So, that was one of the things on why I chose to work on my hands and just be more of a threat. It was seen that I can run the ball between the tackles, outside. That was kind of seen, so just being able to also get out, and not just routes out of the backfield but also spread out in the slot position and also the outside wideout position. So, just being able to expand my skill set was my thing.”
Perhaps billed a year too soon as the NFL’s next elite weapon, Edwards-Helaire seems intent on making that a reality in 2021.