There’s no question that Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a talented player. It was obvious before he was selected in the first round last year, and his abilities were shown off in spurts during his rookie season. He may not have lived up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him, but there were plenty of reasons outside of his control for the “letdown.”
Leading into this year, the expectations aren’t as sky-high as in 2020, but they should be. One thing that could have derailed his sophomore season was the ankle injury he suffered in the second preseason game, but he cleared the air on that during his Wednesday press conference.
“I feel 100% healthy, and right now I’m ready to go,” Edwards-Helaire confidently shared with reporters. He also added that he could have played in the last preseason game if it was a real game.
There’s more to an incoming breakout season than just his individual talent as a ball-carrier. In fact, Edwards-Helaire noted three things on Wednesday that should factor into a big season for him:
1. Offensive continuity
The simple fact that Edwards-Helaire had a full, uninterrupted offseason shouldn’t be taken for granted — and it hasn’t been by him.
“It’s my first time being able to have the first offense since my junior year of high school,” Edwards-Helaire revealed. “Every year at LSU was a different offense going into the next season — so this is the first time I’ve actually had the same offense going into the offseason. I feel pretty prepared.”
That constant turnover can’t be easy to deal with as a player. The chance to build on his knowledge of an offense rather than start from scratch can only help — but especially with a complex system like we know Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s to be.
2. Relationship with the new offensive line
Edwards-Helaire ran behind an ever-changing unit last season, and that started as early as the summer when starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out of the 2020 season. Injuries affected the line early and often during the season, and there was no chance for him to get a great feel for the men blocking for him.
This year, he’s seen the same five players in front of him for every preseason snap he’s taken so far. Four of the players have been starters since the first training camp practice. That unit started strong when they opened a hole for him to gain 10 yards on the first play of the preseason.
“That’s one of those things that make you happy and make you smile,” Edwards-Helaire recalled. “That was literally the first run of the game. It’s one of those things that you get excited about, you know the things that we can do... Kicking off the game like that is one of those things we always talked about, and that’s how relationships start.”
They may start there, but there’s more nuance to the communication between the linemen and the back.
“‘How do you like running the ball?’,” Edwards-Helaire said, as an example of what is talked about between the two parties. “Having those conversations with the offensive line — and individually, just understanding certain guys might go full-speed, head-down at a guy and blow them out, or they might read leverage and then try to block a person. It’s all an understanding, 11 pieces on the field trying to work as one unit.”
That constant back-and-forth with the linemen is significant, and it’s easier when it’s the same five players. From the running back’s perspective, the relationship is strong right now.
“Those are my dogs,” Edwards-Helaire declared. “It’s about getting as close as I can to them. Everything becomes mutual at that point, everyone understands the things we’re trying to get done.”
3. Pass protection
In 2020, the team relied on backup running back Darrel Williams a lot on third-down plays. Even with Edwards-Helaire’s ability as a receiver, the team leaned on Williams for obvious passing downs to be stout in pass protection and know where to be depending on the pressure scheme that was called by the defense.
If the team wants to use Edwards-Helaire more as a receiver in those situations, he also has to be trusted to stay in and block at times. It’s an important detail of any running back’s game, and it sounds like improvements have been made.
“Everything was about trending in the right direction, and nobody is going to be 100% perfect at everything,” Edwards-Helaire prefaced. “I’m confident, (offensive coordinator) [Eric Bieniemy is] confident, (quarterback) [Patrick Mahomes is] confident, and that’s really the biggest thing: having Pat standing next to me, and really knowing that as far as protection and understanding the scheme, he knows what’s going on and ultimately picking up the guy that needs to be picked up... I feel more than confident.”
His ability to stay on the field for all three downs will naturally lead to more opportunities in those moments.
The bottom line
Edwards-Helaire might have had unfair expectations put on him as a rookie. This season, there are reasons to believe he’ll be in a better position to break out as one of the league’s most exciting young backs.
The talent was always there. Now, these three factors will contribute to allowing him to flourish in 2021.