We’re back with another installation of Fantasy Football League Winners, and this time we’re doing some things differently. Instead of focusing on multiple players, we’re going to hone in on just one. Furthermore, that player doesn’t fit our traditional definition of a “league winner” — a player whose value far outweighs his average draft position. This player is quite the opposite: instead of being overlooked, he’s entering the season with incredible fantasy hype and has vaulted up draft boards. However, he still possesses incredible potential that, if realized, can lead you to a fantasy championship.
This player led the SEC in rushing touchdowns last season and propelled his team to a national title. He was selected as the No. 32 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He was the apple of the reigning Super Bowl MVP’s eye, and will line up alongside him this season.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s talk about Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire — the bell of the fantasy draft ball.
Every season it seems like there’s a rookie running back who emerges as a premier fantasy player. Sometimes it’s clear from the get go (see: Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliot), and other times it’s a midseason breakout (see: Kareem Hunt or David Johnson). But due to the large volume of contact running backs absorb, plus the league’s general tendency to de-prioritize investing money in the position, young players often have plenty of opportunity to make a name for themselves. Usually it takes something like an injury or several weeks of splitting carries before a rookie can take command of a backfield, but that won’t be the case for Edwards-Helaire.
As ESPN’s Matthew Berry puts it, fantasy football is a mix of talent and opportunity. Check the tape, CEH has plenty of talent, and thanks to a multitude of things, his opportunities will be limitless in Kansas City this season. He’s currently average draft position (ADP) is 12, and I believe he will undoubtedly live up to that potential, if not exceed it. Here’s why:
1. He’s the only chef in the kitchen
If Mahomes hadn’t been awarded the Super Bowl MVP last season, running back Damien Williams was undoubtedly next in line. He put the Chiefs in the lead with a fourth quarter touchdown reception, then drove the nail in the coffin on a 38 yard touchdown rush a few moments later, capping off an impressive second year in Kansas City.
After only five postseason games with KC, he leads the Chiefs in all-time playoff touchdowns. He was poised to enter the 2020 season as the feature back alongside Mahomes — the first time in his career he’d have such an opportunity. However, thanks to the ongoing pandemic, Williams opted out of the season. Suddenly, Edwards-Helaire, who was seemingly entering the season in a backfield by committee situation, finds himself the unquestioned starter.
He will see tons of snaps. There’s some depth behind him, but none of whom have the pedigree nor potential as Edwards-Helaire. DeAndre Washington signed with the team in free agency and figures to catch some passes out of the backfield, Darrel Williams returns after only 41 carries last season, and Darwin Thompson will be fighting for a roster spot in his second season.
It’s Edwards-Helaire or nothing in the KC backfield, and lots of opportunity isn’t the only thing he has going for him.
2. The $503 million QB wanted him
After selecting Edwards-Helaire in the first round, Chiefs GM Brett Veach revealed that he had asked Patrick Mahomes, who recently became the richest QB to ever play the game, for a list of guys he would like the team to target. The first name Mahomes gave him? Clyde Edwards-Helaire. That’s a simple enough equation for success, right?
If the league’s biggest star wants to play with you, he surely plans on getting you the ball consistently.
3. Andy Reid is a RB guru
Head coach Andy Reid has coached a lot of great running backs in his day: Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt. Since 2004, twelve of Reid’s running backs have finished top-eight among running backs in fantasy points per game. That’s just an unprecedented track record.
And here’s the thing: none of those backs were drafted as highly as Edwards-Helaire. Previously, the most draft capital Reid had invested in a running back was the 53rd pick of the 2009 Draft, which he spent on LeSean McCoy. If this nonverbal action wasn’t enough to show his belief in the rookie, Reid then came out and said he thought CEH’s tape was more impressive than Brian Westbrook’s. Historically speaking, if you’re a running back that Reid’s invested in, chances are you’ve performed very well in fantasy football. And if he’s already compared you favorably to someone he once called the smartest football player he ever coached, he will undoubtedly invest everything he can in you. Edwards-Helaire seems poised to be the next branch of the impressive Andy Reid running back tree.
4. He fits Kansas City’s offensive attack
Since Mahomes has been the Chiefs’ QB, he’s averaged 1.7 TD passes per game to running backs. That’s huge, especially for the fantasy value of Edwards-Helaire, who comes to KC a proven receiving threat. Last year at LSU, he had 55 receptions for 453 yards and was widely heralded as the top receiving back in the 2020 Draft.
In 2019, Chiefs running backs had 5.6 receptions on 6.6 targets per game. Since we expect Edwards-Helaire to get the majority of snaps for KC this season, we can expect the majority of those targets to go his way. And knowing that Mahomes loves to target his backs in the red zone bodes very well for CEH’s ability to score through the air, which is what will set him apart as a fantasy stud this year, especially in PPR leagues.
5. He’s already improving in pass protection
One of the most important parts of being an NFL running back is pass protection. Backs have got to be able to step in on a third down and pick up a blitz. This is typically an area rookies struggle with and need time to learn, which is cause for concern when it comes to Edwards-Helaire, who wasn’t much of a pass protector at LSU.
However, word out of Chiefs camp is that he’s making strides in his pass-pro. If CEH is going to be the fantasy superstar I expect, it’s imperative he picks this trait up. He’ll see so many more snaps if he can be counted on to stay in the game and throw a block or two. Hearing that this is what he’s working on in camp is promising, because it means KC is committed to doing what it takes to keep him on the field most.
You’ll most likely have to invest a first round pick to land Edwards-Helaire, but the return could be massive. Drafting rookies is always a bit of a risk, but when you factor in all the things CEH has going for him, he might be the safest rookie running back to draft in fantasy since Ezekiel Elliot. He checks the boxes for talent and opportunity, and he’s on one of the best offenses in the league. If CEH becomes the next great Andy Reid running back, he’s going to be a league winner. Don’t let his rookie status deter you from selecting him on draft night.