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Is Clyde Edwards-Helaire the Next Brian Westbrook?


Hyperbole and the NFL Draft go hand in hand. Every GM, coach, and teammate of an incoming first-round pick is going to proclaim how much they love their new guy, how they had him pegged for their team all along, and inevitably throw out some comps for emphasis. Hours after the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, we've already heard "Joe Burrow compares favorably to Tony Romo," "Henry Ruggs is the next Tyreek Hill," and "Jordan Love could be just like Patrick Mahomes."

Some of those comps will raise eyebrows, but the one that caught my attention came when Day One of the draft was almost over. Just when it appeared that not a single running back would go off the board, further proving that it is indeed a passing league now, the team with the franchise QB and the 10th-highest rate of passing plays in the league last year selected an RB. Surprisingly, it wasn't NFL Combine "winner" Jonathan Taylor, Georgia Bulldog D'Andre Swift, or Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins, who were thought to be the top three runners available. Instead, it was diminutive Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU.

Fantasy football owners everywhere have now thrust Edwards-Helaire up their draft boards and he is likely to be a first-round pick in many rookie drafts based on landing spot. Is he capable of living up to the expectations now set on him by being a first-round pick and those of his new coach?

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A Surprising Comp

It seems fitting that the reigning Super Bowl champs would take an LSU Tiger, a dominant team coming off a National Championship themselves. It also seems like an ideal fit for Edwards-Helaire in Andy Reid's offense. In fact, Chiefs GM Brett Veach went so far as to say that Andy Reid looks at him as a better version of the most productive running back he ever coached.

"I remember talking to [Andy Reid] reminding him how much [Clyde Edwards-Helaire] reminds me of Brian Westbrook. Coach called back and after a few conversations he admitted he thought he was better than Brian."  

That's high praise for sure, considering Westbrook finished his career with over 10,000 scrimmage yards, 71 touchdowns, and two Pro-Bowl appearances. He led the league in total yards in 2007 with 2,104 and had four seasons of double-digit touchdowns, making him a perennial fantasy asset. This includes the 2008 season, when he and backfield mate on my fantasy team, Brandon Jacobs, combined for 29 TD and led me to a championship that year. But back to Edwards-Helaire...

The comparison is definitely favorable by both real-life and fantasy measures. The fit would seem to be perfect, considering the Chiefs targeted running backs 110 times last year. While Christian McCaffrey might scoff at that number, it still places them within the top 10 in RB targets as a team. That puts their offense in the same category as those with some of the top receiving backs such as James White, Devonta Freeman, and Le'Veon Bell. Nobody is claiming that Edwards-Helaire will be the next Bell or even put together a year like Freeman had in 2015, but it is clear that there is great potential in this team context.

Let's see if he compares favorably to the player named by his new head coach or that of another player who has been brought up frequently in recent weeks, Maurice Jones-Drew. Here are the profiles and usage rates for these players, both in college and the NFL.

Player Ht. Wt. 40 time Draft Pick NCAA Rush/G NCAA Rec/G NFL  Rush/G NFL Rec/G
Clyde Edwards-Helaire 5'7" 209 4.60 1.32 12.89* 2.3* ? ?
Brian Westbrook 5'10" 203 4.57 3.91 11.4 3.7 11.4 3.7
Maurice Jones-Drew 5'7" 210 4.39 2.60 13.3 1.7 14.7 2.7

*One caveat here. Edwards-Helaire technically played 10 games as a freshman, but he only touched the ball 12 times all season. He was stuck behind current pros Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams, so it's understandable. As a result, I've chosen to display his rushing and receiving per-game stats for the last two seasons only.

First off, it's interesting to note that Edwards-Helaire was timed the slowest of these three and had the least production over his college career, but he was drafted the highest as the only first-rounder. There are two main reasons for this.

1) He played a pivotal role on a prolific offense for a championship team in LSU, while Westbrook played at Villanova. Jones-Drew was at UCLA, which went 10-2 his final year but wasn't a proven factory for pro running backs. Although Karim Abdul-Jabbar did have his moments.

2) The emphasis on pass-catching backs in the NFL is reaching its apex. Teams are no longer interested in one-dimensional runners who are incapable of being used on pass plays. Not many evaluators would claim that Edwards-Helaire is a better pure runner than Swift or Taylor, but he is more versatile and fits the modern NFL offense better.

The reason Edwards-Helaire has drawn comparisons to MJD are size-related, for obvious reasons. He has a bowling ball frame that makes him a tough interior runner, despite being somewhat height-challenged for the pros. Just ask Nick Saban and Alabama, who watch CEH take it to the end zone four times.

Looking at his usage in college, it makes sense that a team like KC would be interested in him. They are a pass-first offense and that won't change regardless of who is in the backfield. Andy Reid now has a more dynamic version of Damien Williams to play the same role. Does that mean that he can truly be the next Brian Westbrook?

 

2020 Outlook

At first glance, it may appear that he wasn't used all that much as a receiver at LSU. If you focus just on 2019 stats, however, Edwards-Helaire averaged 3.6 receptions per game, which brings him right up there with Westbrook. He caught 55 balls despite the fact that record-setting Heisman winner was so effective throwing the ball down the field and didn't need to dump the ball off out of desperation. Some argued that CEH benefited from being part of such a productive unit with elite talent around him, but seeing as how he ended up in Kansas City, it's pretty much the same situation.

The key for 2020 is how many snaps Edwards-Helaire will see right away. Damien Williams is in the last season of his two-year deal and figures to stay on as either a co-committee back or the backup to Edwards-Helaire. It could be a 50-50 split initially, but one would imagine that the Chiefs didn't spend a first-round pick on a player they plan to keep as a backup.

Williams only played in 11 contests in 2019 but managed an RB34 fantasy finish. Most of his damage has come in the NFL postseason, when fantasy seasons are over. As a team, the Chiefs ran for 1,569 total yards, 23rd in the league. This isn't a team that will feature any running back, so a 1,000-yard rushing season seems out of reach for Edwards-Helaire even if he receives the vast majority of carries.

In the best-case scenario where he usurps the receiving totals from all three of KC's main backs last year, that would come out to approximately 550 yards in the air. An argument could be made that he will be featured as a receiver more so than those players, but a realistic projection if he were to see upwards of 60% of the touches in the backfield is 850 rushing yards, 60 receptions, and 480 receiving yards.

Of course, the biggest boost in his value comes from touchdown potential. It's difficult to project scores, but it's safe to say his ceiling in the TD department will be higher than any running back taken by the Dolphins or Lions. All told, Edwards-Helaire could make a low-end RB2 or solid RB3 in redraft leagues, but shouldn't be projected as a fantasy stud due to limitations at that position within the offense.

 

Dynasty Value

No doubt, CEH will see a dramatic boost in dynasty ADP. He wasn't projected as a first-round pick in rookie drafts before Round One of the NFL Draft, but now he is almost sure to be a top-10 selection. It isn't just his choice landing spot that assures this, but the fact that no other RB was valued enough by a team to warrant a first-round selection should cause their stock to drop.

Whether Edwards-Helaire will be a better long-term investment than the other remains to be seen, but given the importance of pass-catching for a running back these days, he could definitely have the safest floor of them all. A player like Jonathan Taylor has put up big numbers in a traditionally run-heavy offense behind big linemen at Wisconsin but wasn't used often as a receiver and that seems to have hurt his draft stock.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, despite his less-impressive resume and combine numbers (and Mr. Potato Head resemblance, apparently), did show great burst and has the lower-body strength to grind out tough yards in addition to his work as a receiver.

Personally, I would warn against overbuying in dynasty for a player whose ceiling isn't as high as others at his position. Given the stature of this wide receiver class, I wouldn't put him over any of the WRs taken in round one for dynasty purposes.

As of right now, he sits on the precipice of the top-10 offensive rookies in fantasy for me. A choice landing spot for Swift, Taylor, or Dobbins could cause one to leapfrog him. All told, Edwards-Helaire will be the most hyped running back of the 2020 class as he joins the Chiefs and he should certainly draw strong interest in both redraft and dynasty, but it's too early to declare him the next Brian Westbrook.

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RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 21st, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 20th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 20th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 54: 2 Early Mocks APD Player Debates - Benched with Bubba (Episode 316)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They go over some of the positions and look at players with similar ADPs and debate. Going around the diamond discussing some players people are high on and some they are down on with a... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 18th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 18th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 17th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 17th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


2021 Early Mock ADP Values & Reaches: WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut prepare for the 2021 fantasy baseball season with a look at early mock draft results from the RotoBaller Expert mock. Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well! Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller... Read More


Statcast Season Review: 2020 Barrel Leaders (Hitters)

The 2020 MLB season will always be one for the record books, even if everything that took place will have multiple asterisks attached to it. Evaluating Statcast numbers is a nice way to find hot and cold hitters, as well as underachievers and overachievers. Now that the regular season is over, let's reflect on the... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 16th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 16th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 15th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 15th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Daily MLB Injury Roundup for October 14th, 2020

RotoBaller has assembled a list of daily MLB injury updates to help you prepare both your seasonal and daily fantasy baseball (DFS) lineups, every day of the MLB season. Below is our updated list of injured MLB players for October 14th, 2020. Only players on teams that are scheduled to play today will appear below... Read More


Bubba and Bat Flip 53: 2 Early Mocks APD Trends & More - Benched with Bubba (Episode 315)

Bubba (@bdentrek) is joined by Bat Flip Crazy (@BatFlipCrazy) to take a deeper look at the 2 Early Mocks ADP. They dig into trends, some interesting risers/fallers, and much more. They also go over some listener questions at the end to keep the Fantasy Baseball information coming even in the offseason. Be sure to subscribe... Read More