Clyde Edwards-Helaire Has the Fantasy Football Upside We Crave
There will be no bigger X-factor in 2020 fantasy leagues than Clyde Edwards-Helaire (pronounced, as you'll come to learn, with a silent h). While hype existed for the former Bayou Bengal ahead of the draft, there were many detractors as well (yours truly among them.) Upon being drafted at the tail end of the first round to the Kansas City Chiefs, the hype grew louder while the noise level of the naysayers faded to a whisper.
With CEH landing where he did and when he did, the questions around Edwards-Helaire have shifted. The situation is good enough for anyone to succeed, and the draft capital means Kansas City will be inclined to make sure he does succeed even if it means force feeding him.
Is CEH going too high? Will incumbent Damien Williams remain a factor? Can the rookie be a three-down back? These are the new questions.
Whatever my pre-draft feelings on Edwards-Helaire, my feelings about first-round running backs drafted onto elite offenses are stronger. Edwards-Helaire is currently going 22nd overall as RB14, according to Bestball10's June ADP. It's a lofty ADP to be sure, but it's one he will likely live up to all the same.
Let's break it down.
What About Damien Williams?
In two seasons with the Chiefs, Williams has been neither exceptional nor exceptionally bad. In 2018, Williams finished with 0.06 Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry, and he followed that with a worse clip of -0.04 in 2019. For context, the league averages those two years were 0.00 (2018) and -0.01 (2019).
Receiving told a similar story, with Williams posting 0.42 Reception NEP per target in 2018 and 0.21 Reception NEP per target in 2019. The league average in 2018 was 0.34, while it was 0.33 a year ago.
All in all, Williams was good, not great.
Also, keep in mind that Williams is entering his age-28 season, and it's easy to see why KC wanted to address the position.
Whatever the truth about Williams talent or lack thereof, perception is reality at the running back position. The Chiefs tipped their hand by drafting Edwards-Helaire, especially in the first round. They believe they needed more from the position than what Williams was giving them.
A Feature Back?
We project Edwards-Helaire for 183 carries and 65 targets, against 142 carries and 30 targets for Williams. Williams isn't going away.
While it's true that 5'7" running backs don't often become three-down backs, Edwards-Helaire is already a rarity just by being drafted in the first round at his stature. Going back to at least 1990, no other running back 5'8" or shorter was drafted in the first round. No one doubts Edwards-Helaire's receiving ability, and know-er of a thing or two about running backs, Graham Barfield rates him as the second-best receiving back he's ever scouted, according to his yards created metric. Barfield also thinks highly of Edwards-Helaire as a runner.
Personally, I'll always be skeptical of small, slower running backs, but Edwards-Helaire does have high-profile supporters. There's also the fact that despite being small and slow, Edwards-Helaire does have a 32.4 body mass index (89th percentile, according to PlayerProfiler), and that puts a Maurice Jones-Drew or Brian Westbrook type of outcome in play.
The Next Alvin Kamara?
Edwards-Helaire doesn't necessarily need to be a feature back to be a fantasy stud.
In 2017, Alvin Kamara finished as the standard-league RB4 despite just 120 carries. A lot of what enabled this is the fact that Kamara was targeted 100 times. Edwards-Helaire has the talent to get there eventually, but we don't currently project that (65 looks), and the presence of Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman, and others will make reaching such a number fundamentally harder (basically a long way of saying "too many mouths to feed," but miss me with that cliche.) But while we shouldn't project it, we shouldn't dismiss the possibility that Edwards-Helaire emerges as the number three option on the target totem pole behind Hill and Kelce.
In general, we shouldn't project the next Kamara, as Kamara was simply too much of an outlier. Part of what made him an outlier, though, was the offense he played in. Edwards-Helaire is in arguably an even better offense, which could allow him to overachieve even a somewhat inflated touchdown total.
Never Underestimate Upside
Our overall projection for CEH is 786 rushing yards, 49 receptions, 382 receiving yards and 8.8 total touchdowns. That doesn't mean that's his ceiling, however, and I think we're selling the rookie a bit short overall.
While unlikely, Edwards-Helaire's range of outcomes include being as high as the RB1, and that's always worth baking into consideration when drafting. Also worth considering are the various paths to success that Edwards-Helaire can take.
Accounting for both of those factors, Edwards-Helaire is worth the risk at his current cost of RB14, especially in PPR or half-PPR formats. You play fantasy football to win at fantasy football, and CEH is the type of player who can be a league-winning pick in 2020.
As such, there's no such thing as overdrafting Kansas City's newest addition.