Target Clyde Edwards-Helaire as a Post-Hype Sleeper in 2021

When the dust settled from 2020 fantasy football drafts, Clyde Edwards-Helaire sported an ADP (Average Draft Position) of 5.7. And no, I'm not talking about rookie drafts -- CEH was, on average, going in the top half of the first round in all drafts.

This season, the picture is a bit different for Edwards-Helaire. According to BestBall10s, the 22-year-old has an average draft slot of 26.1 since the conclusion of the NFL Draft, which, if my math is correct, is more than 20 picks lower than where he was coming off the board last year.

Let's take a look at what happened last season with Edwards-Helaire, and what we can look forward to in 2021.

The Rookie Season

The final pick in the first round by the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, Edwards-Helaire entered the league with massive expectations. He looked well on his way to matching those expectations in the season opener, as he racked up 125 yards on 25 totes and a tuddy.

Unfortunately, that burner right out of the gate ended up being CEH's second-best fantasy performance of the season, an output only undone by a two-touchdown outing in Week 11. In half-PPR (point per reception) leagues, the rookie ended up finishing as the RB22 -- not terrible, but not at all what his drafters signed up for.

As a rusher, Edward-Helaire's advanced metrics supported the mediocre finish. Among runners with at least 100 carries, he ranked 27th in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry and 24th in Rushing Success Rate (I.e., the percentage of carries that lead to positive NEP for a team’s offense).

The former LSU star did fare better as a receiver, ranking 13th among the 41 backs with at least 30 targets in Receptions NEP per Target and 3rd in Reception Success Rate.

The Le'Veon Bell Effect

While I glossed over Edward-Helaire's season as a whole, there are some nuances worth mentioning, namely, the signing of Le'Veon Bell.

In the six games prior to Bell's arrival, CEH garnered a 60% snap share or higher and 18 or more opportunities in each contest. In his seven efforts following the addition of the veteran back, the rookie reached a 60% snap share and 18 or more opportunities just once -- in a Week 14 win over the Miami Dolphins.

In fact, just citing random cut-offs doesn't do it justice. Here's the breakdown of CEH before Le'Veon and after Le'Veon:

Attempts Per Game17.810.6
Targets Per Game5.23.3
Opportunities Per Game23.013.9
Snap Share66.11%53.02%
FFPPG (Half-PPR)14.1410.44

First off, peep the 9.1 opportunity difference in the two splits. Yeah...that's notable. The sizable decreased in both snap share and production is also quite noteworthy.

In other words, if you drafted both CEH and Bell last season, there's a non-zero percent chance that you threw whatever item was closest to you at the TV on a number of different occasions. Not only did Bell have almost zero fantasy value of his own, but he also managed to topple the value of a consensus first-round pick. He was basically the Adam Gase of running backs.

Edwards-Helaire's 2021 Outlook

Let's get this out of the way -- Le'Veon Bell is no longer a member of the Chiefs. And considering that he said he'd rather retire than play for Andy Reid again, I'll make an educated guess and say that Bell won't be back (I know, I'm really putting myself out there).

As of now, CEH's primary competition for touches in the backfield is Jerick McKinnon, who missed the entirety of the 2018 and 2019 seasons and essentially signed on for a contract worth less than $1 Million. By numberFire's metrics, McKinnon had a worse Success Rate as both a rusher and as a pass-catcher than Edwards-Helaire in 2020, so we shouldn't expect him to do anything more than spell the second-year back.

Prior to the Bell signing, Edwards-Helaire was on a 16-game pace of 1,347 rushing yards, 56 receptions, 472 receiving yards, and 3 total scores -- that would have been enough for him to finish as the RB7 last season. Without Bell in the fold, perhaps the most unsustainable part of that line is the three touchdowns.

Some might point to the Chiefs letting go of tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz during the offseason as a knock on CEH's fantasy stock, but in reality, the line might have actually improved.

The Chiefs traded for Orlando Brown Jr. to replace Fisher. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown graded as a better run blocker last season than the former first overall pick. Kansas City also signed former New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney, who, per PFF, has been a top-10 player at his position in each of the last three seasons.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire 2021 Fantasy Football Projection

Over a 17-game season, numberFire's models project Edwards-Helaire to drop 1143.8 rushing yards, 57.8 receptions, 426.1 receiving yards, and 11.8 total touchdowns. Our algorithm has him placing as the RB15 with that projection, which is also right where his ADP happens to be.

For what it's worth, a line like that -- when adjusted for 16 games -- would have had CEH finish as the RB4 in half-PPR leagues last season.

Given the role he's likely to have in Andy Reid's explosive offense, I'd bet on CEH returning value more befit of last year's ADP (5.7) than this year's (26.1). After all, a runner in Reid's backfield finished as the RB8 or better in 12 of his 15 seasons prior to 2019. I expect Edwards-Helaire to join that company.