Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams has opted out of the 2020 NFL campaign, meaning that rookie halfback Clyde Edwards-Helaire will step right into the spotlight.
Let’s start by getting something straight: Edwards-Helaire was surely going to get a ton of playing time regardless of whether or not Williams took the field. Williams has never been a No. 1 back, and the Chiefs’ decision to use their first-round draft pick on Edwards-Helaire is an indication that they did not feel great about putting that much responsibility on Williams’ shoulders.
Edwards-Helaire is coming off of a monster junior campaign at LSU in which he racked up 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground while averaging a hefty 6.6 yards per carry. In addition, he hauled in 55 receptions for 453 yards and a score.
So, not only can Edwards-Helaire run the football, but he should also be able to provide Patrick Mahomes with a reliable option in the passing game. No, he doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he is a terrific all-purpose back who is shifty.
The Chiefs did not run the ball all that much in 2019, but it’s not like they had a ton of options in the backfield. It was basically Williams and the aging LeSean McCoy. Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson were relative afterthoughts.
As a matter of fact, not a single Kansas City running back tallied 500 rushing yards this past season, with Damien Williams topping out at 498 yards. Albeit, that was in 11 games, because he missed some time due to knee issues, but still, it doesn’t change the fact that the Chiefs did not lean on their ground game a whole lot.
Back in 2018, however, when Kareem Hunt was still around until getting released in November of that year, Andy Reid was a bit more likely to pound the football. Hunt played in 11 games before being cut that season, and during that time, he rattled off 824 yards and seven touchdowns. In addition, he caught 26 passes for 378 yards while reaching the end zone seven times.
That is a clear indication that Kansas City will certainly utilize the rushing attack if it has a capable running back, so Edwards-Helaire could have a rather significant role in 2020.
Obviously, we have yet to see Edwards-Helaire set foot on an NFL field, so we don’t really know how he will perform under the bright lights. But one thing is for sure: there won’t be a ton of pressure on him.
The Chiefs have a plethora of offensive weapons, starting with Mahomes and then ranging from Tyreek Hill to Travis Kelce all the way to Demarcus Robinson. That could (and should) actually open up Edwards-Helaire and make things easier for him, as defenses will surely be more inclined to focus on Hill, Kelce and the others rather than the rookie halfback.
We also need to keep this in mind: while Williams was far from a top-flight running back, he was a decent option as a receiver out of the backfield. He snared 30 balls for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns this past year, and in the playoffs, he logged 11 catches and a couple of scores in three games.
And I certainly don’t think Williams is nearly as gifted as a pass-catcher as Edwards-Helaire, so it stands to reason that the first-year back could end up catching over 50 passes in his rookie campaign.
Going into the season, Edwards-Helaire will probably fly under the radar. Opponents will be a heck of a lot more concerned with Mahomes and the Chiefs’ top weapons than the 21-year-old. But that could result in some rather surprising performances for Edwards-Helaire over the first few weeks.