Kansas City Chiefs: What to expect from Clyde Edwards-Helaire?

What should fans expect from Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s rookie season with the Chiefs?

When the Kansas City Chiefs kick off the NFL season on Thursday night against the Houston Texans, they will have a new starting running back in rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

The Chiefs’ selection of Edwards-Helaire with the final pick of the first round was a highly-scrutinized pick by many K.C. fans—not because anyone thought he wasn’t going to be good, but because many don’t view the position as one worthy of a first round pick in today’s NFL.

Those debates are now mostly in the rearview mirror thanks in large part to last year’s starting running back Damien Williams opting out of this season because of health concerns for his mother. At this point you would be hard pressed to find a Chiefs fan who isn’t happy to have Edwards-Helaire in red and gold this season.

So what are realistic expectations for a rookie who now finds himself as a key component in the NFL’s most dynamic offense? Is it fair to hold Edwards-Helaire to the bar that Kareem Hunt set as a rookie in Andy Reid‘s offense just a few seasons ago? That year (2017), Reid didn’t hesitate to give Hunt a whopping 325 offensive touches. Will the Chiefs put that heavy of a load on their rookie this season?

Personally, I think expecting Edwards-Helaire to repeat Hunt’s rookie productivity is a little unfair. Both USA Today and Yardbarker put out lists of the best rookie running back seasons of all time that included Hunt’s 2017 season on the list. While I certainly think that Hunt’s 1,327 yards rushing with 8 rushing touchdowns and 53 receptions for 455 yards and 3 touchdowns is a nice ceiling for his potential this season, it seems a little unrealistic to just assume he will match one of the best rookie running back seasons of all time.

If Hunt’s rookie bar is a little too high, what might be a more reasonable bar at which to aim? To answer that, let’s take a look at what the primary running back in Andy Reid’s offense has averaged over his 21 seasons in the NFL. I went back and logged the production for each team’s primary back for each of Reid’s 21 seasons as a head coach. These are the average numbers:

  • 205.3 carries
  • 912.3 yards rushing
  • 6.1 rushing touchdowns
  • 50.6 receptions
  • 454.2 yards receiving
  • 3.4 receiving touchdowns

If a running back were to play all 16 games and put up those stats, it would be an average of about 13 carries for 57 yards and 3 receptions for 28 yards per game. Should Edwards-Helaire stay healthy and act as the Chiefs primary running back this entire season, I feel like those averages would represent a very reasonable floor for his production.

It is pretty much universally agreed upon that Edwards-Helaire is a talented back that seems to be tailor made for K.C.’s offense. When you factor in that K.C.’s high-powered passing attack led by Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce will be drawing a large part of the defense’s attention, it seems reasonable to believe that Edwards-Helaire will at very least be able to match the average numbers of Andy Reid’s starting running backs if he plays all season.

If you use Reid’s average starting running back numbers as his floor and Hunt’s 2017 season as a likely ceiling, you end up with a range of:

  • 205-272 carries
  • 912-1,327 yards
  • 6 to 8 rushing touchdowns
  • 50-53 receptions
  • 454-455 receiving yards
  • 3 to 3.4 rushing touchdowns

If we aim for the middle of those numbers, we would get:

  • 238 carries
  • 1,120 yards
  • 7 rushing touchdowns
  • 52 receptions
  • 455 receiving yards
  • 3 receiving touchdowns

I think that’s a reasonable prediction for Edwards-Helaire this season that takes into account Reid’s typical production, Edwards-Helaire’s abilities, and all the other mouths to feed in the Chiefs offense.

Those numbers above for Edwards-Helaire would be close to what Josh Jacobs put up rushing the ball last season for the Oakland Raiders while putting up over twice the receptions and receiving yards that he did. It would also be only 187 rushing yards and 266 less receiving yards than Saquon Barkley‘s phenomenal 2018 rookie season where he was the primary focus of the New York Giants entire offense.

There you have it Chiefs fans, my prediction for Clyde Edwards-Helaire this season. What do you think? Is that a reasonable line for K.C.’s rookie running back? Do you think he’ll go over or under that line? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.