Through the first 10 weeks in the NFL season, we’ve seen a great mix of all the K.C. Chiefs running backs including Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams, and Derrick Gore. The Chiefs running back situation has been a tough one to evaluate given everything that’s happened.
It’s clear the team went into the season planning on Clyde Edwards-Helaire being the No. 1 back, and so far he’s done okay. Despite going on Injured Reserve following an MCL sprain against Buffalo in Week 5, Edwards-Helaire has 304 rushing yards on 65 attempts which is good for a 4.7 YPC.
However, I don’t think we’ve seen the spectacular “second-year jump” that Edwards-Helaire was supposed to have with a brand new offensive line that specializes in run-blocking. The injury does not help, which is keeping Edwards-Helaire off the field and thus, he can not prove his worth, but we did have a five-week sample size from him before he went down, which is fairly large.
In those five games, Edwards-Helaire’s biggest highlight was having back-to-back 100-yard games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles, but he did have a back-breaking fumble in the Chargers game on a drive that the Chiefs likely would have scored in a game they went on to lose. In the other three games that Edwards-Helaire played in, (Cleveland, Baltimore, and Buffalo) he had 35 carries for 112 yards and, of course, the fumble in the Ravens game. Meh? That’s about all you can say.
The gap between Darrel Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire doesn’t appear large.
Since Edwards-Helaire’s injury, we’ve seen the other Chiefs running backs get some extensive run and Darrel Williams has earned stepped into the No. 1 running back role for the time being. In the wake of CEH’s injury, Williams has started five games. In that stretch, Williams has had 61 carries for 244 yards and 2 TDs. That would be good for a 3.5 YPC average.
Many will look at that stat line and say, “Well, that’s not great. It’s fine, but nothing special.” But the truth is, you could say that if I showed you the stat line for Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s career because that’s about what CEH has done. Williams has been fine. He’s not going to wow you with some of his runs and he certainly isn’t an athletic freak. Then again, neither is Clyde. Williams gets the job done and the rushing offense hasn’t really drastically changed since Edwards-Helaire has been out.
Now, the offense overall did seem to sputter after CEH got hurt, but I think that was more of a coincidence than CEH being this great offensive catalyst because if we’re being honest, the Chiefs haven’t had a fearsome running game for some time and they’ve still had some historic offensive displays despite that. The offense just wasn’t getting the play it needed out of Patrick Mahomes.
On top of that, and I think this is a huge reason for some of the misconceptions about the Chiefs running game, the play-calling in the run game had been horrendous all year. I’ve seen and heard a lot of ” Well, Williams’ YPC and EPA per play doesn’t have anything on Edwards-Helaire’s.” First, Williams is and always has been the short-yardage and goal-line back, which is a reason for the lower average. Second, Andy Reid is calling a lot of wide runs and outside-zone running concepts that do not fit the profile of Williams who is a straight line, downhill runner. When you let him do that, he looks really good. I also wish they’d run the ball in better situations instead of the ever-so predictable run up the gut on 2nd-and-long.
To be fair to Edwards-Helaire, they do the same thing with him, too and they need to be running power with both of them. If the Chiefs want to run those types of plays, then that’s where they should use Jerick McKinnon or even Derrick Gore, who I think has been done a disservice after his coming-out game against the Ney York Giants. However, that’s a story for another day.
Where I think Williams really closes the gap on CEH, though, is in the receiving game. Edwards-Helaire was supposed to be a great fit for the offense because of his receiving ability, but we just haven’t seen it. For whatever reason, the Chiefs don’t utilize CEH in the receiving game like they do with Williams. In fact, Williams had 9 receptions for 101 yards Sunday night against Vegas which is a career-high for him and tops CEH’s career mark as well. Also, looking at that amazing catch Williams made over the top of Las Vegas safety Jonathan Abram, you can’t help but think CEH wouldn’t be capable of that catch given his size.
Another stat I’m sure will go over well, Darrel Williams had two plays for 20 yards or more last night including one catch and run on a screen play. Did you know Clyde Edwards-Helaire has zero plays of 20 yards or more this year and only has 6 plays of 20 yards or more in his career?
So when are we going to see this great ability that Clyde Edwards-Helaire supposedly has? I feel as if we knew pretty much right away with Kareem Hunt that he was a special talent. Meanwhile, we’re waiting for CEH to be that guy. Through 18 career games, he’s rushed for under 75 yards in 12 of them and has been a non-factor in far too many of them to be considered great.
In the games that Edwards-Helaire has run for 75 yards or more, they’ve all been against bottom-feeder defenses like the Buffalo Bills last year without Matt Milano or the Houston Texans who ranked dead last in rushing defense in 2020, or even the Los Angeles Chargers this year who are ranked dead last.
I’m not going to say Darrel Williams is better than Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but there’s an argument to be had. When one of them is an undrafted free agent and the other is a former first-round pick, it’s not a great look.
We have to acknowledge at the very least that the gap between the two isn’t as large as some make it out to be.