Why is Clyde Edwards-Helaire getting so many touches for the Kansas City Chiefs?

There are a couple of ways to look at CEH's usage to make it make sense.
Chicago Bears v Kansas City Chiefs
Chicago Bears v Kansas City Chiefs / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has seen his popularity among fans decrease steadily each year of his career. At thispoint, he's become one of the more polarizing figures in recent Chiefs memory.

At this point, you either love or you hate Edwards-Helaire, but the consensus seems to be that he's never going to be anything more than an average running back and fans would rather carries go to someone else.

In fact, it was quite surprising to many that Edwards-Helaire even made the team in 2023 given that he's been slowly phased out of the offense over the past few years, was made a healthy scratch for Super Bowl LVII, and even skipped a Super Bowl Parade with his teammates to attend a fashion show in New York.

Edwards-Helaire appeared to be hanging on by a thread when it came to his spot on the Chiefs roster especially after he didn't show much in the preseason when many preferred the upside of La'Mical Perine or undrafted free agent running back Deneric Prince.

At last, Edwards-Helaire made the Chiefs 53-man roster and has since held a niche role in the offense, earning quite a few snaps through the first five weeks of the 2023 NFL season. To almost nobody's surprise, Edwards-Helaire has been extremely underwhelming in his opportunities leaving those wondering why he's still getting so many of them. It had appeared at one time that maybe we were done with the Edwards-Helaire experiment.

There are a couple of ways to look at CEH's usage to make it make sense.

While Edwards-Helaire hasn't had what you would call a big role in the offense, he's been out there enough that you notice when he is. What people are also noticing is that he hasn't been very good. In 28 carries for the Chiefs, CEH has rushed for 98 yards which is good for a lowly 3.3 yards per carry. Additionally, Edwards-Helaire has been targeted five times in the receiving game with 5 receptions for 27 yards.

Again, not a huge sample size. but what is so frustrating is that Edwards-Helaire, despite just a small sample size, has managed to be a pretty big negative for Kansas City. It seems to be the same story as years past for CEH, missing wide open holes, running into the backs of his blockers for a minimal gain, and falling forward for a gain of maybe one or two yards.

Almost every drive in which CEH has gotten a touch has ended in either a punt or a field goal attempt this year. Any time Edwards-Helaire is getting in on a series, he is killing drives by putting the team in unfavorable down and distance situations. So, what gives? Why is he still getting this many touches?

There are a couple of explanations that make sense, but the most obvious one is that CEH is still getting a little bit of love from the coaching staff because of the first-round pick label that's still attached to him. It feels as if Edwards-Helaire wasn't a day-one pick that he'd be off the team by now, but there's still a glimmer of hope from the team that he can be something. They're still grasping onto the idea that he can be a main contributor on offense and the investment was so big that they have to try.

It's a lame explanation and one that many probably aren't happy to hear but it is one likely explanation. Eventually, the Chiefs will have to admit that it's a sunk cost and holding the team back by giving him touches on offense.

There is one other explanation as to why Edwards-Helaire is still getting substantial action that would appear at least somewhat justifiable. Isiah Pacheco came into the season still recovering from offseason surgery and Jerick McKinnon is 31 years old with an injury history. Maybe, the Chiefs need someone to take RB2 reps behind Pacheco, but they want to keep Jerick McKinnon fresh for the stretch run and the postseason. McKinnon has only had 7 rushing attempts in 2023. Unless McKinnon is being kept fresh for later, there's no justification for his lack of touches and giving more of them to Clyde Edwards-Helaire who has zero burst. McKinnon still plays a vital role on 3rd downs and as the team's pass-catching back but he still deserves to see more carries over a guy like Edwards-Helaire.

The only issue with this explanation is while it is valid to an extent if you want to keep McKinnon fresh, you can still do so by bringing up somebody like La'Mical Perine from the practice squad who flashed in preseason. Is it really worth wasting drives by giving all these opportunities to CEH? People would rather see someone else after years of trotting out a small and slow running back with subpar vision.

Whatever the reason, it's probably not enough of a reason to continue playing Edwards-Helaire so much. It's unfortunate that he was never able to grab hold of a consistent role in the offense or overcome mediocre athleticism to be a good NFL running back. Nonetheless, fans have come to the conclusion that it's time to move on. Hopefully, the Kansas City Chiefs aren't far behind.