Now that free agency, the NFL Draft, and the schedule release have all passed, we have our initial layout in place in team depth charts and strength of schedule. With that, we want to take a look at some players across the fantasy landscape that are either polarizing, over/undervalued, or just interesting topics of discussion and walk through some of the pros and cons of where those players are regarded in fantasy circles through these long days of summer leading into the actual starts of training camps and actionable news.
Week 1 Age: 22.4
Contract: Signed through 2023
Selected as the first running back off the board in the loaded 2020 draft for his position to the best offense in the NFL, massive expectations were placed on Clyde Edwards-Helaire right out of the box for fantasy gamers.
Using the Dynasty ADP app available at RotoViz, Edwards-Helaire was selected on average at pick 50.8 overall in dynasty startup leagues and pick 8.8 overall in rookie-only drafts prior to that 2020 NFL Draft.
After being selected in the first round at pick No. 31 to the Kansas City Chiefs, Edwards-Helaire then springboarded up to pick 11.0 overall (RB7) in startups and the consensus 1.01 in rookie drafts for the remainder of the 2020 offseason. Then in the final week of July, veteran back Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season, vaulting Edwards-Helaire into the first round of 2020 seasonal drafts as well.
Anything short of an RB1 season from Edwards-Helaire as a rookie was set to be a letdown based on expectations and although he closed the season with 1,100 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns, the rookie back was the RB22 in overall PPR point scored and the RB23 in points per game).
2020 Game Log
|Week||Opp||Snap%||RuAtt||RuYd||RuTD||Tgt||Rec||ReYd||ReTD||PPR||RB Rank||RB Tch%|
While in totality, Edwards-Helaire left gamers disappointed based on lofty expectations, he started the year out as a solid fantasy asset. Through six weeks of the season, Edwards-Helaire was delivering near advertisement, delivering a viable floor with three RB1 scoring weeks despite finding the end zone just one time. At that time, he was playing 64.6% of the team snaps and had accounted for 78.0% of the Kansas City backfield touches.
The team then acquired Le’Veon Bell after he was released by the Jets and we immediately saw Edwards-Helaire begin to be compromised as he was thriving off volume since he was not scoring touchdowns. After acquiring Bell, Edwards-Helaire dipped down to 51.2% of the team snaps and 53.7% of the backfield touches in the games he was active. He averaged 21.3 touches per game through six weeks and then 11.9 per game afterward.
So far this offseason, Bell remains an unrestricted free agent. The team retained Darrel Williams on a one-year deal and also brought in Jerick McKinnon. That is not a daunting rogues gallery for Edwards-Helaire to clear and get back to controlling this backfield from an overall touch stance, but there are a few areas where both Williams and McKinnon can contribute where Edwards-Helaire did not as a rookie.
The first area is on third downs. As a rookie, just 13 of Edwards-Helaire’s 217 regular-season touches came on third downs. That 5.9% touch rate ranked 62nd at the position while his 13 touches were tied for 42nd. Williams led the Kansas City backfield with 18 third down touches (tied for 21st among backs), which accounted for 31.6% of his touches, which was the second-highest rate at the position. McKinnon handled 26 third down touches for the 49ers in 2020 (eighth among running backs) while his 22.8% touch rate coming on third down touches also ranked eighth.
I will have to pay some royalties out to Matt Harmon there for that title of this section, but being used in the passing game was one of the top reasons Edwards-Helaire was elevated to the top of draft boards paired with the fit to the Chiefs last offseason. He was considered a “Christian McCaffrey type” by many.
Despite conceding third down snaps regularly as a rookie, Edwards-Helaire still ranked ninth among running backs in routes run per game (22.0) because the Chiefs threw the ball on 60% of their first or second down snaps, which ranked fifth in the league.
Lack of passing routes was not an issue, but on those routes, Edwards-Helaire was targeted on just 17.5% of those routes, which ranked 33rd among all backs to run 100 or more pass routes on the season. While there were Brian Westbrook comparisons pre-draft and how great of a fit Edwards-Helaire was for the Kansas City offense, one thing lost in the shuffle is that the Chiefs have been a middle-of-the-road team in pressing the ball to their backs in the passing game of late.
Kansas City RB Target Rates Over the Past 5 Seasons
Even going back to the Alex Smith days, the Chiefs have been mid-pack in running back target rate despite being thought of as a team that is steadily funneling opportunities to the position. Over his three full seasons as a starter, Patrick Mahomes has targeted backs on 18.4% of his targeted passes while the league rate has been 20%.
That is not to say the Chiefs are a poor passing offense to be attached to by any means as their passing rate overall is so high that the raw targets are elevated across the board, but this is a team getting the ball downfield to elite playmakers such as Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce firsthand. Since Andy Reid took over as the head coach in Kansas City, just two backs have hit 50 receptions in a season and just two have averaged over 4.0 receptions per game.
Wrapping this part up, not only did we set the receiving expectations for Edwards-Helaire too highly based on the recent history of this offense, but he was conceding third downs on top of things. The latter can be made up for in 2021 as Edwards-Helaire can play more third downs and tack on useful receiving production, but it is likely that he is a 50-60 catch back in his higher range of outcomes as opposed to a back that is going to press Christian McCaffrey levels in the passing game. A 50-60 catch back is still more than useful, but that true apex of being a unicorn in the passing game may be further out of reach than many bestowed upon him as a prospect paired with team fit.
Pounding the Rock
Outside of sharing obvious passing downs, Edwards-Helaire also raised some questions as a rookie in the short-yardage game.
Edwards-Helaire handled 31 carries needing three or fewer yards to go. Those carries ranked 17th in the NFL. He converted just 54.8% of those carries, however, which ranked 71st among 84 players to have double-digit attempts in those situations. League rate was 62.8% while teammates Le’Veon Bell (71.4%) and Darrel Williams (60%) were also more viable in those situations.
Inside of the 5-yard line, Edwards-Helaire converted just 2-of-10 carries for touchdowns while the league average rate was 44.9%. In the first game of the year, he had six of those opportunities, failing to cash any of them in. Nearly all of those were no true fault of his own and just entirely blown up, but the Chiefs decidedly changed their approach in that area of the field moving forward.
For the remainder of the season, the Chiefs threw the ball 54.5% of the time inside of the five (the fourth-highest rate in the league) while increasing their use of motion and gadget plays in that area of the field. For the remainder of the season, Edwards-Helaire received just six of the 22 team opportunities in that area of the field in his games played.
Those rookie struggles could be happenstance, but we did see the Chiefs significantly alter their approach in the money zone. They also were impacted by offensive line play (more on this in a moment). But as a 207-pound back, Edwards-Helaire also fits the archetype of a back that typically does end up getting frozen out of goal line touches.
Over the past five seasons, there have been 25 seasons in which a back received 15 or more carries inside of the 5-yard line. Just two of those seasons (Christian McCaffrey and Devonta Freeman) came from a back fewer than 210 pounds. Over the same timeframe, there have been 30 seasons in which a back scored 10 or more rushing touchdowns in total on the season regardless of the amount of goal line carries they received. 17 of those came from backs 220 pounds or heavier with just three coming in below 210 pounds. At the end of the day, Edwards-Helaire’s rookie-season rushing scores came from 27, 11, 3, 14, and 1 yards out.
McCaffrey is really the one recent back that has trumped how backs his size are utilized on a widespread landscape, being used as a true workhorse. This ultimately falls on the coaching staff, but we see it happen with regularity in the NFL. Even a similar back of the same archetype in Austin Ekeler routinely conceded these touches to lesser players a year ago in Kalen Ballage and Joshua Kelley. Edwards-Helaire needs to improve on his success rate with his short distance touches moving forward to be in the bucket of backs that can trump how staffs typically use backs his size.
The Kansas City Run Game Should Improve in 2021
While the short-yardage opportunities and execution need to improve in 2021, there are reasons to believe this Kansas City running game will undoubtedly be improved moving forward.
The Kansas City offensive line was badgered in 2020, finishing the season 31st in ESPN’s Run Block Win Rate (67%). Out of 47 backs with 100 or more rushing attempts on the season, Edwards-Helaire’s 1.45 yards prior to contact per carry ranked 25th. Edwards-Helaire forced a missed tackle on 16.6% of his touches, which ranked 13th among the same group.
The Chiefs closed the year with 40.4 adjusted games missed per Football Outsiders, which was the third-highest in the league. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out for the season, Kelechi Osemele (11 games missed) and Mitchell Schwartz (10 games missed) also were absent for double-digit games while Eric Fisher tore his Achilles in the AFC Championship game.
With the way the season closed for Kansas City in the Super Bowl with Mahomes under constant duress, we knew the team would go in and add to this offensive line.
Kansas City immediately broke the bank for Joe Thuney at the start of free agency. Thuney has not missed a game since he entered the league in 2016. The Chiefs also traded for left tackle Orlando Brown, added Austin Blythe and Kyle Long in free agency, while Duvernay-Tardif has opted back in to return this season.
Bringing this home, in dynasty, every player has potential to be both a buy and sell at the same time. You just have to find the proper context in your league in which he is valued per owner.
The pro side for Edwards-Helaire is easy to make. His rookie season was better than given credit for, he is a second-year player that comes with high draft capital, is attached to the league’s best offense, and the Chiefs have an objectively improved offensive line entering 2021. That is more than enough to not overthink things and make him an easy buy from any gamer in your league that wants to move him.
On the other end, the main question that surrounds Edwards-Helaire is even at his apex of 2020 volume, did he reveal that he is more of a high-floor RB2 that will lack a massive scoring ceiling due to lack of scoring prowess/opportunities and mislabeled receiving expectation placed upon him exiting the draft?
If you are someone who believes that his scoring bugaboos as a rookie will persist, then you may find someone in your leagues who is willing to pay up for the RB1 perception that you do not believe exists.
I am subjectively on the pro side of Edwards-Helaire if anyone wants to move him, but checking my own objective dynasty ranks, I do have a hard time elevating him into RB1 status based on the depth of the position and the all-encompassing potential for those backs I have ahead of him. In current Dynasty League Football ADP, Edwards-Helaire is the RB15 overall.
Startup ADP and cost is not going to be an exact market for you with team context a driving force in established leagues, but here are the buy and sell point suggestions using that as a guideline pending which side you fall on.
2020 Rookie Pick Value: Early First (1.03-1.05)
RB Value Targets: Aaron Jones, Joe Mixon, Antonio Gibson, Travis Etienne, Miles Sanders
WR Value Targets: D.J. Moore, Michael Thomas, Terry McLaurin, Amari Cooper
TE Value Targets: George Kittle, Darren Waller, Kyle Pitts