KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BVM) – Clyde Edwards-Helaire enters the 2022 NFL season with the chance to take a huge step forward for the Kansas City Chiefs. The third–year running back out of LSU has been somewhat underwhelming over his first two seasons with the Chiefs meaning this could be a pivotal year for the young running back. Edwards-Helaire should be able to rush for over 1,000 yards this season as long as he can stay healthy.
With Tyreek Hill gone via a trade to the Miami Dolphins, there is a massive whole in the Chiefs’ offense. In 2021, the six-time Pro Bowler had a career-best and franchise-record 111 receptions for 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns for Kansas City. He also was targeted a team–high 159 times.
The Chiefs did make efforts to replace that production. They signed Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency and drafted Western Michigan wide receiver Skyy Moore in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The Chiefs also still have tight end Travis Kelce, who will be the focal point of the passing game, and Mecole Hardman.
If Smith-Schuster plays like he did in 2020 before his shoulder injury – 128 targets, 97 receptions for 831 yards and nine touchdowns – it is a good start to replacing Hill. Add MVS to that as a deep ball threat – last season he led the league in targeted air yards with 17.1 – the Chiefs passing may use more weapons but be just as effective as a whole.
With Mahomes leading the air attack and Reid and Bienemy on the sidelines, Kansas City will once again be feared in the passing game which suggests that Edwards-Helaire will once again have the opportunity to have a great rushing season.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Edwards-Helaire has seldom seen eight or defenders in the box during his first two seasons. In fact, last season he only saw eight or more defenders in the box 8.4% of the time which was the lowest in the league but he was only able to amass 517 rushing yards. In his two years In Kansas City, Edwards-Helaire has only had four games in which he rushed for more than 100 yards.
The opportunity to succeed was in large part due to the nature of the Chiefs’ offense. With a deep ball threat like Hill and Kelce’s ability to break tackles and go on long runs, defenses tended to keep two deep safeties.
That opened up opportunities for CEH but he was unable to take advantage due in large part to injuries. In 2021, Edwards-Helaire missed seven games during the regular season with an MCL sprain and a shoulder injury. During his rookie season, he missed three games with an ankle and hip injury.
Along with the in–season setbacks, both of his off-seasons have also been filled with obstacles. After being drafted 32nd overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, CEH was unable to have a normal offseason or preseason due to COVID. Then last season, he had gallbladder surgery that once again limited his ability to work during the offseason.
With all that, there were only glimpses of what Edwards-Helaire could do in the Chiefs’ offense. During his rookie season, he racked up 1,100 all-purpose yards, 803 of which were rushing. That same year he had 161 rushing yards against the Buffalo Bills in Week 6 and in his NFL debut against the Houston Texans, he rushed for 138 yards.
This season he is entering healthy and with a full off-season to prepare. The Chiefs’ passing game even without Hill should still warrant two deep safety looks more often than not leading to less packed boxes for CEH to attack.
This will be how Edwards-Helaire is able to have a breakout season, on the ground. Last season, Chiefs’ running backs were only targeted 18% of the time. That number may even decrease this year with how deep the receiving room is this year.
If CEH wants any success it will be through rushing the ball but even if he just reverts back to his rookie numbers, 61.8 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry, he will rush for over 1,000 yards. At his very best, CEH could possibly have a Joe Mixon–type season on the ground. This past season Mixon had 1,205 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.
However, that all is based on the idea that Edwards-Helaire is healthy and is the main back for the Chiefs, which is not a guarantee. During free agency, Kansas City brought in Ronald Jones from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jerrick McKinnon is still on the roster.
Jones will be his biggest threat. It already looks like he will be the main third down back for Kansas City and Jones has the capability of taking advantage of less than full boxes. McKinnon is utilized in the passing game but CEH offers the best of both worlds.
This season will go a long way toward getting the Chiefs to pick up Edwards-Helaire’s fifth-year option and set him up for a contract extension. He enters with every opportunity to make that happen. CEH is still the same star running back from LSU that the Chiefs drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft and this season will prove it.