Why this is a vital year for Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire

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·4 min read
Jill Toyoshiba/jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com
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The wide receiver room underwent the biggest makeover in perhaps franchise history.

The rookie draft class, a haul of 10 players, includes a couple who could make an impact in the offensive picture.

The quarterback hosted his own version of mini-camp in the early spring, a Texas-sized gathering he designed to gain some familiarity with several new teammates.

And the left tackle has yet to join the team workouts this offseason, waiting on a resolution to his contract situation.

It’s been a busy spring for the Chiefs offense, in other words, but for all of the change, there’s an intriguing story line with an incumbent player — Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

After an inconsistent initial two seasons in the NFL, Edwards-Helaire is embarking on something of a moment of truth. The fallout might not elevate to make-or-break — though it might — but it will be a vital 2022 season for Edwards-Helaire for a couple of reasons.

History.

And money.

Among the top 11 rushers in the NFL last season, all of them were either in their first three years in the league, or, if older, they had already produced at least one 1,000-yard rushing season in their initial three years.

The point? None of the 11 were late-bloomers. They had something figured out by Year Three, at the latest. That’s the typical route. Their teams, in return, pretty much knew what they had.

With Edwards-Helaire, it’s time.

We’re two seasons into his NFL introduction, and we still don’t completely know what the Chiefs have — and neither do they, indicative by the Ronald Jones signing this offseason. He’s a player they deemed talented enough for a first-round pick, but one they don’t feel comfortable enough to make a workhorse back. They’ve not given him more than 17 carries in a game since October 2022.

But a year from now, the Chiefs will need decide what they think they have — as a former first-round selection, Edwards-Helaire has a fifth-year option buttoned onto his rookie contract, and the team’s decision whether to exercise it will arrive after the conclusion of Year Three. That’s the gamble, and if Edwards-Helaire wants the Chiefs to to extend his stay in Kansas City an extra season, he has to provide a bigger reason now for them to place the bet later.

The more questions — or the less information — the tougher the chances.

Asked if he viewed this as an important year, Edwards-Helaire said, “Most definitely. But I wouldn’t just pinpoint it as Year Three. ... There’s always a sense of urgency.”

It’s an admirable sentiment, but Edwards-Helaire must feel as though he’s playing catchup, whether that’s a public admission or not. The health has been largely out of his control, and it has cost him 10 regular season games in two seasons. Actually, he returned much earlier than expected from the hip injury late in his rookie season — doctors initially feared he would miss a large chunk of his second year, he said, and he instead returned within a few weeks to play in a Super Bowl. He’s done all he can there, but it’s becoming a major part of his NFL story.

With Edwards-Helaire, there are signs of promise, but they’re meshed with an extensive injury history and without much of a big-play history. The injuries — which include ankle, hip and knee ailments, in addition to gallbladder surgery after the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay — have robbed him of momentum. When healthy, he is averaging 4.4 yards per carry in his career, including 6.0 yards per carry in the playoffs. You’ll take that.

This, too: He tied for third in the NFL last season in Football Outsiders’ run success rate — 59% of his carries were deemed a successful play, a number undoubtedly aided by an improved offensive line.

The total summation offers something to like, but too inconsistently.

The history suggests that can’t last any longer.

He will need to take the step forward this year, and he has some help. The Chiefs had the third-best run blocking win rate in football a year ago, per ESPN Analytics, and if an Orlando Brown contract is signed, they’ll return the identical group in 2022. Pro Football Focus ranked the group second in the same category.

The opportunity is there.

Up to Edwards-Helaire from here.