Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 22: LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Yahoo Sports


22. LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire

5-foot-7, 207 pounds 

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.01 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Compactly built powder-keg back with excellent hands who lacks long speed and pass-block consistency.

The skinny: A 3-star Rivals recruit who played four miles from Tiger Stadium in high school, Edwards-Helaire — the “H” is silent in his last name — committed to hometown LSU as a junior. He played as a true freshman in 2017, running nine times for 31 yards, catching three passes for 46 yards and returning 13 kickoffs for 427 yards. In 2018, he led the Tigers in all-purpose yards, rushing 146 times for 658 yards and seven TDs, catching 11 passes for 96 yards and running back 17 kickoffs for 416 yards. 

As a junior in 2019, Edwards-Helaire was named first-team all-SEC on offense and second-team as a returner. He rushed 215 times for 1,415 yards and 16 touchdowns, caught 55 passes for 453 yards and one touchdown and ran back 10 kickoffs for 214 yards. 

Edwards-Helaire, who turns 21 years old in April, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft. He attended the NFL scouting combine and participated in all drills except for the 3-cone drill and the shuttles.

Upside: Named LSU’s team MVP this season over Heisman winner Joe Burrow. Burrow said Edwards-Helaire is the best player he’s ever played alongside. Pro Football Focus rated him as the most valuable running back in college football in wins above average (WAA) — also the 13th-most valuable player regardless of position and third-most valuable non-QB in 2019.

Rocked-up physique. Great lower-body explosion can be traced to track-and-field background — outstanding jumping numbers at the combine. Thick, muscular legs are like diesel pistons. Fast, choppy feet. Shifts weight quickly and runs downhill well. Plenty of tread left on his tires — fewer than 500 touches in college.

Averaged 6.6 yards per rush, third-most in the country among backs with 200 or more carries. Racked up four 100-yard rushing games vs. top-10 ranked opponents in 2019 (Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Clemson). First-down machine — moved the sticks on 26 of 55 receptions (47.2 percent) and on 78 of 214 runs (36.4 percent).

Caught 55 passes last season, second-most among FBS backs. Good-sized hands (9 5/8 inches). Natural receiving ability. Sharp route-running on quick stuff. Great hot option against the blitz. Could even play slot receiver — great feel for leveraging the two-way go. Master of the angle route. Lined up 98 snaps out wide and 66 more in the slot.

Built with low center of gravity. Tough target to hit squarely — like trying to tackle a greased-up bowling ball. Uses his blockers as shields and is hard to pick up in tight quarters. Elusive runner with great vision — always seems to find escape hatches when things look bottled up. 

Runs with toughness, burst and shiftiness. Can make defenders look foolish trying to tackle him in space — flashes a spin move (see second quarter vs. Auburn). Watch this run against Vanderbilt where it appears the play is designed for Edwards-Helaire to skip through the C-gap, but when that’s bottled up he kicks it outside and then back against the grain for a 25-yard gain:

Edwards-Helaire has great vision and tackle-breaking ability.
Edwards-Helaire has great vision and tackle-breaking ability.

Two plays kind of defined LSU's regular season en route to the championship. The first was the 3rd-and-17 conversion in the fourth quarter against Texas. The other was this play, Edwards-Helaire’s shoestring catch against Alabama.

Burrow found Edwards-Helaire for this quick out six yards short of the sticks — but he makes a move, tiptoes the sideline and powers through CB Trevon Diggs’ tackle attempt for a critical conversion:

This was a crucial first-down pickup in a massive game.
This was a crucial first-down pickup in a massive game.

Three-down back who can operate in any type of system. Two fumbles on 478 career touches. Threw a TD pass in fifth overtime against Texas A&M in 2018. Showed burst on kickoffs and rarely made poor choices on returns.

Downside: Small frame that could wear down. Likely never will be workhorse back — probably needs to be paired with a sturdy complementary backfield piece. Not a burner (4.59-second 40-yard dash). Lacks the long speed to beat fast defenders to the edge. Was taken down from behind regularly.

Struggles to move the pile on his own in short yardage. Favorable an OL situation at LSU — ran behind Joe Moore Award-winning unit. Faced light boxes and nickel and dime personnel vs. LSU’s high-flying passing game.

Needs work as a pass blocker. Short arms (29 inches) show up in pass-protection issues. Has trouble squaring up bigger rushers. Gets reckless trying to match blitzers’ force head-up. Or tries to wildly dive at defenders’ legs. 

Watch this play against Texas where Edwards-Helaire tries to cut block the linebacker and fails to prevent the sack:

This cut-block attempt didn't end up working.
This cut-block attempt didn't end up working.

Long-term durability could be a worry. Suffered late-season hamstring injury that limited him to seven snaps (and two carries) in win over Oklahoma. Limited experience as one-year starter.

Both fumbles in 2019 came near the end zone — one backed up against his own end zone against Vanderbilt that resulted in a Commodores touchdown, and one the next game against Utah State at the Aggies’ 1-yard line. Likely limited in special-teams contributions to kick-return duties. Only three kick returns longer than 38 yards on 40 career attempts.

Details of self-defense shooting incident in 2018 still must be considered. Edwards-Helaire and LSU teammate Jared Small were reportedly attempting to sell something to a man (18-year-old Kobe Johnson) they met in a car when the eventual victim pulled a gun and attempted to rob them. One of the LSU players also had a gun and shot Johnson, killing him. 

Neither LSU player was charged in the incident. Court documents redacted which player pulled the trigger, but it has been reported in other places that it was Small who had the gun and who shot Johnson. Baton Rouge (La.) district attorney Hillar Moore called the shooting “totally justified.”

Best-suited destination: Edwards-Helaire is a three-down back with outstanding burst and receiving skill. Short of teams that don’t favor smaller backs, there shouldn’t be too many teams that don’t highly value his skills, especially as a pass catcher.

Among the NFL teams that could be interested: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and Las Vegas Raiders.

Did you know: Edwards-Helaire was born Clyde Edwards — the same name as his father. The elder Clyde was 22 when he was arrested for drug distribution and possession. He later was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The younger Clyde Edwards was 11 months old.

His mother, Tonge, later married Shannon Helaire, who became his stepfather. While his biological father was in prison, the younger Clyde Edwards legally added Helaire to his name when he was 14.

The elder Edwards was released from prison early on good behavior in February 2014. Since then, Edwards-Helaire and Clyde Edwards have tried to rebuild their relationship. Edwards has said he turned to selling drugs at 17 when his own young mother struggled to pay bills, quitting football and school and trying to help support the family without his father in the picture. 

But Tonge wanted her son to know the man who fathered him once he got out of prison. She told ESPN.com, “I wanted him to know his dad. That’s his biological father. At the end of the day, you need to know who your family is.”

Edwards-Helaire considers himself lucky to have two father figures and honors both with his hyphenated name.

They said it: “Ultimately, I feel like every question was answered this year. Every week it was always something, ‘Does he have breakaway speed?’ And then I’d bust an 80-yard touchdown. ‘Can he make a guy miss?’ Made plenty of guys miss. ‘Is he going to show up Bama game?’ Ultimately, all the questions were answered, so I feel like my resumé is all checked out.”

— Edwards-Helaire at the combine, on facing doubters

Player comp: Maurice Jones-Drew and Brian Westbrook. LSU RB coach (and former NFL back) Kevin Faulk has said he even sees some Barry Sanders in Edwards-Helaire.

Expected draft range: Round 2

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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