Who is Clyde Edwards-Helaire? Meet the Chiefs draft pick eager to become NFL’s next pocket-sized star
Clyde Edwards-Helaire had not yet started 15 games at running back for the college football’s playoff champions, had not yet delivered his massive contributions to LSU’s 15 consecutive victories. He hadn’t yet blistered the Alabama Crimson Tide, gashed Auburn or dominated Clemson. And when he walked into Kevin Faulk’s office that day, he surely didn’t have to duck under the door frame.
Edwards-Helaire made one heck of a first impression, though, after Faulk was hired as LSU’s director of player development in early 2018.
“When I first got there, I knew he was special because the first thing he asked me – or he told me – was, ‘I need to learn how to pick up the blitz.’ Not how to run the football, not how to be a better pass catcher or whatever. It was about needing to learn how to pick up the blitz,” Faulk told Sporting News. “That was the first thing he asked me about. And to me that was like: Definitely, yes.”
At just 5-8, 210 pounds, it might seem as though there should be more to Edwards-Helaire if he wishes to succeed in professional football, and yet somehow he has managed to make himself the most complete back available in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Running: He carried 215 times for 1,414 yards and an SEC-leading 16 touchdowns, an average of 6.6 yards per carry. He delivered a game-changing performance against rival Alabama with four touchdowns and 180 total yards. He obliterated Arkansas with 188 yards on six carries, an average of 31.3 yards per rush.
Receiving: He caught 55 passes for 453 yards, dwarfing the reception totals for the other top backs in the draft. None of the other four in Pro Football Focus’ top five at the position – D’Andre Swift of Georgia, Zack Moss of Utah, Jonathan Taylor of Wisconsin or J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State – caught even 30 balls.
Blocking: “Probably the biggest play of the year, that told how good they could be, they were playing at Texas and it was like 3rd-and-17, about 4 minutes left in the game, LSU’s got the lead,” Ron Higgins, the veteran sportswriter now editor of Tiger Rag, told SN. “And they decided they were not going to hand the ball off; they were going to throw it. Texas called a blitz and Burrow stepped up in the pocket, threw across the middle and it was a 61-yard touchdown pass. Ballgame.
“And it was made possible because Clyde picked up a blitz. He can block. He’s a complete player. He’s a more complete player than any back they’ve had, maybe ever.”
Yes, Higgins said: More complete than Leonard Fournette, more complete than Derrius Guice. Higgins did not mention them by name, but Joseph Addai, Stevan Ridley and Jeremy Hill fit into the category of “ever.”
Oh, and Kevin Faulk, as well, who finished his college career two decades back with an LSU-record 4,557 yards and then won three Super Bowls with the Patriots.
“Clyde pretty much has lived a pro life his whole life. Clyde loves doing what he does,” Faulk told SN. “Football is his thing. He’s going to be a football player, if he’s not doing that other adventurous side that he loves.
“Clyde loves hunting, fishing. We played Mississippi State one of our earlier games in the season, got back about 7 or 8 o’clock in the evening. A lot of guys were going out, having some fun, drinking, doing the normal college things. This kid and his best friend went frog-hunting.”
As a high school prospect, right there in Baton Rouge at Catholic High, Edwards-Helaire was regarded as a three-star prospect, ranked 15th in the state of Louisiana and 378 by 247 Sports. He was offered scholarships by Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and Mississippi State. LSU was there first, though, and the Tigers’ vision and proximity led to his commitment.
He was a deep reserve as a freshman and a key backup as a sophomore, but he kept growing as a player, even if he stopped growing long ago. Height has been the issue his entire career, even though it’s never been an issue on the field.
It’s something he hasn’t escaped even now. A pro scout called Faulk just two weeks back and asked if Edwards-Helaire would be someone who could survive in the NFL as an every-down back. Many look at his receiving stats and his size and just assume he’s a guy whose job will be to enter the game on third down, in obvious passing situations.
At the NFL Combine in February, Edwards-Helaire ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, showed a 39.5-inch vertical jump and put up 15 reps in the 225-pound bench press. Tayor ran a 4.39 and did 17 reps, Moss ran a 4.65 and managed 19 reps.
“They just always seem to have a problem with height, which is something I don’t understand,” Edwards-Helaire told Bleacher Report before the College Football Playoff title game. “Being a running back, I’ve never seen a hole open vertically.”
Frank Gore has endured through 15 seasons, 3,548 carries and 15,347 yards at 5-9. Is he an every-down back? Faulk is only 5-8 himself, and he lasted 13 seasons in the league.
“Clyde turned it into a great motivation thing,” Faulk told SN. “For all guys at that size, who have aspirations of doing something big, they have to use it as motivation. He channeled it in the right way.”
It was against Alabama in the game that was almost certain decide if it would be the Tigers or Crimson Tide that would the SEC’s lead representative in the College Football Playoff, that Edwards-Helaire issued a declaration to all of American football that he was a player who warranted close observation.
Two weeks earlier, though, he had made a similar point to LSU fans who had been expecting through the season’s first two months that five-star freshman John Emery Jr. and four-star freshman Tyrion Davis-Price to take over the position.
With a clever Auburn defensive scheme effectively containing the LSU passing game and AU holding a 13-10 lead early in the third quarter, LSU wound up in positive territory after pinning the opposition deep and forcing a punt. From the AU 45, LSU chose to see if it could change the game by powering its way to the end zone.
Here’s how that went: Edwards-Helaire, 22-yard gain. Edwards-Helaire, 12-yard gain. Edwards-Helaire, 5-yard gain. Edwards-Helaire, 6-yard gain. Touchdown. They never trailed again. In the second half, he carried 21 times for 120 yards.
“What LSU always did was, once they got hot – when they found something they liked, that worked – it was like was like watching an NBA team run a pick-and-roll 86,000 times until you stop it,” Higgins said. “That’s what they would do.
“Speed is probably the biggest question mark. He’s had some long runs. From 30 or 40 yards in, you’re not going to catch him. He’s going to get to the end zone. If he’s going 60 or 70, you might get him. You can catch him, but that doesn’t mean you can bring him down. You can catch him, but you better bring help. This guy keeps churning.”
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