“Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? In the clear yet? Good.”
Out of the Woods, Taylor Swift
This article probably qualifies as “fodder for Roy Helu’s agent” more than anything actionable, but that’s never stopped me before so here we go.
As with everything I write about running backs, I’m going to start with Shawn Siegele’s three draftable profiles. Helu put up an elite performance in both the speed and agility portions of the NFL combine, qualifying him as both a profile 1 and profile 2 back.
While Ben Tate is an example of a back who dominated the combine but never really panned out, we aren’t far removed from Lamar Miller being considered a massive bust and last season he eclipsed the 1000 yard rushing mark at over five yards/carry, so on balance the fact that Helu possesses elite athleticism is probably a good thing (duh). At the age of 26, Helu is pretty much entering the prime of his career, so we’re probably a couple years away from his decline phase.
Helu has averaged 4.4 yards per carry across 255 career attempts. Considering that he’s been used as a third down back and probably faced fewer stacked boxes, which we know boosts yards/carry, that his total attempts represent a pretty small sample, and yards per carry is very high variance, all we can really say is he’s probably more or less an average rusher.
Where Helu really shines is in the receiving game. In his first four seasons in the NFL, Helu has amassed 129 catches, earning his quarterbacks an adjusted yards/attempt (AYA) of 7.8 across 156 targets. For reference, Danny Woodhead put up 8.0 AYA with Tom Brady on 130 targets across a similar number of games played. You can play with the AYA App to find other backs to compare to Helu, but trust me when I say Helu’s numbers put him in fairly elite company among pass catching backs.
We don’t know where Helu is going to play next year yet. We do know that he hasn’t been given a ton of carries, though Alfred Morris is considered a good starting back, so that’s not necessarily an indictment on his ability. We also know he has the body type to potentially be a starter and he does have a season with 200 touches, so we at least know he can handle that type of load. We also know Helu has performed at an elite level as a pass catcher, so if he gets into a timeshare he could easily have standalone value in a PPR if they funnel him 60 targets or so.
Running backs are extremely usage dependent so right now Roy Helu doesn’t have a ton of value. However his constellation of performance and athleticism is still very promising. I think there’s a tendency to spend this part of the year falling in love with later round RB prospects with great peripheral metrics where Helu probably has a clearer path to playing time than a lot of those guys since he’s already established himself in the league as a third down player.
My perception is that, because he doesn’t have much in the way of accumulation stats and he played on a bad team, he won’t be valued very highly in the free agency market. If he lands with a team that plans on giving him a chance to find significant playing time I think he’s the type of stash that has a very good opportunity to have value.