Although not considered to be among the elite tier of running back prospects, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is sure to garner some hype after his recent performance in the National Championship game. Let’s see how his profile stacks up compared to the other running backs in this draft class.
Although Edwards-Helaire played in all 13 games for LSU as a true freshman, he was behind Derrius Guice on the depth chart. Edwards-Helaire primarily played special teams in his first year at LSU, returning 13 kicks for 247 yards.
As a sophomore, Edwards-Helaire earned a bigger role in LSU’s ground game. Although Nick Brossette accounted for the bulk of LSU’s total rushing production,1 Edwards-Helaire posted a 146-658-7 rushing line while adding 96 yards on 11 catches. Edwards-Helaire continued to play on LSU’s special teams, returning 17 kicks for 416 yards. His Backfield Dominator Rating of 0.27 wasn’t particularly impressive for a sophomore, but it’s good enough for a timeshare RB.
Edwards-Helaire took over as the primary RB for LSU in his junior season and immediately set career highs in rushing and receiving. His 1,414 rushing yards2 was good for No. 15 in the nation. He also flashed strong receiving skills, catching 55 balls for 453 yards. Edwards-Helaire continued to play a role on special teams for LSU, returning 12 kicks for 214 yards.
Most importantly, Edwards-Helaire showcased a three-down skillset against several strong opponents.
It should be noted that Texas (9), Florida (7), Auburn (9), and Alabama (3) were all ranked inside the top 10 when LSU played against them. Given that Edwards-Helaire showed out against top opponents, I’m optimistic that he can be a solid contributor in the NFL as a rusher and receiver.
His final season Backfield Dominator Rating of 0.8 is superior to that of several highly projected RB prospects, most notably: J.K. Dobbins (0.68), D’Andre Swift (0.47), Cam Akers (0.74), and Jonathan Taylor (0.62). Note that a higher Backfield Dominator Rating season doesn’t mean that he’s a superior prospect, but it does suggest that Edwards-Helaire could be undervalued relative to his peers.
Work done by Anthony Amico shows that two of the more important indicators for RB success in the NFL are breakout age and final season adjusted all-purpose yards per game. Given Edwards-Helaire’s contributions in all three phases of the game, we can see that he performs quite well in this metric.
Additionally, Edwards-Helaire is 20 years old3 and will be 21 years old as a rookie RB in the NFL. Edwards-Helaire averaged 139 all-purpose yards/game, easily crossing Amico’s threshold for breakout age of 130 adjusted all-purpose yards/game. As Amico has shown, RBs who break out at a younger age go on to find NFL4 success at a 43.5% hit rate.
Additionally, research done by Blair Andrews has shown that the difference in fantasy production between 21-year-old rookie RBs and their 22-year-old counterparts is vast. As Blair noted, almost 40% of the seasons produced by RBs who were 21-year-old rookies were RB2 seasons.
Given that Edwards-Helaire fits in the 21-year old bucket, it’s fair to state that he should be a productive NFL RB. Additionally, the RotoViz Box Score Scout lists a few comparable players who underscore Edwards-Helaire’s upside.
Players such as Le’Veon Bell, David Montgomery, Alvin Kamara, and James White lend credence to the fact that Edwards-Helaire could be a strong contributor in the rushing and receiving game.5 Hopefully, Edwards-Helaire tests well at the NFL combine and continues to boost his draft stock in the coming months. He could be a steal in the back half of the first round of rookie drafts.