Is It Too Late to Target Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Fantasy Football?

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, now entering his third season, has been mostly written off by the fantasy football community. Once heralded as a draft prospect with top-five potential, CEH has now become something of a punch line, a cautionary tale of entrusting landing spot over talent.

The result of two disappointing seasons is a 2022 ranking where he’s not even viewed as an RB2 anymore. He finds himself in that RB28-30 range and for some, he’s found his way onto “do not draft” lists entirely.

Fantasy football is full of ebbs and flows, but there are times when the consensus can ebb or flow just a bit too hard. We’ve all been guilty of being too high or too low on a player in the past. Edwards-Helaire finds himself in unfamiliar territory this offseason — being a positive value in drafts and possessing some real, tangible upside if you’re willing to jump back in.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire – A Tale of Broken Promises

Back in 2020, when the Chiefs made CEH the first running back off the board, ahead of Jonathan Taylor and D’Andre Swift, fantasy managers just could not help themselves from bringing up Kareem Hunt, Jamaal Charles, and LeSean McCoy. The list of exceptionally valuable fantasy football running backs Andy Reid had tutored along the way. Edwards-Helaire was going to be the next one, simple as that.

Except it wasn’t as simple as that. As a matter of fact, nothing about CEH’s first two seasons has been simple. In the first six games of his NFL career, Reid treated CEH like a true workhorse, giving him 107 carries and 31 targets. As far as fantasy was concerned, the former LSU standout was (mostly) delivering on that promise. He was the RB11 through those first six weeks.

He struggled near the goal line, however, and when Le’Veon Bell was cut by the New York Jets, the Chiefs couldn’t resist. After averaging 18 carries per game and 5 targets per game in Weeks 1-6, Edwards-Helaire saw his workload fall to just 6 carries and 4 targets over the next three weeks with Bell on the roster.

Those numbers would creep back up a bit over the last four games of his 2020 season before being shut down in the regular season with a hip and ankle injury. He finished his rookie season with 181 carries, 803 rushing yards, and 4 touchdowns in 13 games. He also received 54 targets and finished with 36 receptions for 297 yards, and one score.

He would finish as the RB22 in PPG average, a long way away from that top-five potential he got slapped with after the draft, but maybe not as terrible as we typically associate his first season being.

Going into last season, there was a lot to like about CEH’s prospects. For starters, Le’Veon Bell was gone. It certainly appeared this was going to be Edwards-Helaire’s backfield and why not? In the first six games of the season, he averaged 23 opportunities per game. Even the last four games of the 2020 campaign saw him average 16.5 opportunities per game. Unfortunately, fantasy managers were not informed of this little nugget.

While that certainly didn’t help, reality is CEH operated as the lead back for the Chiefs through the first four weeks. He averaged 14.5 carries and 2 targets per game during that time and racked up 85 yards of total offense per contest. While that once again failed to reach those lofty expectations set after draft night, he was still the RB24 through Weeks 1-4.

He suffered an MCL sprain in Week 5 and was put on IR. This caused him to miss the next five games and when he returned, fantasy managers saw a full-on committee approach in the backfield with Darrel Williams. He’d average just 11 carries and 2.5 targets per game over his final five games.

The bigger problem for CEH and his fantasy scoring wasn’t so much the number of touches he received, but rather what kind of touches he received.

As you can see from the graph above, Williams simply got all of the high-value touches for the Chiefs. This left CEH as a running back who largely just operated between the 20-yard lines without much of a role in the passing game. For fantasy scoring purposes, that’s a terribly hard place to make a living.

However, there’s been a lot of shuffling in the Chiefs’ backfield. Williams is now in Arizona and Ronald Jones, formerly with the Buccaneers signed with the Chiefs. Those two transactions should give fantasy managers reason for optimism in his third season. Jones has never been used as a pass-catcher and it’s possible that CEH will operate in a more fantasy-friendly role.

Don’t Stop Believing

Edwards-Helaire has shown glimpses of being a solid fantasy contributor, but he’s struggled with consistency and has lacked a high-end ceiling. While it’s unlikely he’s ever going to live up to his rookie expectations of being a top-five running back, that doesn’t mean he should be someone fantasy managers ignore this season.

He’s currently being drafted as the RB26 on Underdog and here at 4for4, is ranked as RB29. Last year, he was the RB28 in half-PPR PPG, and in 2020 he was the RB22. When looking at his environment and backfield competition in his first two years compared to 2022, there’s a reason to be hopeful and it appears as if you’re currently able to draft him in a range that has been his floor.

Jones had just 13 targets last season in 16 games. Through four seasons, he’s averaging just 1.89 targets per game. This is the one area where Edwards-Helaire could take command and provide some real value to fantasy managers.

In the last two seasons, there have been seven games where Williams played 25% or more snaps. In those contests, he received 32 targets for an average of 4.6 targets per game. If CEH were to average 4.6 targets per game in 2022, he’d finish with 78 targets. While that target total is quite lofty, the reality is that the third-year player is going to be looking at the most involvement he’s seen in the passing game in his career.

Edwards-Helaire averaged a missed or broken tackle on 11.8% of his carries, while Jones was at just 6.9%. He also averaged more yards after contact per attempt. While fantasy managers should expect Edwards-Helaire to be the primary pass-catching back in Kansas City, who ends up getting the goal line touches is an important factor that could determine just how high Edwards-Helaire’s fantasy value can climb.

If you recall the graph from earlier, Williams received not only the majority of the targets directed to the running backs but he also was given the majority of the red zone carries. These are what we call “high-value” touches for running backs. Targets and red zone touches are where running backs get the vast majority of their fantasy value.

The expectation should be a split between CEH and RoJo in terms of how Andy Reid distributes the carries, but the former LSU standout should be expected to be the primary pass-catching and two-minute drill back. That’s extremely valuable and it’s possible it could lead to CEH’s best fantasy season of his career. This is especially true if he ends up getting some of the goal-line touches.

Fantasy managers should have no hesitation drafting CEH outside of the top-24, especially if he falls closer to RB30 or on the other side of it. He’s still connected to one of the best offenses in the league who massively rebuilt their offensive line prior to the 2021 season.

The Bottom Line

  • After two disappointing seasons, Clyde Edwards-Helaire finds himself as a fantasy value going into the 2022 season
  • With Darrel Williams out of the picture and replaced by Ronald Jones, CEH is looking at the highest target total of his career
  • The Chiefs are still expected to be a top-10 scoring offense with an above-average offensive line, which gives Edwards-Helaire plenty of scoring potential
  • While most running backs in the dead zone are there because they lack target potential, that’s not true of CEH.
  • He’s currently priced as an RB3 who has top-20 upside

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