That sound you hear is Clyde Edwards-Helaire truthers howling at the moon.
You, like the howlers, know that Kansas City running back Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 NFL season, as those who have targeted him in best ball leagues and early seasonal drafts look for a way to opt out of 2020 altogether. That leaves the rookie at the top of the Kansas City depth chart, in an Andy Reid offense that has been something short of terrible for running backs.
Edwards Helaire (the zoomers call him CEH) will surely see his late third round average draft position rocket into the first round, providing fantasy players with yet another lead back in a supercharged offense in the opening round. I'd imagine CEH will now be drafted after Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Alvin Kamara. And that's about it. If you're not taking CEH in the first half of the first round, you're not landing him on your redraft roster this season.
Concerns about how CEH would acclimate to the pros amid the summer of COVID-19 have seemed to melt away. Twenty-four hours ago, it was the veteran Williams who arguably had the edge in understanding the Kansas City offense and taking a good chunk of the team's early-down backfield role. Now it all belongs to the rookie. Or does it?
It's a foregone conclusion that the 5'8", 209 pound CEH will dominate the receiving role out of the KC backfield this year -- this is the guy who had at least four receptions in nine of his 15 games last year at LSU (he's the only player in SEC history to total 50 receptions and more than 1,000 rushing yards).
What about the early-down role, you ask with bated breath. CEH notched 14.3 carries per game in his junior year at LSU, eclipsing the perfectly arbitrary 20-carry mark in three of 15 games. A dozen NCAA running backs had more carries than CEH last season. Obviously he can handle a fairly hefty workload, and with the receptions he's expected to vacuum up from Patrick Mahomes, CEH might not even need a bunch of carries to meet his first round value. Maybe.
Before we get into the team's remaining running backs and their potential role in a post-Damien world, let's peek at Reid's running back usage since Jamaal Charles was carrying otherwise garbage fantasy teams to championships.
|Season||KC RB1 workload||KC RB2 workload|
|2016||214 carries (51.9% share)||88 carries (21.3% share)|
|2017||272 carries (67.2% share)||18 (4.4% share)|
|2018||181 carries (46.7% share)||51 carries (13.2% share)|
|2019||111 carries (29.6% share)||101 carries (26.9% share)|
Last year was an outlier for Reid’s post-Charles backfield. Williams fought various injuries, LeSean McCoy was in and out of the lineup. Meanwhile, Darrel Williams got a crack at early-round duties before 2019 rookie Darwin Thompson. This is clearly not how Reid prefers to operate his backfields, as evidenced by Charles’ workload under Reid and Kareem Hunt’s usage in 2017 and 2018 (before he was released by the team for getting caught on tape attacking a 19-year-old woman). Even Spencer Ware saw more than half the team’s carries in 2016.
Undoubtedly this bodes well for CEH, or anyone in line to take the lead role behind Mahomes. But I’d be remiss -- and I’m never remiss -- if I didn’t overanalyze everyone else in the KC backfield who might be draft-worthy in seasonal leagues.
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If the 2019 sixth round pick couldn’t squirm his way into lead-back duty last year, as Kansas City running backs continually gimped on and off the field, then there’s not much reason to believe he’ll be thrust into a fantasy-viable role in 2020. The one 2019 game that saw Thompson take lead back duties ended with the then-rookie getting a whopping 11 carries for 44 yards. Probably Thompson is an injury or three away from being a reliable fantasy producer in the KC backfield.
Williams saw most of his 2019 action when Damien Williams and McCoy were hobbled on the sidelines. He topped out last year with an 11-carry late season performance against the Chargers. Williams, a much bigger back than Thompson or CEH, profiles as a waiver add in deeper leagues if the Chiefs again struggle with running back injuries in 2020.
We’ll hear a lot about Washington playing with Mahomes at Texas Tech. I’m not sure how to quantify this narrative, but it’s a fact that I have confirmed via internet search. The fifth-year back emerged as fantasy relevant for a brief period last year, handling 25 touches in each of the Raiders’ last two games. Williams racked up 238 total yards in those games. Probably he’s as likely as any of the remaining Kansas City running backs to see at least some early-down involvement and possibly become the guy if CEH gets dinged up.
You won’t care about any of these depth chart all-stars if you’re building your fantasy roster with a bunch of early-round running backs. If, like me, you usually abide by the tenants of Zero RB, Washington makes for a sensible pick -- someone who could have the mouth-watering gig as the lead back in a Mahomes-led offense.
There’s a chance (maybe a good one) the Chiefs will sign Devonta Freeman and screw up everything I’ve written here. Whatever happens, it’ll be a worthwhile exercise to monitor exactly which runner would benefit from a CEH absence in 2020.