Scouting breakdown: The best running backs in the 2020 NFL Draft
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
Height: 5’7″ Weight: 207 40-Yard Dash: 4.6 seconds Bench Press: 15 reps Vertical Jump: 39.5 inches Broad Jump: 123.0 inches 3-Cone Drill: N/A 20-Yard Shuttle: N/A 60-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Bio: While Joe Burrow was obviously the headliner of Joe Brady’s championship LSU offense with his 60 touchdown passes, it could easily be argued that Edwards-Helaire was the second most important component, and he comes into this draft class with an intriguing argument to the “running backs don’t matter” truthers. In 2019, Edwards-Helaire enjoyed a serious breakout season, gaining 1,414 rushing yards and scoring 16 rushing touchdowns on 215 carries, adding 55 catches for 453 yards. With 1,867 total yards and 17 total touchdowns, Edwards-Helaire is an optimal back for any multi-faceted offense with his well-rounded skill set.
“As a player, I’ll say I’m exclusive,” he said at the scouting combine. “That’s the noun that I’m going with. That’s the adjective that I’m going with. Ultimately, I’m going to stand by that 100%. I feel like everything I do is something that can’t be matched. I feel like I’m kind of, not really, making my own category. But I feel like in this instance, I’m making my own category and doing the things that I need to do to separate me from the bunch.”
Edwards-Helaire has also worked on his pass protection, with help from former Patriots running back and current LSU running backs coach Kevin Faulk.
“When Kevin came on staff two years ago, I asked him about pass pro. … He blocked for Tom Brady – one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the football league. And that’s something I pride myself on also. As soon as he came in, we hopped on it. He’s kinda the guy that helped me along the lines with it and then ultimately just the way he ran the ball and everything else from his height standpoint, my height standpoint, we were seeing eye to eye on a lot of things.”
Stat to Know: In 2019, per Pro Football Focus’ wins above average (WAA), Edwards-Helaire was the 13th-most valuable player regardless of position, and third-most valuable non-quarterback. This had a lot to do with the monumental steps forward he took as a receiver.
Strengths: Edwards-Helaire is a “Muscle Hamster” running back who jumps and cuts quickly and decisively to find the open hole, and he’s better at getting through contact than his size indicates. Has a great sense of how to right himself after contact, and he doesn’t panic at the first hit. Can shake defenders out of their shoes in the open field. Presents a favorable target to the quarterback as a receiver, and is particularly good with Texas (angle) routes and motion screens. LSU split him out in 2019, and his NFL team should do the same. Forced 71 missed tackles and had 21 runs of 15 or more yards last season.
Weaknesses: More quick than straight-line fast in the open field. Pass protection is a work in progress. Tough runner, but with his size, he’s not going to beat up any defensive tackles. Had his one great season as his quarterback (Burrow) was throwing touchdown passes at an insane rate and had every defense playing on its heels. Faced a loaded box on just 12% of his carries in 2019.
Conclusion: As he said, Edwards-Helaire is doing a lot to define his own category and separate himself from the bunch. He might not be a bell-cow running back at the NFL level, but how many of those backs exist for more than a couple of years anymore? He’ll be an immediate asset to any team that defines its passing game with screens and RPOs, and his underrated power combined with his quickness makes him an intriguing complementary back.
NFL Comparison: Michael Bennett. Not the longtime edge rusher, but the former Wisconsin running back selected in the first round of the 2001 draft by the Vikings. Like Bennett, Edwards-Helaire can be a big play waiting to happen as both a runner and receiver. His commitment to becoming a complete back augurs well for his NFL future.