Road to the Pros: Why LSU Running Back Clyde Edwards-Helaire Will Continue to Defy the Odds in the NFL

Harrison Valentine

We’d be doing Clyde Edwards-Helaire a disservice trying to predict his career in the NFL, because, quite frankly, he’s been defying odds and expectations his entire football career.

He’s been told he’s too short. He’s been told he’s not a true running back. But one thing about Edwards-Helaire has never wavered: he’s all heart. And that can’t be measured.

“Throw your heart across the line and your body will follow,” Edwards-Helaire told the media after LSU defeated Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9. “I live by that motto, and it happens.”

The former four-star recruit out of Catholic HS in Baton Rouge committed and signed with LSU in 2017, joining a stable of highly-touted running backs his freshman year. After two respectable seasons, 2019 was finally his time to claim first-team reps alongside freshman Ty Davis-Price and John Emery.

He just needed his chance. But once he got it -- similar to his burst in between the tackles -- he exploded.

In his 2019 campaign, Edwards-Helaire rushed for 1,415 yards and 16 touchdowns on 215 carries, becoming LSU’s x-factor throughout the national title run. He was as nimble, quick and tough to tackle as any rusher in college football, but his ability to be a threat in the passing game proved to be just as important.

A Paul Hornung Award finalist for the nation’s most versatile player, Edwards-Helaire totaled 55 receptions, 453 yards, 8.2 on average, and a touchdown as a receiver. His vision, awareness, and role in pass protection made him a swiss army knife in LSU’s historic offense led by Joe Burrow.

“When it comes to modern day running backs in the NFL, Clyde Edwards-Helaire fits the mold,” said Trevor Sikkema of The Draft Network. “Though shorter in stature, Edwards-Helaire is tough to take down both with power and with agility. His mental processing when diagnosing incoming tacklers is very fast, and because of this he has one of the highest broken tackle/missed tackle rates in the entire country.”

Edwards-Helaire, who checks in at 5-foot-8, 209 pounds, is a matchup nightmare one-on-one. Between his cut-and-go footwork, devastating spin move, and ability to make tacklers miss in a phone booth, yards after contact (YAC) was almost always a certainty, with the possibility to also break big yardage runs at times.

Most Intriguing Destination: Saints fans might not want to hear this, but two teams in the NFC South are in need of a running back, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons could be two of those teams with an eye on selecting Edwards-Helaire somewhere in the late-second, to early-third round area.

One play that will forever stick out in regard to Edwards-Helaire’s career at LSU was his final touchdown against Alabama to put the game on ice, giving the Tigers their first win over the Crimson Tide in eight years. The play epitomized everything Edwards-Helaire represents. Toughness. A never give up, chip on the shoulder mentality. And the belief that heart will always outweigh any star rating.

Writer’s Note: With the NFL Draft just under six weeks from now, concerns surrounding COVID-19 will likely force the league to make some tough decisions in the coming weeks. For Edwards-Helaire and the other LSU draft prospects, the early rounds in Las Vegas were primed to be dominated by Tigers. Stay tuned for updates as the situation develops.

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