2020 first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire didn't have the rookie campaign many had hoped for. He's poised for a much better 2021 season, but how the running back group behind him takes shape could be even more interesting.
Last year, it was Darrel Williams who received plenty of snaps in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He — not Edwards-Helaire — was also the Chiefs' halfback of choice for numerous two-minute drills. When the team needed someone to do the dirty work, Williams was that guy.
In addition to Williams, Le'Veon Bell (who is no longer with the team) was another primary reserve behind Edwards-Helaire last season. Darwin Thompson got a hefty workload in Week 17 but otherwise failed to make a major impact in 2020. All things considered, it was a relatively underwhelming year production-wise.
Arrowhead Report's Mark Van Sickle joined me on today's Roughing the Kicker podcast to talk about the state of the Chiefs' running backs early in training camp. Not only did we talk about the trio of Edwards-Helaire, Williams and Thompson, but we also brought up newcomer Jerick McKinnon.
McKinnon, who missed both the 2018 and 2019 seasons due to injury before returning to have a solid season last year, joined the Chiefs this offseason via free agency. In addition to scoring six touchdowns in 2020 with the San Francisco 49ers, the dual-threat back recorded 319 rushing yards and 253 receiving yards. While he isn't a lock to break camp with the team, he deserves some credit for various reasons.
McKinnon is a proven commodity. His per-down effectiveness as a rusher may not be the best, but his ability to also double as a pass-catching threat is legitimate. He's also notably proficient in pass protection, an area in which Edwards-Helaire struggled last season and may never excel. He's an ideal complementary back in the modern NFL and is also on a cheap one-year deal.
There's a clear path to Williams and McKinnon both finding roles this season. When the Chiefs need tough yards, Williams can be their go-to. When Edwards-Helaire needs a rest, McKinnon can fill in as an all-purpose option. That leaves Thompson on the outside looking in, but that wouldn't be the first time he's faced adversity.
Edwards-Helaire is set to make a leap forward this season. If the Chiefs improve offensively, he'll have plenty to do with that. It won't be mostly because of Williams, McKinnon or Thompson. Backup running backs don't make or break championship-caliber teams, after all.
With that said, Andy Reid will have options as to who he puts on the field when Edwards-Helaire is on the sideline. Plentiful, versatile, distinct options. As training camp continues and the preseason approaches, keep an eye on the depth chart at running back. How it's ordered in a couple of months will say a lot about the position group.
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