Another weapon for Patrick Mahomes
In 1989, my final season covering the Kansas City Chiefs for The Kansas City Star, I watched Christian Okoye rush for 1,480 yards in delivering the franchise its first league rushing champion since Abner Haynes in the AFL’s inaugural season in 1960. The Nigerian Nightmare carried the ball 370 times in the 15 games he played that season to edge out Hall of Famer Barry Sanders for the NFL rushing title.
Last season, when Kansas City won its first Super Bowl since those AFL years, the Chiefs as an offense rushed the ball only 375 times in 16 games for 1,569 yards. And with the departures from the roster of the club’s top two rushers of a year ago, the 2020 Chiefs may become even less reliant on the run.
Damien Williams led the Chiefs with a scant 498 yards on the ground a year ago but has already opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID concerns. Williams did rush for 104 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl. His backup a year ago, LeSean McCoy, rushed for a career-low 465 yards before departing this offseason for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But a greater emphasis on the pass in 2020 could have less to do with the departures of Williams and McCoy than the arrival of Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
The Chiefs spent a first-round draft pick on Edwards-Helaire, who rushed for 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns for the national champion LSU Tigers last season. But he was more than a ball carrier last fall. He was a pass catcher – and that’s the one area that Kansas City offense has been a bit lacking.
The NFL is throwing the football to its backs in a big way. Christian McCaffrey set an NFL-record for running backs with 116 receptions for the Carolina Panthers last season. Austin Ekeler caught 92 for the Chargers, Alvin Kamara 81 for the Saints and Tarik Cohen 79 for the Bears. But Williams caught only 30 passes out of the backfield for the Chiefs last season, tops in their running back corps.
The Chiefs made Patrick Mahomes the richest player in the NFL this offseason with a 10-year, $450 million contract. For good reason. He’s the best quarterback in the NFL with both a league and Super Bowl MVP on his resume before the age of 25. So how do you make the best quarterback in the NFL even better? Give him another weapon, another option.
Edwards-Helaire caught 55 passes at LSU last season. He caught nine for 77 yards and a touchdown at Alabama in LSU’s upset of the Crimson Tide. He had seven-catch games against Arkansas, Auburn and Georgia and also caught five passes for 54 yards in the national championship game against Clemson.
If the Chiefs do decide to hand the ball off to Edwards-Helaire this fall, they’ll be in quality hands. He rushed for seven 100-yard games last season, including 110 against Clemson, 103 against Alabama and 134 against Florida, all Top 10 teams. Edwards-Helaire averaged 6.6 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns against Alabama, three on the ground and one through the air. He also rushed for three scores against Arkansas.
The Chiefs have a Pro Bowl at quarterback, wide receiver (Tyreek Hill) and tight end (Travis Kelce). The one spot on offense the Super bowl champions needed to upgrade was running back and they believe they have done so with Edwards-Helaire. As much for his hands as for his legs.