Joe Burrow, following his Heisman- and championship-winning run with LSU, had emerged as the odds-on favorite to win the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year award. But the Bengals quarterback should now lose that status to a highly talented former Bayou Bengals teammate.
From Burrow at No. 1 overall, 14 players in all were drafted out of LSU back in April. Five more joined Burrow as first-round picks, and another four more were taken through No. 83 overall.
That’s an insanely talented pool of NFL newcomers vying for either offensive rookie of the year or defensive rookie of the year honors. One, however, is clearly in a more advantageous position to maximize his immediate-impact skills more than the others.
Say an early congratulations to the 2020 OROY to be — Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Sure, Burrow can be a solid starter right away for the Bengals to help them be much improved. Yes, K’Lavon Chaisson (Jaguars), Patrick Queen (Saints), Grant Delpit (Browns) will make plenty of big plays from the back seven of their new defenses. And maybe, Justin Jefferson will pick up receiving where Stefon Diggs left off for the Vikings.
But only Edwards-Helaire is looking at a guaranteed feature role, getting plenty of touches from Patrick Mahomes for the reigning Super Bowl champs. With former starter Damien Williams opting out for 2020 season, the only reason not to unleash Edwards-Helaire is gone.
Edwards-Helaire earned his first-round draft pick with an explosive, exceptional junior season flanking Burrow. Edwards-Helaire was very impressive running the ball, rushing for 1,414 yards and 16 TDs while averaging 14 carriers per game. But what made him stand out as a future pro back were his 55 catches for 455 yards.
That was great enough for coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach to make a surprise draft splurge on him. They had plans for Williams to still start and split work with Edwards-Helaire. They should be fine blowing those plans up and seeing how special Edwards-Helaire can be with 20-plus touches per game.
It’s hard to believe two past developments. First, Reid, with his offensive acumen and all the talent he’s had on that side of the ball, has never had an offensive rookie of the year in his previous 21 years of NFL head coaching. Second, the Chiefs have never had an AP offensive rookie of the year (since 1967) or a Sporting News rookie of the year (since 1955).
Three seasons ago, Kareem Hunt was worthy of that honor, but he was edged out by another running back, the Saints’ Alvin Kamara. It’s appropriate that Edwards-Helaire, on Hunt’s team and with Kamara’s dynamic skill set, is positioned to run away with those awards, plus more.
Reid’s offense has leaned toward featuring one back and he’s gotten the most of those who excel as receivers. From Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia to Jamaal Charles and Hunt in Kansas City, his backs simply produce as a versatile, volumed dual threats.
Before and after Hunt’s work on the field, Reid and his offensive staff were forced to shift a little more to a situational committee approach because of injuries and not having one all-around answer. Williams, a free agent in 2021, was the ultimate supersub all the way through his Super Bowl 54. His 21 touches for 133 yards and 2 TDs were critical to beating the 49ers.
The trademark of Reid’s top backs have been speed and quickness in the open field. McCoy cut on a dime and Charles was smoothly elusive. Westbrook and Hunt were naturally gifted as receivers.
Edwards-Helaire, at 5-7, 207 pounds, has those same qualities. He’s also underrated as a compact power runner on early downs with a keen sense for finishing drives in the red zone.
Hunt had a league-high 1,327 yards rushing with 53 catches for 455 yards receiving in ’17. But in a Chiefs’ offense that’s become pass-happier with Mahomes since then, Edwards-Helaire’s rookie season might be more like Kamara’s (728 yards rushing, 826 yards receiving). If Mahomes was the prized QB specimen for which Reid was long looking, then Edwards-Helaire represents his rare, ultimate catch for the backfield.
The Chiefs will have another monstrous offensive season with Mahomes and are considerable favorites to both win the AFC and Super Bowl again. When there’s a key rookie producting at a high level on a contending team, he usually wins rookie of the year. Unfortunately, in relation, Burrow is unlikely to get enough winning support from the Bengals for his cause.
Edwards-Helaire came out of the perfect college offense for him, and landed in the ideal NFL offense for him. Barring injury, he will star to the point that Burrow — and no other NFL rookie — will surpass him in 2020.
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