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Big expectations awaited rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in his NFL debut. Nearly every season-predictions post pumped him up as an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate while fantasy football analysts tabbed him as a first-round pick. He’s now rostered in 99.6 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues (prompting a run of Fresh Prince of Helaire team names).
When Chiefs incumbent starter Damien Williams opted out, it was clear the work would go to Edwards-Helaire, expected to improve a Chiefs running game that struggled until the latter half of the 2019 season. On Thursday night, in the most anticipated kickoff game in modern NFL history, Edwards-Helaire made good on those expectations, rushing 25 times for 138 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and a touchdown.
The analytics would say drafting a running back in the first round is never a good value pick, but for this team, it certainly was. The LSU running back was the best pass-catching back in his class, perfect for Andy Reid’s zone-heavy rushing attack, and with a duality that allows Reid to keep the same personnel on the field for different looks. Running backs make one of the easiest transitions to the league and can contribute immediately, so for this team trying to repeat as Super Bowl champs, this was a perfect pick.
Edwards-Helaire is a diminutive 5’7″, and that size makes him extremely elusive. He’s so small that his number, 25, takes up the entire width of his jersey. When he lowers his pads, he’s so low to the ground it’s difficult for bigger players to bring him down. This was on full display on his 27-yard touchdown rush in the third quarter.
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press
The rookie back broke through a big hole, cut left and dodged Texans linebacker Benardrick McKinney, then cut right and made safety Justin Reid lose his footing. As he sped to the goal line, a third Texan, Jacob Martin, made a last-ditch diving effort to touch Edwards-Helaire. He wasn’t even close.
Edwards-Helaire’s touchdown came in a run of 31 unanswered points. Kansas City showed its offensive versatility in the process, with a different player scoring each of the team’s four touchdowns. A team quarterbacked by the explosive Patrick Mahomes and loaded with weapons like tight end Travis Kelce and receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins now has a new dimension in Edwards-Helaire. It’s hardly even fair.
After his touchdown run, Edwards-Helaire became the first player with 100 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown in an NFL debut since Saquon Barkley in Week 1, 2018, against the Jaguars, according to NFL Research.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Edwards-Helaire is the fourth player in the last 30 seasons with at least 130 rushing yards and a TD in his NFL debut. Each of the previous three players either went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year or a rushing title that year. The expectations for the Chiefs’ new weapon just got even higher.
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On the other side of the ball, another rookie contributed to Kansas City’s win. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed nabbed his first interception and a 39-yard return, thanks to pressure from safety Tyrann Mathieu, and played better than expected for a fourth-round pick in his first game.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson attempted to pick on Sneed but found no success. Sneed broke up two passes, and while none of the Texans receivers are as talented as former Houston star DeAndre Hopkins, it was a solid debut for the rookie corner.
Dynasties are damn near impossible in today’s NFL. But with rookies contributing in a dominant win against a Texans team that made the playoffs last year, these Chiefs have only strengthened the case that they are the rare team who can run it back. Thursday night’s win made that even more realistic.