One of the many headlines of Super Bowl 54 was the fact that both the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers headed into the contest with their starting RBs both being undrafted players. Raheem Mostert was able to make some plays in the game for San Fransisco but the biggest impact for a RB in the game was from Damien Williams, who finished the day with 104 yards rushing, 29 yards receiving, and two touchdowns, one a pass from Patrick Mahomes to take the lead and another a 38-yard dash to seal the win. Williams will go down as an all-time hero for the Chiefs Kingdom, and that run sealed his legacy as an all-time playoff performer for the Chiefs. An undrafted free agent turned Super Bowl hero, it doesn’t get any better than that.
The play will live in Chiefs history forever, but three months later on the first night of the NFL Draft the Chiefs made it clear they were not satisfied with the production at the RB position. They made a choice that had some scratching their heads.
The Chiefs took LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the 32nd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and the crowd of people in the “Running Backs don’t matter” club were up in arms. But why did Andy Reid and Brett Veach do it? After all they had just won the Super Bowl with an undrafted free agent and a seventh round pick as the only two backs they had on the roster in the game. The answer is quite simple and can be addressed in two parts: 1. The current state of the RBs on the roster did not provide anywhere near the production the Chiefs needed from them this past season. 2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire is exactly what Andy Reid and Brett Veach want in a RB and will make the best offense in football even better.
Damien Williams will be a postseason hero forever in Kansas City and for good reason, in two postseasons with the Chiefs he has amassed 355 rushing yards with six touchdowns, and also had 185 receiving yards with four touchdowns all through the course of five postseason games with the Chiefs. These numbers for the postseason are outstanding, and while it is true Williams has been clutch for the Chiefs the last few seasons but his regular season numbers are far less than stellar. During the regular season Williams accounted for 498 yards rushing with five touchdowns but his rushing totals are blown up due to a 91 yard run and an 84 yard run. Take those away and he only ran for 323 yards and three touchdowns, and an abysmal 2.96 yards per carry. This is not good. The Chiefs RBs were not good in general in 2020, and no stat metric or factor should need to tell anyone that LeSean McCoy was not good.
Darrel Williams did show flashes at times but much like has been the story of his career in Kansas City so far injuries derailed his season and cost him the entire 2019 playoffs. Spencer Ware was able to return to town but only for a few brief games before he was injured. However, he was brought back to be more of a backfield protector for Mahomes rather than a go-to back. That leaves rookie 2019 sixth-round pick Darwin Thompson, who at times did seem to show that he belonged in Kansas City as the man taking back up snaps come late in the season. Thompson showed some flash and has some potential but the same vision issues that scouts had flagged in college followed him to the NFL. Thompson did, however, provide a clue for what the future would look like at the position from a physical and body type standpoint, but with Andy Reid this body type has been seen before.
Brett Veach has been with Andy Reid since he joined the Philadelphia Eagles staff as a coaching intern in 2004. At the time the Eagles had a high flying offense, and a back the likes of which the NFL had never seen. Brian Westbrook stood a stocky 5-foot-10 203 pounds, and was an excellent contact runner. He also had hands. In 2007 he recorded a 2,000 all purpose yard season.
Westbrook was excellent in Philadelphia and Andy Reid used every bit of his ability while coaching him. All the while a young Brett Veach was learning and slowly rising in Philadelphia to the position of a scout. In 2012 when Reid was fired and eventually joined the Chiefs, Veach would follow. The Chiefs at the time were a mess, but they did have one offensive player who could take it the distance any given play, Jamaal Charles.
Charles is somewhat of the odd-ball when it comes to Andy Reid RBs, while we have seen stocky bruisers like Westbrook, Charles was an elite Olympic level sprinter who made teams fear him with his speed rather than his ability to break tackles in the box, but in his first season in with Reid Charles posted 1,980 all-purpose yards. Reid and Charles’s time was cut short together due to injury and after his release in 2016 the Chiefs went with Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. Both fit the bill of stocky inside runners, though West had more burst than Ware. By the time the 2017 NFL Draft rolled around Veach had worked himself to the Co-Director of player personnel, one step below General Manager John Dorsey when the Chiefs would take little known Toledo running back Kareem Hunt in the third round. Hunt would go on to lead the league in rushing his rookie season, as well as have 455 receiving yards.
Hunt would become an instant hit for the Chiefs, and later that summer after John Dorsey was canned as general manager Veach would take the reigns. This would also be the beginning of a revolution in Kansas City, one that due to his own poor judgment would Kareem Hunt would not be apart of.
After Hunt’s departure from Kansas City, which was well deserved and one the Chiefs had no choice on at that point, the Chiefs would go with Williams from that point through the 2019 playoffs, but were not in a position to take a difference-making RB in that draft, and settled for a depth pick in Thompson in the sixth round. An aged McCoy would join the team during camp, but the unit found little success the next season. Still Reid was able to scheme his way to success in the run game but it was clear another piece was needed, DESPITE winning the Super Bowl. Great RBs are a key staple of all good Andy Reid teams. Veach has seen what Reid can do with great backs all his career so when the mold for what they needed at the position became available at 32nd overall it was a no brainer.
I have already covered what Clyde Edwards-Helaire does well in my film review over him but now it is how he fits and why he fits. Between the group of Westbrook, Charles, Hunt, and now CEH they all have one thing in common. They can beat a LB or safety one on one in the box to get to the open field, whether it be Charles with his sprinter speed, Hunt’s physical prowess, or Westbrook’s electric feet. Edwards-Helaire fits more between Westbrook and Hunt, and while he doesn’t have the elite breakaway speed he does have the vision and contact balance to potentially end up being a very Westbrook like a player.
The Chiefs offense has the potential to return to its 2018 form and could potentially become even more potent than last season. That combined with the fact that Patrick Mahomes is 24 years old, and the NFL’s new rookie contracts the 5th season option clause could lead to Edwards-Helaire being the team runner well into Mahomes’ prime should lead to huge success. Veach knows this well and it will also ensure that in the next few seasons when Mahomes does get his mega-deal the Chiefs will have a more than solid backfield partner for him, as well as another weapon for Andy Reid to use. The more and more teams commit to putting Defensive Backs on the field to stop the passing game the more wholes will open in the run, and the more teams want to blitz Mahomes the more Reid will use CEH in the run game. He is the mold, and he could change the position forever. As a back who teams could potentially fear more in the pass game than even the run. Veach has seen what Reid can do with elite runners for a long time now. He knew it was time to get another one in Kansas City.