How the Chiefs can learn from their previous running back history

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Overuse and injuries have derailed several Chiefs running backs, but that doesn’t have to be Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s case.

With the last pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the defending Super Bowl champions made a risky choice. Rather than drafting defense, they went with Lousiana State running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Despite the initial shock (at least for me), the pick made sense to fit the team’s pass-first offense. Edwards-Helaire caught 55 passes last collegiate season to help guide the Tigers on their undefeated national title run. 

In the last 20 years, the Chiefs have done a poor job with preserving their starting running backs. If history repeats itself for Kansas City, Edwards-Helaire may not be effective as long as we think. 

There are two running backs that had their careers shortened due to overuse and injury. Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles both could have had longer careers in Kansas City if they didn’t have such an impossible workload.

For Johnson, he replaced Priest Holmes, who was sidelined with a spinal injury after having over a thousand total touches over a three-season span. Johnson picked up right where Holmes left off, as he had 826 touches over two seasons, according to Pro Football Reference.

That insane amount of focus within the offense never saw Johnson play a full season again after he was 27-years-old. The injuries that began to stack up for Johnson coincides with his output in-game. 

With Charles, his situation is one that can be more easily related to Edwards-Helaire. The two use their speed and elusiveness to evade tacklers through the air and on the ground. 

In his second and third seasons, Charles touched the ball over 500 times in total. Then an ACL tear at the beginning of the 2011 season saw him sidelined.

Once he returned, his workload never changed. In fact, it increased. Back-to-back seasons of over 300 touches and then one over 200 left Charles with another torn ACL in 2015.

We see in those cases how the Chiefs have used running backs in the past. They have been the workhorse and driving force of the offense. 

Since I looked at touch counts, given his smaller 5’7” frame, I don’t want to see him getting more than 200, and certainly not more than 230 total touches. Through 11 games this season, Edwards-Helaire has 181 touches, according to Pro Football Reference

With quarterback Patrick Mahomes sailing the ship, the Chiefs do not have to rely heavily on a star running back like before. This could lead to a longer and more successful tenure for both the team and Edwards-Helaire.