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Clyde Edwards-Helaire can 'thrive' early in Chiefs' passing game

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Clyde Edwards-Helaire's 2020 NFL draft profile (0:57)

Check out highlights of former LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire as he powers through defenders with ease, preparing him for this year's NFL draft. (0:57)

Kansas City Chiefs rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a running back, but became a proficient receiver early in his football career. It was the only way Edwards-Helaire was going to get to play.

"It started early on, me being a receiving back in high school," said Edwards-Helaire, who the Chiefs drafted in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft. "I was on the same team as Derrius Guice in high school ... so I had to find a different way to get on the field. They wanted me to get on the field so I started playing slot receiver, and I kind of hopped back and forth from slot to the backfield in a two-back set, so ultimately it was just kind of something that was part of my DNA."

At LSU last season, Edwards-Helaire became the first player in SEC history to rush for more than 1,000 yards and catch at least 50 passes in single a season.

The Chiefs thought his versatility made Edwards-Helaire a strong fit for their offense, and his ability as a pass-catcher separated him from the rest of the running backs in the draft. In fact, he was the only runner chosen in the first round.

"As many times as you get single coverage with linebackers on that backside ... it gives you some nice matchups potentially," coach Andy Reid said. "His ability to run routes and catch the football, I think those are all pluses.”

The Chiefs have a group of veteran backs led by Damien Williams, a 224-pound power runner who has been a star at times over the past two seasons. He scored six touchdowns in the Chiefs' three postseason games last season, including the final two touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.

The 207-pound Edwards-Helaire is a much different type of player, suggesting both players will get time in the lineup.

"This kid is a different back than what we have as far as being more of a scatback, a quick-footed kid that once he gets into the open field, he has the ability to make people miss," said Willie Davis, the Chiefs' scout for the area of the country that includes Louisiana. "If you get this kid in space, one-on-one, you're not going to be able to tackle him because of his footwork, his vision.

"This kid really catches the ball well out of the backfield. Once you get him out in the screen game and one-on-one with a linebacker, it's going to be tough to tackle this kid in space. Not to take anything away from Damien and the other backs that we have. Damien is a big, pounding kind of kid that really can run between the tackles. This kid can run between the tackles and also has the ability to make people miss outside."

The Chiefs have depth at running back beyond Edwards-Helaire and Williams. Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson played some for the Chiefs last season and DeAndre Washington recently signed as a free agent.

Because the Chiefs have options, Edwards-Helaire will have to earn playing time as a rookie. He will come in without the benefit of offseason practice, but general manager Brett Veach said the Chiefs still expect him to have an impact in 2020.

"He's going to come in right away and pick up this offense quickly," Veach said. "I always worry about the complexity of our offense and just about how long it will take guys, when the coaches feel comfortable, but everyone that you talk to at LSU, they rave about his football character and his football IQ. And then when you throw in the talent that he has with that, we think he can come in right away and be a big factor in this offense.”

At 5-feet-7 and nearly 20 pounds lighter than Damien Williams, Edwards-Helaire also has to prove he can handle the physical demands of being an every-down back, should his production earn that role.

"I think just the way our offense is constructed, I think this guy will thrive in it, and I think he'll be able to handle the workload," Veach said.

"I think if we were a more traditional two-tight end set, power run game, certainly there would be some questions. But I think the way we can spread teams out and make them play east and west, and the threat of our vertical passing game, and again, this kid's low center of gravity, his ability to make people miss."

Look for Edwards-Helaire to be able to put his receiving skills on display early in his NFL career. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes led the NFL over the past two seasons with 7.7 yards per attempt when throwing to a running back. He has thrown 16 touchdown passes and zero interceptions during that time when targeting a back.

"I was always able to catch," he said. "I was always able to run routes, and LSU took complete advantage of that [in] my last year, being able to get me out in space and let me run routes because that was the thing that I did.

"Now I don't even have to worry about that. I'm going to an offense that's absolutely a fit for me. ... They were big on being able to get the running back out in space and I feel like that was where I absolutely thrived."