Following the NFL Draft when the Chiefs selected Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the last pick in the first round, the running back from LSU was getting lofty praise from his new head coach. Andy Reid said Edwards-Helaire reminded him of Brian Westbrook.
If you recall, Reid drafted Westbrook for the Eagles in 2002 in the third round out of Villanova. He had a stellar career in Philadelphia for Reid, earning two Pro Bowl selections and establishing himself as one of the best dual-threat running backs in the NFL. In 2007, Westbrook had one of the best Fantasy seasons of all time with 278 carries for 1,333 yards and seven touchdowns, along with 90 catches for 771 yards and five touchdowns.
Imagine if Reid — who has coached a top-12 PPR running back in points per game 15 times in 21 seasons with the Eagles and Chiefs, including having nine finish in the top five — could get that kind of production out of Edwards-Helaire this year? Westbrook thinks it's possible.
"For Edwards-Helaire, you can't imagine going to a better situation," Westbrook said. "You have a quarterback that is the best player in the NFL and dominant, so you know you're going to get favorable defensive matchups because they're expecting the pass and worrying about the pass. But you're also talking about one of the best scheme guys in the league in Andy Reid. He knows how to get his players the ball in space. This is a great situation for him that he's going to walk into."
Edwards-Helaire is expected to start for the Chiefs after Damien Williams opted out over concerns related to COVID-19. While we expected the rookie to have a big role this season, he now has the chance to be a star. I have him ranked at No. 6 overall in all leagues.
Westbrook said the biggest thing for Edwards-Helaire will be learning "a complicated system" and picking up pass protection in a shortened offseason and limited training camp due to the Coronavirus pandemic. But Westbrook said Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy should have Edwards-Helaire ready to go.
"We know that he can run the football, we know that if you get him in space he'll catch the football and make some people miss," Westbrook said. "But if you can pick up the pass protection quick enough, that's going to determine how much he's going to play.
"I have no doubt in my mind that they'll have him coached up on the schemes, how defenses are now trying to defend Patrick Mahomes in that offense and how they will try to attack him in particular in his blocking protections to see if he's willing and able to step up to the task of blocking. They'll use him in a lot of different ways, and I think they can use him early as long as he can understand the blocking schemes because the running schemes and the pass schemes out of the backfield, he should pick up fairly quickly."
Edwards-Helaire wasn't the only running back we talked to Westbrook about. He talked about the outlook for Eagles starter Miles Sanders.
Westbrook was impressed with Sanders as a rookie in 2019, and Westbrook expects Sanders to be great as the first featured rusher in the Doug Pederson era.
"As we saw toward the end of (last) season, we saw a kid that was just gaining more and more confidence," Westbrook said. "And when you get that type of confidence, and then the coaches say they're going to lean on you more, that means he's going to work a little bit harder and be even more prepared for this season. When you talk about Doug Pederson giving him 20-23 touches a game, the sky can be the limit for his ability to put up yards in the run game and in the passing game."
You might see "20-23 touches a game" and be skeptical, but that's the potential Sanders has this year. And that's why we're telling you to draft him in Round 1 in all leagues.
Last year, from Weeks 11-16 when Jordan Howard was out with a shoulder injury, Sanders averaged 19.8 touches per game and played more than 57 percent of the snaps in every outing. If you project his workload over that stretch for 16 games then he would have been at 317 touches for the season, including 251 carries. It would easily be the most work ever for a running back under Pederson.
In PPR, I have Edwards-Helaire and Sanders ranked back-to-back as my No. 6 and 7 running backs. They are well ahead of LeSean McCoy, but we also talked to Westbrook about his former teammate with the Eagles.
Westbrook spent one season in Philadelphia with McCoy in 2009, when the latter was a rookie. Now, 11 seasons later, McCoy is with his fourth team after signing a one-year deal with Tampa Bay at the end of July.
McCoy is expected to compete for touches behind Ronald Jones, and Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said Jones will be the "main guy" in the backfield this season. Arians said McCoy should "find his niche easily," likely on passing downs.
McCoy struggled last year in Kansas City and was a healthy scratch in the Super Bowl. But Westbrook said McCoy, in limited touches, can still make an impact with the Buccaneers, even at 32.
"One of the things I saw from last year, he didn't have his legs underneath him when he was with Kansas City," Westbrook said. "Over this offseason, he's worked his butt off just to make sure that when called upon, he would be ready to play. I know, just like everyone else knows, that Father Time doesn't lose to anyone and catches up to everyone.
"I think they'll be very smart about getting LeSean McCoy the ball in space out of the backfield and some touches in the backfield as well. But they're not calling upon him to be the workhorse back, which he was years ago in Philadelphia and Buffalo as well. They'll get him between 5-8 carries a game, and with that he can still be explosive and do some good things."
In looking at the Buccaneers backfield, it's worth drafting Jones in Round 6 as a No. 3 running back. McCoy and rookie Ke'Shawn Vaughn are late-round fliers, and we'll find out if McCoy has anything left to offer in Tampa Bay.
It was great hearing what Westbrook had to say about Edwards-Helaire, Sanders and McCoy. Hopefully, Edwards-Helaire and Sanders are breakout running backs this year, and McCoy could be a useful flex option in deeper leagues.