Dressed to Regress: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (2021 Fantasy Football)
In this series of articles, we’ll be using some of the valuable (and free) reports that FantasyPros offers to identify players you may want to target or avoid come draft day. We’ll analyze data from the Touchdown Regression, Stats Leaders, Red Zone Stats, and Advanced Stats reports, along with situational factors that might also influence a player’s production, to determine which players could be in line for positive or negative regression in 2021. We’ll then compare that to the latest ECR and ADP to help you mine some value and dodge the pyrite in your fantasy drafts.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB – KC): ECR 27, RB 15
Two days before the opening game of the 2020 NFL season, while the entire sporting world was holding its breath to see if the season would start as planned, some huge news dropped: a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot was in the works.
As you’d expect from a child of the 90s, I went through a range of emotions. My initial excitement quickly gave way to disgust. Why remake something that exists as a perfect, sepia-tinged bubble of nostalgia when it could never possibly be as good as the original? I was outraged, secure in the knowledge that my feelings were justified. Then I watched the concept trailer, and… well, it was pretty good. Really good, actually. Rather than churn out an inevitably inferior version of the sitcom, they used the theme song* as inspiration, rewriting the show as a gritty, real-world drama. And somehow, it worked. As good as the original? No, it never could be. But good in its own right? It sure looks that way (we’ll find out later this year). So why am I talking about this in a fantasy football article? Because there’s another fresh prince who’s been picking up some positive buzz heading into 2021.
Last fall, seemingly every fantasy league had a team name that referenced the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. (By my highly scientific estimation, “The Fresh Prince of Helaire” appeared in 96.3% of leagues.) That demonstrates the show’s reach, but it’s also a sign that early on last season, much of the fantasy football world was donning rose-tinted glasses, linking arms, and swaying together through the communal fever-dream that was Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s fantasy potential.
Reminiscent of Brian Westbrook, you say? Hand-picked by Patrick Mahomes, they’re reporting? Damien Williams opting out, they’re tweeting? Just think of everyone’s favorite Anchorman GIF because that escalated quickly. Maybe we’d been stuck inside too long and needed an escape from reality. Or maybe we were all still feeling the warm contact-buzz of Roger Goodell’s basement, all solid wood paneling, cozy sweaters, and broken-in leather armchairs (seriously, that basement was like the physical manifestation of a Bing Crosby song). But I digress. Whatever it was, fantasy managers had decided that this RB was a rare prize. By the time fantasy drafts came around, CEH’s ADP had skied higher than Will Smith’s hi-top fade, ending up as the RB9 in Half-PPR.
While it’s early in the 2021 draft season, it seems like the fantasy community is feeling nostalgic. Edwards-Helaire is once again starting to rise in the rankings. Fantasy managers seem undeterred by his (relatively) disappointing RB22 finish in 2020. CEH is already creeping up draft boards as the RB15 in Underdog Fantasy ADP.
A quick look at the Touchdown Regression report makes it clear there are real reasons for optimism. By applying a very reasonable 50% regression towards the mean to CEH’s 2020 stats, we can see that additional touchdown luck would have pushed him up five spots to RB17. And remember, CEH missed three games last season. Extend his numbers over a full schedule, and he looks even better. But possibly the biggest reason fantasy managers are refilling the bandwagon is the likelihood that CEH will see some positive touchdown regression. As a rookie, he had bad luck in the red zone. In his 13 games, Edwards-Helaire had 29 red zone rushing attempts, 15 of which came inside the 10yd line. While not an overwhelming total, it was still 23rd-most among all running backs. However, CEH’s conversion rate lagged considerably: 10.34% is extremely low.
How low? CEH and J.D. McKissic had the lowest TD conversion percentages among the top 24 running backs. With some injury and touchdown regression, CEH could easily finish with 7 or 8 scores instead of the measly 5 he claimed last season. Even without any situational improvement, we should expect CEH’s luck in the red zone to regress towards the mean this year, particularly given his presence in a dynamic Chiefs’ offense.
Another situational factor that bodes well for CEH is the improvement to the Chiefs’ offensive line. You don’t need a PhD in Xs and Os to recognize that teams with strong offensive lines produce inside the 20. There’s been no shortage of words written documenting all the improvements that have been made by the Chiefs this offseason. Without regurgitating all those changes, it seems safe to expect that the OL should be the Chiefs’ most improved unit in 2021. That should lead to more open rushing lanes, particularly around the goal line, for CEH to exploit.
Along with the changes up front, Edwards-Helaire has a new backup in 2021. Le’Veon Bell ascended out of town in his usual Mary-Poppins-like fashion, leaving nothing behind but full hearts and kind words. His replacement is future “Training Camp Hall of Fame” inductee Jerick McKinnon. As a smaller back, CEH commanded a healthy 57.3% market share of rushing attempts among Chiefs’ running backs last season, or 67.8% when adjusted for the games he missed. I see McKinnon replacing Bell as a fairly lateral move as far as rushing attempt regression, so I’m projecting CEH’s usage to be similar to the 14 attempts per game he saw in 2020.
The passing game should again be a reliable source of points. In 2020, CEH finished 15th in targets among all RBs, averaging slightly over 4 targets per game. I say “should” because McKinnon is a better receiver than Bell at this stage of their careers. That said, McKinnon isn’t the most durable back, and most importantly, CEH is still the superior passing-game threat. So, on balance, I expect CEH’s target percentage to stay relatively unchanged in 2021.
Conclusion: Think Positive Regression
In many ways, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and last week’s subject, D’Andre Swift, are mirror images. Drafted just 3 spots apart in the 2020 draft, both rookies appeared in 13 games, saw a heavy amount of work in the passing game (with Swift receiving 57 targets to CEH’s 54), and wound up as a low-end RB2 (Swift at RB18 and CEH at RB22). Their ADPs are also hovering around the same range for 2021, with Underdog Fantasy having CEH as the RB15 and Swift as the RB16 at the time of writing.
The key difference is their regression profiles. Whereas Swift’s RB2 finish was driven by an unsustainably high touchdown rate, particularly in the red zone, Edwards-Helaire finished as an RB2 despite an extremely low touchdown rate. Unlike the Lions, the Chiefs offense should also be an extremely reliable source of red zone opportunities, giving CEH plenty of opportunities for maxin’ out the positive touchdown regression that he’s due.
In terms of market share, Edwards-Helaire’s workload projects to stay consistent in both the rushing and passing games, which makes him a high floor option at his current late 2nd/early 3rd round ADP, with some upside to outperform his draft price if he can stay healthy. That kind of profile makes CEH exactly the type of player I want to draft into my RB2 slot. He might not be the player we hyped last year, but he’s still really good, and he’s due for some good fortune. With a little luck with injuries and touchdowns, the 2021 version of CEH might ascend to the throne in Chiefs kingdom (and inspire a few more team names). And, at his current draft cost, that’ll be more than enough to make you bust out the Carlton dance when you pull up to your fantasy championship.
* Bonus points if you can find all 8 theme song references in the article!
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