The first running back taken in the first round is almost a guaranteed lock to produce their rookie season. The last running back that busted, was Mark Ingram in 2011. Ingram wasn’t given a starting role until 2014, so the talent was there but the opportunity wasn’t. In order to project what Clyde Edwards-Helaire could do this season, I looked back at the first running backs selected in the first round dating back to 2012.
First-Round Running Backs 2011-2019:
2011: Mark Ingram: Started behind Pierre Thomas and only scored 91 PPR Fantasy points.
2012: Trent Richardson, 3rd pick, 1st RB taken
15 games: 267 carries, 3.6 Y/C, 950 yards, 11 TDs, 0 Fum lost
70 Targets, 51 Recs, 7.2 Y/R, 367 Rec yards, 1 Rec TD
PPR Fantasy Total: 254.7 Pts
2013 and 2014: 0 running backs were selected in the first round.
2015: Todd Gurley, 10th pick, 1st RB taken, Offensive Rookie of the Year
13 games: 229 carries, 4.8 Y/C, 1106 yards, 10 TDs, 1 Fum lost
26 Targets, 21 Recs, 9 Y/R, 188 Rec yards, 0 Rec TDs
PPR Fantasy Total: 208.4 Pts
2016: Ezekiel Elliott, 4th pick, 1st RB taken
15 games: 322 carries, 5.1 Y/C, 1631 yards, 15 TDs, 1 Fum lost
40 Targets, 32 Recs, 11.3 Y/R, 363 Rec yards, 1 Rec TD
PPR Fantasy Total: 325.4 Pts
2017: Leonard Fournette, 4th pick, 1st RB taken
13 games: 268 carries, 3.9 Y/C, 1040 yards, 9 TDs, 0 Fum lost
48 Targets, 36 Recs, 8.4 Y/R, 302 Rec yards, 1 Rec Td
PPR Fantasy Total: 230.2 Pts
2018: Saquon Barkley, 2nd pick, 1st RB taken, Offensive Rookie of the Year
16 games: 261 carries, 5 Y/C, 1307 yards, 11 TDs, 0 Fum lost
121 Targets, 91 Recs, 7.9 Y/R, 721 Rec yards, 4 Rec TDs
PPR Fantasy Total: 385.8 Pts
2019: Josh Jacobs, 24th pick, 1st RB taken
13 games: 242 carries, 4.8 Y/C, 1150 yards, 7 TDs, 1 Fum lost
27 Targets, 20 Recs, 8.3 Y/R, 166 Rec yards, 0 Rec TDs
PPR Fantasy Total: 191.6 (RB 21- the lowest threshold among first rookie RBs)
Jacobs was the latest first-round running back taken at pick 24, compared to the past running backs who were all top 10 picks. It’s possible to believe Edwards-Helaire will project closer to Jacobs’ finish because they were both late first-round picks, but Edwards-Helaire possesses reception upside that Jacobs did not have his first season.
It’s possible Edwards-Helaire eventually takes over as the lead back and projects closer to the stats averaged by the past six first-round rookie running backs because Kansas City’s offense is so prolific.
1st Rookie Running Back Average since 2012
14 games: 265 carries, 4.5 Y/C, 1197 yards, 11 TDs, 1 Fum lost
55 Targets, 42 Recs, 8.7 Y/R, 351 Rec yards, 1 Rec TD
PPR Fantasy Total: 266.8
Compared to Kareem Hunt‘s rookie stats when he was behind Spencer Ware on the depth chart:
16 games: 272 carries, 4.9 Y/C, 1327 yards, 8 TDs, 1 Fum lost
63 Targets, 53 Recs, 8.6 Y/R, 455 Rec yards, 3 Rec TDs
PPR Fantasy Total: 295.2 (Would be RB 5 last year)
Edwards-Helaire could maintain the 267-point average set by the rookie running backs over the past eight seasons and have a ceiling of 295 fantasy points, set by Hunt in his rookie season.
At the very least, we can hypothesize Edwards-Helaire will likely reach 200 points, making him at least a top 18 RB; and if he reaches the 267-point average he would project as a top seven RB among last year’s finishes.
Andy Reid is known for using one guy as a workhorse back as opposed to using committees and Edwards-Helaire likely overtakes Damien Williams on the depth chart sooner rather than later.
Edwards-Helaire’s current average draft position is running back 14, outside of RB1 range; which feels right given Williams’ risk of stealing touches. The rookie comes with the risk of a slow start, but Edwards-Helaire has top seven RB potential if he can become the workhorse back sometime this season.