It seems as if the Falcons will be moving on from Devonta Freeman this offseason, who accounted for 51% of the Falcons’ offensive snaps at running back in 2019. During the other 49% of snaps, no Falcons’ backup showed they could handle a starter’s role. With the team only saving $3.5 million by cutting Freeman, it is almost a certainty they find his replacement in the NFL Draft. Otherwise, they would likely not make the cut. The cost of free-agent rushers would certainly exceed the savings.
That could be a good thing though. Despite many junior running backs opting to return to school, this is still a draft class loaded with talent at the position. Plus, the Falcons learned their lesson paying a star running back. It is time for fresh legs and cap savings, and there is one prospect who could be absolutely perfect for Atlanta.
LSU has a brand new CFP National Championship trophy, and a Heisman winner in Joe Burrow, who seems like a lock to be the first-overall pick. However, Clyde Edwards-Helaire deserves huge credit for their success. He played at his highest level on the biggest of stages and has the makings of a three-down lead back for years to come. He is by far the biggest riser of any running back in the 2020 NFL Draft class, and for good reason: he can play.
Edwards-Helaire is short and stocky, measuring in at 5’8″, 209 lbs. He presents incredible athleticism, and his build along with great lower-body strength make him a pain to tackle and an absolute bruiser. His greatest strength may be his balance due to his shorter build and the way he can absorb contact. He reminds me a lot of Mark Ingram but with better receiving skills coming out of college.
He may not be the fastest back in the open field, but he has elite vision and decision-making ability to open up big runs, and is the type of back who is harder to stop as the game goes on. Don’t be misled by his power though. Clyde is a very shifty back who rushed for 6.6 yards per carry last season. Creative and slippery may be the best way to describe his style of play. His ability to catch balls out of the backfield, as well as his toughness as a pass blocker, is criminally underrated.
His well-rounded game makes him a day-one starter at the NFL level. He has the athleticism. He has the hands. He is Josh Jacobs 2.0 if he can land in the right situation.
Like Jacobs, Edwards-Helaire can also benefit from not having too heavy a workload in college. As part of a committee, Jacobs only had to rush the ball 251 times at Alabama. Edwards-Helaire was the backup for his best friend and former teammate Derius Guice in high school. At LSU, he finally saw his role increase as a sophomore in 2018, but he has really only been the “guy” for one season. Overall, he ended up with 370 carries in college which is not too much mileage as he heads into the NFL.
Edwards-Helaire will have to get settled in pass protection early on but seems to have all the other available tools to make a day-one impact. If the Falcons do in fact lose Austin Hooper, it will be hard to emulate his production at the position, and having a guy like Edwards-Helaire who caught 55 balls last season could help offer another weapon for short-passing opportunities.
If you lived under a bridge last season, here it the tape on CEH:
It is difficult to find a back that you can trust with a goal-line carry or a 3rd-and-long screen pass, but Edwards-Helaire is just that. He is a perfect fit in the modern-day game. NFL Draft Mocks have him going all over the place between the second and fourth round. I would guess he will go sooner rather than later. If the Falcons could take him with their second pick in the second round, you would hear no complaints from us over at SportsTalkATL. Anywhere later than that should be considered highway robbery.