Damien Williams became the first truly fantasy relevant player to opt-out of the 2020 NFL season due to COVID-19. Certainly, it’s easy to proclaim that Clyde Edwards-Helaire fantasy stock is way up and he’s bound for greatness in view of that news, but let’s work through the entire process first.
Undoubtedly, all fantasy players want to own a workhorse running back in the Kansas City Chiefs offense – an offense many project to be the best in the league. After drafting CEH in the first round of the NFL Draft, the fantasy community anointed Edwards-Helaire as the Chiefs presumed starter, launching him into pick 1.01 in every dynasty rookie draft since late April. The Damien Williams opt-out news cements CEH’s status as the clear-cut 1.01 in dynasty now, considering he is more clearly useful in 2020 as well in the future.
However, before today, some drafters doubted whether CEH was really the presumed starter. Damien Williams was great in the playoffs (scoring 6 total touchdowns) once finally healthy, capping the season off with an MVP-worthy performance in Super Bowl LIV. Damien Williams’s presence slowed some of the initial hype-train for CEH, which moved CEH’s ADP down to pick 23 after briefly spending some time in the teens.
Now, CEH’s ADP will skyrocket. So, is he worth it?
Andy Reid has a short, but interesting history with rookie running backs. Most recently, Reid gave workhorse duties to, then rookie, Kareem Hunt. Kareem Hunt’s 2017 season has been used as evidence that a rookie running back in an Andy Reid offense can really shine, but others have countered that Spencer Ware’s season-ending injury forced Andy Reid’s hand. Today, Damien Williams’s decision to opt-out may very well force Andy Reid’s hand again. Indeed, the Spencer Ware/Kareem Hunt situation has many parallels with this CEH/Damien Williams opt-out situation. Additionally, in 2009, Reid entrusted LeSean McCoy with 54% of the RB carries (and 55 targets to boot) in McCoy’s rookie season. So, Reid is not unaccustomed to leaning hard on rookie running backs. And, CEH is the highest drafted running back Reid has ever had. (Hunt and Brian Westbrook were both 3rd round picks, McCoy was a second-round pick).
However, the NFL will not have any preseason games in 2020, which means that CEH will not see real competition until Week 1. I have trouble believing that Reid will entrust CEH in all passing situations immediately without having any idea how well he will handle blitz pickups and protecting Kansas City’s $500 million man. Thus, I believe that CEH will not receive workhorse snap counts (e.g. >60-65%) right away, and we will see a fair amount of DeAndre Washington in the early 2020 season. But eventually, it will become the CEH show. Regardless, KC’s propensity to score TDs in droves is bound to keep CEH’s fantasy output afloat, even in lower snap count weeks.
I think that CEH’s ADP will likely move up into the high second round/early first round and settle into the Joe Mixon/Josh Jacobs/DeAndre Hopkins territory. Our own Kevin Steele is now ranking CEH as RB7. He may very well end the season there, but I believe he will be far more valuable later in the season than earlier. As such, I am comfortable drafting him at RB9, after Joe Mixon and Josh Jacobs.