Running back, LSU Tigers
40 time: 4.60
Edwards-Helaire wasn’t on many scouts’ radar entering the 2019 season, but he seized a major role in a high-powered Tigers’ offense and took off. He totaled 1,414 rushing yards while averaging 6.6 yards per carry and scoring 16 touchdowns, adding 55 grabs for 453 yards and a touchdown. He tallied 164 total yards on 21 touches in the national title game win over Clemson.
As expected, Edwards-Helaire ran a middling 40-yard dash (4.60 seconds) at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he showed explosion in the jumps (39.5-inch vertical, T-3rd among RBs; 123-inch broad, T-9th) and dazzled in the receiving drills.
While not big, Edwards-Helaire is stout for his height and runs with an energetic, punishing style. He’s not afraid to be physical, and his contact balance is outstanding both in tight spaces and the open field. He combines the ability to play through contact with terrific lateral suddenness, wielding a wicked jump cut and the fluidity to jump from one gap to another while still moving upfield. He’s very slippery against one-on-one tacklers in space, and he can push the pile and fall forward to finish. He is also an accomplished receiver, showing excellent route-running chops and the suddenness to dust linebackers in man coverage. He can run a variety of routes with precision, with his passing-game role expanding dramatically as the 2019 season went on.
There’s some uneasiness that comes with trusting a one-year wonder like Edwards-Helaire, who had just 155 rushes and 14 catches through his first two years at LSU. While he’s a handful in space, he’s more quick than fast. He isn’t going to wow anyone with his long speed and will often get caught from behind in the open field. He’s a great route-runner, but his hands are not especially natural, and he could stand to improve his coordination and catch radius. He has the tools to succeed in pass protection, but he’s been a mixed bag in that area thus far, being used more often as a receiver.
Ray Rice, retired — Other strong comparisons for Edwards-Helaire would include Maurice Jones-Drew or Austin Ekeler, but Rice might be the most similar in style and body type. A short, squatty back with an excellent combination of shiftiness, power and receiving skills, Edwards-Helaire could regularly approach 1,000 yards on the ground while also catching 50 passes each season, figures that Rice topped in four straight years in Baltimore. Extra refinement as a receiver and blocker could make him the ideal modern-day back.
Projection: Second-third round