Running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Miles Sanders are two of the biggest names in fantasy football right now. Both running backs seemingly have complete control over their backfield, are in good offenses, and are going off the board in the first round. Projecting breakout seasons isn’t easy, as both players have yet to provide elite NFL seasons. While Sanders and Edwards-Helaire should both have great seasons, you’re better off going with Sanders in the first round.
Draft Miles Sanders Over Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Fantasy Football
The Case For Miles Sanders
Doug Pederson typically uses a running back by committee approach, but that’s going to change in 2020. The biggest reason for Pederson’s running back usage over the years is that they didn’t have a guy that could positively contribute on all three downs. Since arriving in Philadelphia, Pederson has had to get by with guys like LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Ryan Matthews, and Jordan Howard.
Sanders is easily the most skilled back he’s ever had, and the Eagles drafted him to fill this three-down role. Sanders’ 229 touches as a rookie were already the most by a single running back under Pederson, and it sounds like that’s just the beginning. Assistant Head Coach Duce Staley said that he’s “excited about [Sanders] handling the full load” in 2020, which implies a larger workload. He’s going to be the guy, and he should see tons of work as both a runner and a receiver.
It’s no secret that passing targets are more valuable than carries, especially in PPR leagues. Sanders finished his rookie season with 63 targets, but that doesn’t tell the full story. The rookie took a while to earn the starting job but became a clear focal point in the passing attack once he saw the field.
From Weeks 11-16 (Philadelphia rested Sanders early in Week 17 once they had their playoff spot locked up), Sanders recorded 25 receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns on 31 targets. If extrapolated to a full 16-game season, Sanders would have had 67 receptions for 547 yards and five touchdowns on 83 targets. This type of workload is invaluable for fantasy, especially since he was also on pace for 251 carries over this stretch.
Admittedly, some of these targets came because the Eagles didn’t have anyone else to turn to. Philadelphia’s receiving corps was hilariously bad by the end of the year, and an improved cast could lead to fewer targets. However, fortunately for Sanders, the Eagles didn’t really improve in the offseason. Alshon Jeffery won’t be ready for the start of the season, and Marquise Goodwin opted out. Right now, the team has the ever-reliable Zach Ertz, an oft-injured DeSean Jackson, and an unknown rookie in Jalen Reagor as the top three options in the passing attack. The receiving corps is still paper-thin, especially considering that the odds of both Jackson staying healthy and Reagor immediately contributing are pretty low. Barring injury, Sanders should be a lock for at least 220 carries and 70+ targets.
The Case Against Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Don’t hear what I’m not saying: Clyde Edwards-Helaire is going to be good for fantasy. Right now, he’s my RB8 in PPR formats. However, he carries a few risks that should keep you from taking him over a guy like Sanders.
For one, he’s a rookie. Edwards-Helaire is a talented back, but it’s going to be hard for any rookie to earn a full three-down role in this shortened offseason. Some may look back on Kareem Hunt contributing right out of the gate and assume that Edwards-Helaire can do the same thing. However, the only reason Hunt had that job is that Spencer Ware got hurt. Losing Damien Williams frees up Edwards-Helaire’s path to the field, but he’s not completely in the clear.
According to Nate Taylor of The Athletic, the current plan is for Edwards-Helaire to split snaps with DeAndre Washington, at least early in the year. This is obviously bad news for Edwards-Helaire and will put a cap on his early-season ceiling.
Additionally, the Chiefs don’t throw to running backs as often as you’d expect. While Andy Reid running backs are absurdly efficient in the passing game, they’re rarely the focus. Kareem Hunt had a full workload in 2017, yet recorded “just” 63 targets on the season. That number actually got worse in 2018, as Hunt was on pace for just 51 targets with Patrick Mahomes under center.
The Chiefs will have more scoring opportunities than the Eagles, and that should partially offset the target differential if Edwards-Helaire was the unquestioned starter. However, as previously discussed, that’s probably not going to happen. Sanders has a better snap projection and a bigger role in the passing game, and he should have a better fantasy football season than Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
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