"You just don't know when to give up, do you?"
"I can do this all day."
Steve Rogers was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Rogers was a young adult living in the time of World War II, a time where it was of the highest honor to enlist and serve your country in what was one of the most pivotal points in human history. Rogers had the desire to serve; his heart and his will were as committed as they could be, but there was one problem. Rogers didn't pass the eye test -- he was rejected due to his small and slender height and weight.
For months, Rogers would attempt to enlist in different cities under different names, but each time he was rejected for the same reason. The army didn't want the small guys. They wanted strapping, strong stature along their front lines. They didn't believe Rogers was made for battle, for war. For this, he was constantly over looked. He was an afterthought. But rejection never kept Rogers down. In fact, it only seemed to motivate him more. He became obsessed with finding a way to become a soldier. Most would call him crazy; going so far out of his way just to put his life on the line in war. But this is want he wanted to do. This is who he wanted to be. So he never gave up. He never listened to those who said he couldn't.
Eventually Rogers found someone who gave him a chance, and they were able to sneak him into a specialized enlistment. As he went through basic training, he stuck out in a bad way as the smallest soldier in the group. But his will was the height of a mountain, and his drive was taller than anyone's around him. As the story goes, it was that which made him the perfect candidate to be a leader, someone to take a chance on, one to give him all the tools to become a hero.
Because of that chance, he became that hero.
He became Captain America.
The story of LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is similar to that of Captain America, at least the beginning parts, though Edwards-Helaire doesn't get a shield made of vibranium when he walks out onto the football field. As a three-star recruit from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Edwards-Helaire was constantly overlooked. In high school his measurements were around 5-foot-8 and 180-190 pounds. Because of this, he spent most of his early career as a backup to those in front of him at his position.
At Catholic High, Edwards-Helaire sat behind Derrius Guice for two years until his senior season. When he was given opportunities, he thrived, including taking the first punt he ever returned back for a 60 yards score. But coaches continued to play the bigger backs over him. That was until his senior season where he led Catholic High to their first ever state championship. Edwards-Helaire had offers to play at Ball State, Iowa State, Cincinnati and even Oklahoma, but that's not there he wanted to be. He didn't want to settle. Like Captain America, he wanted to be a solider. He wanted to be at LSU.
Finally, after winning that state championship, he got his shot.
When he arrived at LSU, he was first a backup to Guice and Darrell Williams. The following season he split carries with Nick Brossette. And going into 2019, there were two very talented incoming freshman, John Emery and Tyrion Davis-Price, whose presence threaten to once again relegate Edwards-Helaire to an afterthought.
But as these past 11 weeks of the college football season have taught us, not only is Edwards-Helaire no longer an afterthought, there is no looking over his shoulder. It's finally his show.
There are a few reasons for that. First of all, Edwards-Helaire's work ethic has been unwavering. Despite having to continue to fight for every touch he could get, Edwards-Helaire's heart is what gave him the initial first crack at the job in the spring, and it's part of what has solidified him, not just as a starter, but as a player the offense uses as a focal point.
“Clyde is one of the best players on our team,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said. “I tell everybody: Clyde is 6-4, 270 when he walks in the room. He has a lot of confidence. He runs our offense exactly how we want it.”
The other is the scheme. With offensive coordinator Joe Brady in the building, LSU's offense is much more spread out. It's less about the ground and pound you're used to seeing at LSU and more about getting players in open space -- Edwards' Helaire's most effective environment. Last season he was breaking tackles and making defenders miss 28.1 percent of the time, which was sixth best in the conference. This season, that number is even higher, all the way up to 48.6 percent, which is fourth best in the entire country.
Those numbers were put on display when LSU upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa this past weekend by a score of 46-41. LSU's victory heavily relied on Edwards-Helaire, especially down the stretch when protecting the lead. His 103 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, along with his nine catches for 77 yards and another score showed what his talent could do when you give him a chance, and the scene of him getting emotional with his head in the chest of his assistant coach after the victory was sealed showed his heart and how far he'd come to get to that moment.
What did all that look like on tape? Let's take a look.
Play No. 1: Body Control
Scouting is all about traits. Stats such as yards, touchdowns and carries are often the results of the offense around players and not always a good barometer of what an individual can do outside of their current situation -- which is exactly what happens when you get drafted from college to the NFL. So instead of listing stats, what we do is look over the tape to see characteristics that can translate.
Edwards-Helaire has a good one in body control, something that aids every part of his game as a running back. Watch how, in the play above, Edwards-Helaire was able to just stop on a dime and completely spin right into his acceleration up field. That is some crazy body control to go from one movement to the other like that in the short amount of space he did it. That kind of controlled movement can be used with the ball, such as making defender miss, and without the ball, such as separating from defenders on routes.
I have a feeling Edwards-Helaire's 3-cone drill is going to be insanely good after watching the play above.
Play No. 2: Hands Team
In the story above, I touched on Edwards-Helaire being a good fit for the way LSU runs their spread offense due to how it creates space. This paves a way for Edwards-Helaire to get the ball in areas where he's often one-on-one with defenders, and as we already discussed, he's good at coming out on top in those situations. But when it comes to actually getting the ball in space, especially in a spread offense, catching it is a big part of that equation, something Edwards-Helaire also does very well.
Edwards-Helaire has 28 catches this year, which is more than any other years he's been at LSU combined. This is such an important trait because of where the NFL is going. We see players like Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey become difference makers on the field, not just for what they can do with handoffs, but also what they can do in the passing game. Edwards-Helaire is of the mold of a player who can be a legit threat and occupy defenders when going out for passes. This also lends to him being a good third down back.
Hands are very important for a running back in today's NFL, and Edwards-Helaire boasts some dandies.
Play No. 3: Combo Route Runner
Using both the body control and hands traits, we can also see plays where Edwards-Helaire puts that together to show he's quite the receiver.
Even some backs that you might consider assets in the passing game in the NFL can only preform a certain amount of routes. Bailing out into the flat on an out route or a screen pass, wheel routes and maybe go routes on the sideline. Meanwhile Edwards-Helaire is pulling multi-break routes on defenders and finding soft spots in zones like it's nothing. Even if you just watched the Alabama game, you can Edwards-Helaire's route tree is more diverse than it is for some wide receivers. This allow an offense to create really creative with him, including perhaps motioning him out of the backfield, not just as a decoy, but as a legit option in a progression.
This is not your typical receiving back. This kid is a receiving weapon.
Play No. 4: Not Just The Move; The Mind
Most of us just watched the play above and were in awe of the spin move. Don't get me wrong, it was smooth as hell, and this wasn't the first time Edwards-Helaire put a defender in the Sunday laundry load spin cycle either. But what impressed me the most in that play wasn't the move itself, it was the mind to process it.
LSU's offensive line hasn't been great this year. Bcause of that, Edwards-Helaire has been asked to make some quick decisions right as the ball is being put into his belly. It's so hard to make a split decision like that when you have multiple keys to read and a hole to find along the offensive line, but Edwards-Helaire has shown time and time again that his mental processing is fast as lightning.
Many players have the athletic ability to hit a spin move. But not many can say they've done it given those kinds of circumstances. That's absolutely a trait to note, and one that really sets Edwards-Helaire apart.
Play No. 5: "I Can Do This All Day"
What made Captain America truly different wasn't just his size his speed and his strength. Yes, he was able to obtain that via the serum, and it played a role in him accomplishing the things he did as a hero. But it was his mentality that brought all that together and made the most of it.
In that same manner, Clyde Edwards-Helaire's mentality brings his talent together. He doesn't give up. He doesn't go down. He doesn't stop a single yard short if he knows there's more he can gain. It's what has made him a player the coaches have faith in, and one his teammates can count on.
There's a saying that goes, "it's not about the dog in the fight, it's about the fight in the dog that matters most."
Growing up many saw Edwards-Helaire and thought his 5-foot-8 height is what made him stand out; it made him different, in a bad way.
I guess they were partially right. Edwards-Helaire is different.
But what truly makes him different isn't that he doesn't measure up in ways your eyes can see. It's that what he brings to the table as a player goes beyond measure in ways you can't.