The Kansas City Chiefs have an interesting decision to make at the running back position heading into the 2023 season. After selecting Isiah Pacheco in the 7th round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the rookie emerged as the team’s lead back down the stretch and into their Super Bowl run.
Meanwhile, incumbent starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire dealt with injuries and lost carries. As training camp opens, the battle is on to see who will take the majority of snaps in Kansas City’s backfield this year.
Isiah Pacheco vs Clyde Edwards-Helaire 2022 Stats:
|Yards Per Carry
|Total Yards from Scrimmage
The key stats show that Pacheco took over the lead role despite being a rookie. He had over twice as many carries and rushing yards compared to Edwards-Helaire.
The veteran was more involved in the passing game when healthy, but Pacheco still contributed as a receiver. Based on this data, Pacheco looks poised to enter 2023 as the starter after his breakout rookie season.
Projected 2023 Stats for Isiah Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire:
|Isiah Pacheco (projected)
|Clyde Edwards-Helaire (projected)
|Yards Per Carry
|Total Yards from Scrimmage
For these hypothetical projections, I assumed Pacheco would take on a larger workload as the lead back. Edwards-Helaire is projected for fewer carries but more involvement as a receiver.
The projections have Pacheco with a slight edge in overall production based on him being the expected starter and staying healthy. Of course, the actual stats will depend on how the competition plays out in training camp and during the season.
Background on Edwards-Helaire
The Chiefs drafted Edwards-Helaire in the 1st round of the 2020 draft out of LSU. As a rookie, he played well when healthy, rushing for 803 yards and 4 touchdowns in 13 games. Edwards-Helaire also added 297 receiving yards and proved capable as a pass catcher. In 2021, injuries struck as the young back missed 6 games. He finished with 517 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns in 10 games played.
Last season, Edwards-Helaire was averaging just over 10 carries per game through the first 7 weeks. In a Week 11 win over the Chargers, he suffered a high-ankle sprain and landed on injured reserve, missing the rest of the regular season.
For the year, Edwards-Helaire had 302 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns in 10 games (6 starts). The injuries have been a concern, as the 23-year old has missed 13 games over his first 3 seasons.
Pacheco’s Rise as a Rookie
Meanwhile, Isiah Pacheco exploded onto the scene as a 7th round pick out of Rutgers. Known for his aggressive and physical running style, Pacheco brought energy and steadily improved. He took over the starting job in Week 7 and never looked back. For the season, Pacheco had 170 carries for 830 yards (4.9 avg) and 5 touchdowns.
While Edwards-Helaire was injured late in the year, Pacheco shined even brighter in the playoffs. In 3 postseason games, he ran for 197 yards and a touchdown on 37 attempts (5.3 avg) while helping the Chiefs win the Super Bowl. The rookie clearly gained the trust of Andy Reid and the coaching staff with his hard-nosed running and blitz pickup.
Competition in Training Camp
As the Chiefs open training camp, Edwards-Helaire is healthy and ready to compete. When asked about his role, he said he is willing to do anything the team asks of him.
Meanwhile, Pacheco goes into camp as the incumbent starter after his breakout rookie campaign. Reid spoke highly of Pacheco, saying he has a great attitude and loves football.
Jerick McKinnon, the 30-year old veteran, also factors into the backfield mix. While not a between-the-tackles runner, McKinnon is great on 3rd downs due to his pass blocking and route running. He had 512 receiving yards last season.
Rookie UDFA Deneric Prince has also impressed early on, so he provides additional competition.
Based on analysis of the Chiefs’ roster and depth chart, there are a few key factors that should be considered:
- Pacheco earned the starting job last year and excelled, especially late in the season. The team clearly trusts him in important moments.
- Edwards-Helaire has struggled to stay healthy his first 3 seasons, missing 19% of games. Durability is a concern.
- McKinnon seems locked in as the 3rd down back. The Chiefs love his versatility and reliability.
- Prince is a long shot but has upside if he continues impressing in camp.
Who is Chiefs’ Starting RB in 2023?
While Edwards-Helaire will have a role, Isiah Pacheco should be considered the favorite to enter 2023 as the Chiefs’ RB1. He was extremely productive last season despite being a Day 3 pick. The coaching staff showed trust in him by starting Pacheco down the stretch and in playoff games. He also stayed healthy, proving his durability as a rookie.
The Chiefs have a lot of backfield options, and playing time could change week-to-week based on game situations. However, Pacheco has earned the right to open the season as the starter. He runs with aggression and physicality that matches the identity coach Reid wants on offense. The rookie also improved significantly in pass protection, a key for RBs in Kansas City’s system.
Barring an unexpected shift in camp, expect Isiah Pacheco to lead the Chiefs backfield in touches and production in 2023. His ascent has been rapid, but the 7th round pick has proven he belongs and can be the lead back for a championship contender like Kansas City. Pacheco should be the RB1 for fantasy football players to target in drafts this season as well.