CHICAGO — Four years after trading up for Mitchell Trubisky, an experiment that eventually fizzled out, the Chicago Bears once again pulled off a stunning move Thursday night in the NFL draft when they traded up nine spots with the New York Giants to take Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick.
The Giants received Chicago’s first-round (No. 20) and fifth-round picks this year, and the Bears’ first- and fourth-rounders next year.
“We had multiple plans tonight, and the way the board was falling, we got excited when the quarterbacks came off that way and Justin continued to fall,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “For us, it was just executing our plan at the right spot in the draft and being patient with that, which sometimes can be difficult.
“Fortunately, with the Giants, I’ve known Dave Gettleman for 20 years. He’s an amazing person and amazing general manager and we go way back, so that communication started really this morning about something like that happening, and when we were able to execute it in the draft, I just feel real fortunate.”
The Bears signed veteran Andy Dalton for one year, $10 million in free agency, but Chicago’s sights were always set on finding its quarterback of the future. The Bears have been bereft a true franchise quarterback since Hall of Famer Sid Luckman retired in 1950.
Bears head coach Matt Nagy spoke to Dalton on Thursday night and reiterated that Dalton is still the team’s starting quarterback. That status, however, is only temporary.
Fields is confident he can eventually fill the quarterback void in Chicago that has lasted 70-plus years.
“You know, just the way I carry myself, just the way I care about the game, the grit I have, the determination I have to be great,” Fields said when asked by reporters why he believes he can be the franchise quarterback Chicago has struggled finding. “I think nobody has the story that I have. So just everything inside of me, just wanting to be a great quarterback, wanting to be a franchise quarterback. And just me dreaming for this moment my whole life. So I just think all of those intangibles, my work ethic and all that together will of course be different for me.”
The Bears did extensive legwork on this year’s class of quarterbacks, with Pace and Nagy traveling around the country to attend the respective pro days of many of the quarterback prospects, including Fields’ second workout at Ohio State.
“I think I fit perfectly [with what Nagy wants at quarterback],” Fields said. “If he didn’t think I fit well [the Bears] wouldn’t have traded up.”
“I mean, Fields’ toughness on a scale of 1-10 is an 11,” Pace added. “And you just love that about him. Oh, and by the way, he runs a 4.44 40-yard dash. You throw that all in together, and it just feels good.”
Pace expressed optimism Thursday that Chicago had the right quarterback room with Dalton and fellow veteran Nick Foles to welcome a rookie quarterback in the mix. The Bears also have multiple former quarterbacks — Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo — on the current coaching staff, which they believe can help expedite the development process.
“We talk about, you can draft the players but you have to develop them the right way,” Pace said. “And that’s what I love about the environment that we have. What I love about our environment is the veteran quarterbacks that we have in that room — like, I don’t know if you look around the league, how many teams have that kind of experience in the room. And then the coaches that we have surrounding that position. I can’t say that enough. We’ve got a good plan in place to surround him with the right resources, to develop him the right way.”
After the Philadelphia Eagles jumped the Giants to take wide receiver DeVonta Smith, Gettleman made the first trade back in his nine drafts as a general manager. He had never traded back in any round of the previous eight drafts as a GM with the Carolina Panthers and Giants.
The Giants received a hefty return for pick No. 11, something even they didn’t think possible before the draft. But Fields and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones fell out of the top 10, allowing Gettleman to avoid getting fleeced, which he said last week was a reason he never traded back before, even though he had tried.
ESPN’s Jordan Raanan contributed to this report.
Surprise players you should know from NFL minicamps for all 32 teams
Unlike last year, this offseason looked more like what we’re used to with an in-person NFL draft, OTAs at team facilities and the return of minicamps for most clubs. But now that it’s all behind us, we won’t get another live look at players until training camps open around the league at the end of July.
So who took the bull by the horns this offseason to make their mark?
We asked our NFL Nation reporters to pick out a surprise standout from each of the 32 teams. Here’s what they told us:
Hodgins was a standout during the first few days of last year’s training camp, but a shoulder injury sidelined him for the entire season. With a clean bill of health, he stood out once again in OTAs and minicamp, even shedding the red noncontact jersey before the team broke for the summer. Hodgins still has an uphill battle in a crowded Buffalo receiver room, but he has received praise from both coach Sean McDermott and quarterback Josh Allen. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Cameron Wolfe speaks to Dan Marino, who gives insight into Tua Tagovailoa’s development as he heads into his second season.
Williams, an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse, is already showing his athleticism, range, versatility and potential to make a roster-spot push despite a deep Dolphins defensive-back room. He nabbed an impressive interception off Tua Tagovailoa, a couple of pass breakups and generally looks like he belongs. The true test will be when the pads come on, but Williams is definitely worth keeping an eye on. — Cameron Wolfe
LB Josh Uche
The 2020 second-round pick from Michigan played 17% of the defensive snaps as a rookie, but looks primed for a significant jump this season. It was notable to see him paired with top linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Matt Judon, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Kyle Van Noy, and his speed, suddenness and potential as a disruptive pass-rusher were on display in multiple drills. — Mike Reiss
LB C.J. Mosley
Mosley, who opted out last season and played only two partial games in 2019 due to injuries, is poised to have a bounce-back year. He looked slimmer and quicker in offseason practices, which should help the transition to a 4-3 scheme. One of the league’s best off-ball linebackers before signing with the Jets in 2019, Mosley now must prove in training camp that he can chip off two years’ worth of rust. If he can, it will be huge for the defense. — Rich Cimini
Coming off the worst season of his seven-year career, Watkins was the Ravens’ best receiver at minicamp. He made several contested grabs and delivered the best catch of the offseason, getting separation from Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey along the sideline for a long touchdown reception. This represented a big first step between Watkins and Lamar Jackson in terms of chemistry. “I’m not going to lie to you; it is fun,” Jackson said of Watkins. “A big receiver, nice target, fast guy. Sammy is going to make our job a lot easier.” — Jamison Hensley
WR Tee Higgins
It’s not often you see the team’s leading receiver from the previous season go relatively unnoticed during the offseason. But with the addition of Ja’Marr Chase, Higgins hasn’t been in the limelight as much this offseason. But coaches and teammates have noticed Higgins’ physical development, which was expected after he declared for the NFL early. The former Clemson standout seems poised for a big season. — Ben Baby
Alan Hahn breaks down why Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ only shot to win the Super Bowl might be this season.
DT Tommy Togiai
The fourth-round pick out of Ohio State has made a splash, during both OTAs and minicamp. The combination of power and quickness is there. Considering one of Cleveland’s projected starting defensive tackles has an injury history (Malik Jackson) and the other (Andrew Billings) didn’t play in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, Togiai could become an important piece up front for the Browns. — Jake Trotter
CB James Pierre
The offseason departures of Mike Hilton and Steve Nelson created a few open jobs in the secondary, and Pierre is fighting hard for one. He is jockeying for time on the field — likely on the outside — and doing it with standout plays in mandatory minicamp. The second-year undrafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic picked Ben Roethlisberger off twice in Wednesday’s practice, including one interception in the end zone during a two-minute drill. Pierre played just 27 defensive snaps last season but was a key special-teamer with 227 snaps. The Steelers have mined undrafted free-agent gems in the past with guys like Hilton, and Pierre’s offseason workouts show he’s a solid candidate to be the next. — Brooke Pryor
We haven’t seen a lot of the Texans this spring — just three practices because the team canceled minicamp. One player the Texans hope they see stand out this season is Omenihu. Without J.J. Watt, Houston needs to find other players to get to the quarterback, and defensive line coach Bobby King said he thinks Omenihu’s versatility gives him a lot of potential to make an impact. “You can play him at a lot of positions and he can affect the quarterback in a lot of different ways,” King said. “… We expect big things from Chuck this year.” — Sarah Barshop
QB Carson Wentz
How Wentz looked on the field wasn’t the only important part of the offseason equation for the Colts’ new starting quarterback. The other part was how he would fit in with his teammates after reportedly not having a great relationship with his teammates while with the Philadelphia Eagles. The transition, according to those inside the organization, has been a smooth one. “He comes in and asks about my family, my sister and things like that,” running back Nyheim Hines said. “As a new guy, it’s pretty cool. It shows that he’s caring and trying to take care of us.” And Wentz on the field? He has turned a lot of heads so far. “He has a really pretty deep ball,” Hines said. “I’ve liked everything I’ve seen from him so far.” — Mike Wells
Shenault has arguably been the Jaguars’ best offensive player throughout OTAs and minicamp. He’s not exactly an under-the-radar guy, but with the addition of Marvin Jones Jr. and a rejuvenated DJ Chark Jr. and draft pick Travis Etienne getting reps at receiver, had Shenault not had a good offseason he ran the risk of getting left behind in terms of touches. The Jags are keeping him at receiver instead of trying to use him in the backfield at times and his development has been one of the highlights of the spring. — Michael DiRocco
The backup QB position is like insurance. You don’t realize how important it is until you need to use it. Kizer has looked good in OTAs and minicamp, especially when ripping throws on midrange routes across the middle. He spent most of his time with the Titans last year as a “quarantine QB” working only with QB coach Pat O’Hara. His quick decision-making in OTAs and minicamp is evidence that he has gained a strong grasp of the playbook. Kizer’s skill set is very similar to Ryan Tannehill‘s in that he can make most of the throws and is adept at making plays on the move. The fifth-year veteran is ready to compete with incumbent backup Logan Woodside. — Turron Davenport
The last time most saw Hinton, he was the guy saddled with the most unenviable of tasks when he lined up at quarterback, on 24 hours’ notice, for much of the Broncos’ 31-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints. But when coach Vic Fangio was asked this past week if there was a player who had stood out in offseason workouts, it was Hinton. There is no question Hinton, a former Wake Forest quarterback/wide receiver, still faces enormous odds in a crowded depth chart at receiver, but he has shown plenty of improvement this spring. Added quarterback Drew Lock: “He’s super-aggressive to the ball. You feel like you can throw him a ball one-on-one and he’s going to go get it.” — Jeff Legwold
TE Noah Gray
The fifth-round draft pick has impressed the Chiefs with his smarts, pass catching and route running. With the Chiefs looking to keep Travis Kelce fresh over the course of a 17-game schedule, it’s easy to see how Gray could get a significant amount of playing time, both in occasionally replacing Kelce and as part of multiple-tight end formations. — Adam Teicher
CB Nate Hobbs
The fifth-round pick from Illinois got plenty of reps at slot corner in OTAs and minicamp and was lauded by both third-year cornerback Trayvon Mullen and new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley said Hobbs, who called himself the “best underdog” the Raiders had ever drafted on draft night, was “ahead of the curve” at the position, where he was competing with second-year nickelback Amik Robertson and veteran Nevin Lawson. — Paul Gutierrez
“T-Billy,” as he is known at the facility, is a legit 4.3 guy who made the most of his 20 receptions last year for 398 yards. He is really fun to watch run routes. In minicamp, he was a blur and coaches talked him up big-time. He’s a qualified third receiver (behind Mike Williams and Keenan Allen) and should open things up for Justin Herbert. — Shelley Smith
Wright was something of a surprise pick in the third round, but his size (6-foot-4, 183 pounds) made him a perfect match for what coordinator Dan Quinn wants in a cornerback. Through the rookie minicamp and into the organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, Wright has been around the ball a ton. He had multiple interceptions and a handful of pass breakups. It hasn’t always been clean and he has a long way to go, but the Cowboys might have hit on a less-than-known pick. — Todd Archer
Domonique Foxworth shares his thoughts on which rookie NFL quarterback will take the most snaps this season.
CB Madre Harper
The second-year cornerback opened some eyes this spring. He came in bulked up and in great shape, and took advantage of a mostly vacant defensive backfield during OTAs when most of the Giants’ cornerbacks didn’t attend. That created an opportunity Harper took advantage of this spring. After being signed off the Raiders’ practice squad early last season, Harper is one to watch this year. He has the size and athleticism this coaching staff will find ways to use. — Jordan Raanan
The former first-round pick says he has a fire in him like never before after missing the entire 2020 season with a biceps injury. He ditched social media to eliminate distractions and hit the weight room hard over the past year, setting a number of personal records. He is stronger and more confident, and has drawn praise from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland for his on-field work. He’ll battle it out with former rugby player Jordan Mailata for the starting left tackle spot during training camp. — Tim McManus
The third-round rookie was drafted this high for a reason, but he also showed that he might be ready to help sooner than anticipated. St-Juste showed excellent eye discipline and awareness, especially when in zone and passing off receivers leaving his area while picking up others entering. He showed that he was always ready to react, which resulted in numerous plays on the ball. While there were times he was beat, it’s not as if he looked lost or out of place. St-Juste’s length will help diversify Washington’s coverage — it can match bigger receivers now with two taller corners, St-Juste and William Jackson III. He has to prove he can play press at an NFL level to get more time, but St-Juste got off to a strong start. — John Keim
The 30-year-old veteran signed just a one-year deal with only $350,000 in guaranteed money, but Goodwin still has elite speed. On multiple occasions in Chicago’s offseason program, Goodwin took the top off the Bears’ defense and hauled in what would have been long touchdown receptions. Along with second-year wideout Darnell Mooney, Goodwin might give the Bears another legitimate deep threat for quarterbacks Andy Dalton or Justin Fields, both of whom have displayed nice touches on long passes during OTAs and mandatory minicamp. — Jeff Dickerson
The third-year linebacker is ready to break out this year after cutting nearly 20 pounds in the offseason. He played at nearly 270 pounds last year but is now close to 250. Detroit’s front office is excited about his slender frame, which allows him to move better on the field and could produce better results. Initially his role was uncertain under the new regime, but he has proved he’s reliable with his dedication to his craft and could fulfill a much needed role on a defense that ranked among the worst in the league last year. — Eric Woodyard
Booger McFarland explains how the Packers could fix the ongoing issue with Aaron Rodgers.
The former sixth-round pick of the Broncos in 2019 has played in five career NFL games (three for Denver, two for Green Bay last year as a practice-squad elevation) but has never caught a pass. He caught plenty of them throughout OTAs and minicamp this spring, and while the Packers’ top four receivers appear set — Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and rookie Amari Rodgers — Winfree looks like he’ll make a strong run at a spot in the rotation. Also, keep an eye on another practice-squad member from last year, offensive lineman Ben Braden, who’s gotten some work with the No. 1 O-line at tackle with David Bakhtiari still recovering from ACL surgery. — Rob Demovsky
With Jeff Gladney absent amid legal issues and Cameron Dantzler sidelined with an apparent injury, Hand, a former fifth-round pick, got a lot of reps with the first-team defense in OTAs and minicamp. He came away with a couple of interceptions. The Vikings moved Hand around as an outside corner and even lined him up in the slot, which should help his chances for making the roster this fall. The secondary looks a lot different this year. While Dantzler (if healthy), Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland will be the front-runners to earn starting jobs, Hand’s strong spring showing could put him in line to duke it out with Kris Boyd for one of the final spots on the depth chart. — Courtney Cronin
Take all of this with the proper caveat — the Falcons had players missing and first-year head coach Arthur Smith largely had his players not going full speed. But with Mike Davis not in attendance, Ollison seems like he could be creating a spot for himself in the Atlanta offense. A third-year pro out of Pittsburgh, he has 23 career carries for 53 yards and four touchdowns. But with a new scheme, perhaps Smith finds a larger role for him than he had under Dirk Koetter. He looked sharp and was used often throughout Atlanta’s workouts. — Michael Rothstein
OT Dennis Daley
The temptation here is to say TE Ian Thomas, because coach Matt Rhule said the fourth-year player had a “tremendous offseason” after having a mediocre 2020 season. But Thomas always seems to look good in practice and it seldom translates to games. Daley is listed as a guard, but practiced so well at left tackle with Cam Erving and Trent Scott missing time with injuries that Rhule isn’t ready to hand over the starting spot to anybody just yet. At worst Daley gives the Panthers another option at a key position. — David Newton
Trautman’s biggest leap came via the Saints’ offseason transactions. They parted ways with veteran Jared Cook and Josh Hill, leaving the second-year pro as their projected No. 1 tight end as both a pass-catcher and standout blocker. But Trautman has also talked about how much he has grown after a strong finish to last season and now experiencing his first true NFL offseason. — Mike Triplett
Darden missed some of minicamp due to a tweaked hamstring, but the fourth-round draft pick who runs a 4.46 (he’s 5-foot-8 and 173 pounds) looked very explosive, even drawing comparisons to Emmanuel Sanders and John Brown from coach Bruce Arians. “He’s super quick and fast,” Arians said. “He’s a little thicker than I thought he was going to be when I watched him. He catches punts very easily and catches the football extremely easily. He can be very explosive.” Arians also praised his fearlessness over the middle. Darden will compete with Jaydon Mickens for the punt and kick return job. Competition will be fierce in what’s already a very crowded room of receivers, but the fact that Tom Brady had a say in drafting Darden should tell you all you need to know. — Jenna Laine
A couple of important caveats: The Cardinals had a shortened offseason program compared to normal, so choosing a standout is largely guesswork. Also, Moore probably wouldn’t be considered a surprise since he was a second-round pick, but it’s easy for him to get lost in the shuffle with the likes of DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green on the roster. But Moore had coach Kliff Kingsbury excited about the multiple ways he can deploy the rookie after the full-squad minicamp. “He’s very good in the open field, making the first guy miss,” Kingsbury said. “He has a knack at some of those plays, so, yeah, he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be fun to try to draw stuff up for, and see how many times we can get it to him.” — Josh Weinfuss
TE Jacob Harris
Tyler Higbee was sidelined for the offseason program, which allowed Harris, a fourth-round pick from Central Florida, to take significant reps throughout voluntary and minicamp practices. “Jacob Harris is a guy who has definitely stood out,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Just his overall speed, athleticism, you kind of feel him on the field.” McVay cautioned that Harris, who is 6-foot-5, 211 pounds and played receiver in college, must be evaluated outside of seven-on-seven play, but also commended his improvement since arriving in L.A. Harris will compete with second-year pro Brycen Hopkins and Johnny Mundt for playing time behind Higbee. — Lindsey Thiry
RB Trey Sermon
Sermon was drafted to provide depth behind veterans Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. with an eye toward a bigger role in the future. But that future might arrive sooner than later as Wilson is out four to six months following meniscus surgery and as Mostert deals with some lesser knee issues. Sermon made a strong first impression, particularly as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, and he looks poised to make an impact as a rookie so long as it carries over to training camp and the start of the season. — Nick Wagoner
RB Alex Collins
With Chris Carson (personal matter), Rashaad Penny (knee surgery) and Travis Homer (calf) not practicing of late, Collins has appeared to receive the most reps of any Seattle running back. He looks trimmer and faster than he did in his first Seahawks stint. Collins is fighting for a roster spot on a minimum-salary deal that includes no guaranteed money. — Brady Henderson
How the Vikings reshaped their defense after a miserable 2020 – Minnesota Vikings Blog
EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings‘ defense didn’t just receive a facelift. Over the past four months, the unit underwent a total reconstruction following the worst season of coach Mike Zimmer’s tenure.
Zimmer’s discontent over the way his group performed in 2020 came to a head in a Christmas Day loss to the New Orleans Saints when he called the Vikings’ defense the “worst one I’ve ever had.” His frustrations prompted major change this offseason, from scheme adjustments to pouring resources into more talent.
Minnesota added 16 defensive players through free agency and the draft. The Vikings will add two players into the mix who were sidelined last year — defensive end Danielle Hunter and defensive tackle Michael Pierce — along with linebacker Anthony Barr, whose season ended in Week 2 when he tore his pectoral muscle.
“It’s probably going to look completely different on the defensive side of the ball than it did last year with the guys coming back and the additions that we made,” Zimmer said. “I am excited about that.”
In the span of a couple months, the Vikings’ defense went from injury-ridden and inexperienced to a group stocked with talent. Even after spending big to sign defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander and safety Xavier Woods, Minnesota added more. This month, the Vikings signed former Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland to compete as an outside corner and shored up their interior pass rush by re-signing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
The Vikings bouncing back from a 7-9 finish is contingent upon the success of their defense. Getting this group back to form is Zimmer’s mission, and even those who haven’t been around very long want to feed off that motivation.
“A coach like that that really walks around, he’s a defensive-minded coach, he loves the corners,” Breeland said. “I’ve never really had that type of head coach so it’s kind of new. The energy that he brings and gives to his players before practice, I mean he’s a nice subtle guy, he moves quietly, but at the same time when he talks, he speaks.
“He was teaching [Peterson] the technique and he looked over at me like ‘What you looking at, why you ain’t out here?’ I’m like ‘You teach one, you teach all of us,’ but he still made me come out there and really get my own rep and get my own feel. He shows each player that they’re their own person and he treats them accordingly.”
Added Barr: “He’s always been the kind of coach that has a chip on his shoulder, that goes about things in just a very hard-working type of fashion. I don’t think that’s any different. He comes to work every day, fired up, ready to get better. He just lays out the expectations and explained last year was not good enough and not only disappointing but frustrating.”
Adding talent was just one part of the Vikings’ plan to rejuvenate the defense. Coming off a season in which they allowed 475 points (third-most in franchise history), 393.3 yards per game (27th in NFL), 7.65 yards per pass attempt (30th) and ranked 27th against the run by allowing 134.4 yards per game, Zimmer and his coaching staff worked on schematic changes.
“As a defensive staff, we did a lot of work on studying different fronts, different coverages, around the league — and even some in college football — that people are doing to try to handle what offenses are doing today,” assistant head coach Andre Patterson said. “It reminded me [of] back when Zim and I were in Dallas. I think it was after the 2000 season, and we had been running the same defense forever. We got together and studied and came up with the scheme that we use now. And it was an offseason that was a lot of learning, a lot of us growing as coaches, and that’s what happened this offseason.
“We spent a lot of time studying and working and evaluating different fronts and different coverages that you can use in different situations. I think we got better as a coaching staff, and we came up with some things that I think are going to help our players.”
The Vikings have foreshadowed some of that this spring by mixing in more 3-4 fronts in practices, which Zimmer has done in the past. What a team does in the offseason doesn’t guarantee wholesale changes in the fall, but the addition of several players could trigger more changes than normal.
For example, the efforts the Vikings put on the interior of the defensive line could provide them with more options for getting after the quarterback. That includes utilizing Tomlinson and Richardson as defensive ends in a 3-4 front (with Pierce at nose) and having Hunter and Barr rush the passer from a standing position off the edge.
Minnesota’s efforts to bolster a pass rush that produced a franchise-low 23 sacks last season will benefit the defense everywhere, especially the unit that struggled the most last season.
“Any fan that ever asks me about playing defense or whatever, I’m like, ‘The secondary is always just about as good as the pass rush,’” safety Harrison Smith said. “You can have great players back there that are going to make plays from time to time just on their own, but throughout the length of the year, you’ve gotta have both work together.
“You’re not going to always cover perfectly and you’re not going to always rush the passer perfectly, so if you can complement one another well, it normally works out in your favor. Obviously we’ve got a lot of guys up there now, which you just kind of need in this league.”
The Vikings’ secondary will also benefit from a number of factors it lacked in 2020, particularly with depth and experience. Although 2020 third-round pick Cameron Dantzler was sidelined with an apparent injury in spring practices, he’ll compete alongside Peterson and Breeland for a starting corner spot in training camp.
Harrison Hand and Kris Boyd got considerable reps this spring and will duke it out to find a spot on the depth chart. Even amid the uncertainty with 2020 first-round corner Jeff Gladney‘s availability in 2021 given his legal issues, the Vikings have more cornerbacks than they’ll be able to fit on the active roster. That’s a welcome challenge after a season in which they scraped the bottom of the barrel to get by.
Kansas City Chiefs confident in their running backs without Le’Veon Bell – Kansas City Chiefs Blog
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire spent his offseason working on his receiving skills. He would run routes and catch passes, all in hopes of having a bigger impact in the passing game.
“There are things we’re implementing to get the ball to the backs, to spread it out more,” Edwards-Helaire said last week before the Chiefs concluded offseason practice. “That’s one of the things on why I chose to work on my hands and just be more of a threat. … Just being able to get out not just on routes out of the backfield but also spread out in the slot position and wide out position. Just being able to expand my skill set was my thing.
“I feel like I was a decent receiving back in college … we’re just kind of enhancing it.”
The Chiefs have moved on from veteran back Le’Veon Bell, who arrived in the middle of last season to some hype but wound up having little impact. His contract expired at the end of the season and the Chiefs showed no interest in re-signing Bell.
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He recently wrote on social media he had no interest in playing again for Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
The Chiefs have an interesting mix of backs without him. Edwards-Helaire is the starter, but the Chiefs also have Darrel Williams, the biggest of their featured backs at 224 pounds and veteran Jerick McKinnon as well as returning backup Darwin Thompson.
The Chiefs overhauled their offensive line in the offseason to better protect quarterback Patrick Mahomes but they also expect it will improve their running game. They averaged 112 yards per game last season, 16th in the NFL.
They also want more from their backs in the passing game. Chiefs backs combined for 76 catches (19th in the NFL) and 584 receiving yards (17th).
“We have these backs that catch the ball so well out of the backfield, so why not utilize them?” Mahomes said. “Clyde, Jerick McKinnon, Darrel, Darwin, all of these guys are really good at running and catching the ball and running routes in space and so using them … I think you’ll see a wide variety of stuff that we’ll come into the season with and that’s where you want to be with a great offense.”
Williams has been a reliable backup for the Chiefs. He was their leading rusher with 78 yards in the divisional round playoff win over the Cleveland Browns last season.
McKinnon was signed during the offseason. He rushed for 570 yards and caught 51 passes for the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, then missed two seasons with a knee injury before scoring six touchdowns with the San Francisco 49ers in 2020.
“He’s experienced,” Reid said. “He’s been doing this awhile and he does it well. He sure has a nice feel for the pass game. I look forward to giving him the whole package once we get [to training camp] and let’s see what he can do once we get playing real football.”
As a rookie last season, Edwards-Helaire led the Chiefs in rushing with 803 yards despite missing three games with injuries. He also caught 36 passes, but didn’t have much of an impact as a receiver.
He could benefit as the Chiefs look to make up the catches and yards lost from wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who left as a free agent.
“It’s just making sure he has a better understanding of exactly what we’re doing,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said of Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick last year. “When you come in as a rookie, obviously everything is brand new and every week is a new playbook for you in a sense. So he’s had an opportunity to get a season under his feet.
“Everything is starting to make more sense to him. With the wisdom he had obtained in our system, it’s going to help him to know exactly what we expect him to do when placed in certain situations.”
To help him become more productive as a receiver, Edwards-Helaire worked on catching passes from different distances and angles.
“Not just 10 yards out and straight ahead,” he said. “Just catching high balls, low balls. I’m not the tallest guy so just being able to have a wider catch radius for my height was kind of my thing, expanding that.
“I wouldn’t say it was a problem last year but just [trying to] understand our offense. We move the ball around, we spread the field. Why not work on something that I feel like I can improve on? So that was one of my steps.”
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