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Pre-Camp Breakdown: A Look at the Chiefs' Talented Group of Running Backs

The Chiefs currently feature five running backs on the roster

The Kansas City Chiefs are set to kick off training camp in just three short weeks, and with the annual pilgrimage to St. Joseph nearly here, we're spending the next month examining every position group on the roster heading into camp.

We covered the quarterback position earlier this week and will continue with running back, where the Chiefs currently employ five players. Here's a closer look at each member of the backfield, listed in alphabetical order. It should be noted that second-year player Jerrion Ealy, who is listed as both a wide receiver and a running back on the Chiefs' roster, will be covered in the wide receiver breakdown next week.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Edwards-Helaire is looking to bounce back from an injury-shortened season in 2022 as the former first-round pick enters his fourth campaign as a professional. Edwards-Helaire got off to a strong start last year, tallying 325 scrimmage yards and five total touchdowns through Week 4, but an ankle sprain in late November effectively ended his season.

It concluded what began as a promising season for Edwards-Helaire, who has proven to be a useful offensive weapon when healthy. He racked up 118 yards from scrimmage in Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers – which included a 52-yard rush late in the fourth quarter – before tallying 92 rushing yards against Tampa Bay two weeks later.

Edwards-Helaire's injury in Week 11 prevented the 24-year-old from building on that impressive start, but fortunately, Head Coach Andy Reid expressed optimism about Edwards-Helaire's health following the conclusion of offseason practices on June 15.

"I thought Clyde came back in good shape. It was great for him to get all the reps that he did. He did a nice job with it," Reid said. "Obviously, he's talented, but really for all of those running backs, it's just a matter of getting out there when things are flying."

Edwards-Helaire will have an opportunity to continue that progress when training camp kicks off on July 23.

Jerick McKinnon

McKinnon enjoyed a career renaissance last season as one of the Chiefs' most productive offensive weapons. The 31-year-old running back tallied 803 total yards from scrimmage – his most since the 2017 campaign – and 10 total touchdowns, which trailed only tight end Travis Kelce (12) on the team. In fact, McKinnon's nine touchdowns from Week 13 through the end of the regular season led all NFL players regardless of position.

Specifically, his contributions as a pass-catcher were invaluable to the Chiefs' top scoring offense in 2022. McKinnon hauled in 56 receptions for 512 yards and nine scores – all of which were career-highs – while often making plays when the Chiefs needed it most, as nine of his 15 catches on third down either moved the chains or resulted in a touchdown.

Additionally, McKinnon often served as a sparkplug who seemed to garner momentum for the Chiefs' offense on numerous occasions. Examples of that phenomenon included his 30-yard rush against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5 and his 34-yard catch (on 3rd-and-20) vs. the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7. Those two moments – which took place either late in the second or third quarter – saw the Chiefs score 53 combined points after the fact as opposed to just 23 total points beforehand. In that same vein, McKinnon also tallied the game-winning, 26-yard rush in overtime against the Houston Texans in Week 15. Football is a game that is often decided by just five or six major plays, and various times throughout the 2022 season, McKinnon was responsible for one or more of those critical, game-changing moments.

It's all to say that McKinnon was simply one of the Chiefs' most dynamic offensive weapons last season, and after re-signing with Kansas City this past offseason, he'll look to pick up where he left off this upcoming year.

Isiah Pacheco

It's not hyperbole to say that Pacheco was one of the top rookies in the NFL last season, shedding his status as a seventh-round pick to emerge as one of the best young running backs in the league and the leading rusher in Super Bowl LVII.

Pacheco, who took on a larger role in the Chiefs' offense beginning in Week 10, recorded at least 60 rushing yards in nine of 12 games from that point through the Super Bowl. Additionally, he ranked fifth in rushing yards (633) among all running backs from Week 10 through the end of the regular season, trailing only the Las Vegas Raiders' Josh Jacobs (910), the Cleveland Browns' Nick Chubb (684), the Pittsburgh Steelers' Najee Harris (673) and the Tennessee Titans' Derrick Henry (668).

The Rutgers product was the 22nd running back taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, but despite both those humble beginnings and his limited opportunities early in the year, he ended the season with the fourth-most rushing yards among all rookies in his class. Pacheco then carried that momentum into the postseason, averaging 5.3 yards-per-carry across 37 attempts. The 24-year-old was also responsible for some critical moments in Super Bowl LVII, scoring a 1-yard touchdown on the Chiefs' opening drive of the second half before tallying a 10-yard rush on third down that kept Kansas City's final, game-winning series alive.

Pacheco was nothing short of outstanding during his rookie campaign, and with a sizable role likely in his future this upcoming season, the best may be yet to come.

La'Mical Perine

A relatively new face to this group, Perine joined the Chiefs' practice squad during last season's playoff run before signing a "Reserve/Future" contract in February. A former fourth-round pick of the New York Jets in 2020, Perine racked up 263 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 72 attempts in two seasons with New York from 2020-21.

The 5-foot-11, 216-pound tailback didn't appear in a regular-season game last year, but at still only 25 years old, he'll have an opportunity to show what he can do during training camp.

Deneric Prince

The six-foot-tall, 216-pound Prince signed with the Chiefs as a rookie free agent following the conclusion of the 2023 NFL Draft, and while the University of Tulsa product didn't hear his name called over the course of draft weekend, he still has a shot to make Kansas City's roster.

Prince – who was ranked as the No. 18 running back in this year's class by The Athletic's Dane Brugler – was a projected fifth or sixth-round pick after a strong showing at the NFL Scouting Combine. In fact, Prince logged a 4.41-second 40-yard dash (fourth among all running backs) and a 10-foot-five-inch broad jump (fifth among all running backs).

He averaged more than five yards-per-carry in each of his three seasons as a regular contributor at Tulsa, and his production increased every year, culminating in a team-leading 729 rushing yards in 2022.

It's as a potential kick returner, however, that may ultimately land Prince a roster spot. Here's what Assistant Head Coach / Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub said about the 23-year-old tailback during the offseason training program:

"He reminds me so much of [former Chiefs' running back] Knile Davis…He even has the same number," Toub said. "[He] didn't [return kicks] in college, but he's showing traits right now that remind me so much of Knile that it's kind of scary…I see him in that role."

Prince will need to earn that role during camp, but he's certainly somebody to watch as Isiah Pacheco – who served as the Chiefs' primary return man last season – presumably moves on from that spot as he takes on a larger responsibility on offense.

The Bottom Line

The Chiefs elected to keep five running backs on the roster for Week 1 last season, but that tally included fullback Michael Burton. Kansas City kept four running backs in both 2021 and 2020 after keeping five in 2019, but again, each of those figures included a fullback. The Chiefs don't currently have a fullback on the roster heading into training camp for the first time in Head Coach Andy Reid's tenure, which could potentially open up a spot for a true running back (or a player at another position) who may have not made the roster otherwise.

With that in mind, the trio of Edwards-Helaire, McKinnon and Pacheco will likely make the roster barring some unforeseen development, but even then, recent history dictates that both Perine and Prince will have a very real opportunity to make the Chiefs' roster in 2023. As always, the answer to that question will be determined over the course of training camp and the preseason.

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