The debate between LSU RB Derrius Guice and Penn State RB Saquon Barkley for RB1 in the 2018 NFL Draft was set to be a hot one. It’s cooled off considerably, but entering the season, Guice was a legitimate Heisman candidate. His 2016 campaign of 1,387 rushing yards with a 7.6 yards per carry average in fill-in duty for RB Leonard Fournette should have been just the beginning of a monster career for Guice.
Unfortunately for him and football fans the world over, Guice struggled to replicate his eye popping production for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he started the preseason with a knee injury that lingered all the way to mid-October. He was limited in practice, not able to practice at full speed and often saw his carries reduced in games throughout the season.
The assumed boon for Guice in the passing game with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada could instead be seen as a detriment to Guice. His receiving stats (18-124-2) and utilization in the passing game was not as advertised. The offense was heavily dependent on deception pre-snap and horizontal stretches post-snap, which doesn’t marry perfectly with Guice’s game, which can thrive in a more traditional, straight-up offense as long as there is a threat for play action.
These issues were further exacerbated by an under-performing offensive line that struggled to deal with heavy boxes. Still, Guice managed to salvage his season. He ended up with a very respectable 237-1,251-5.3-11 ground game stat line considering everything working against him.
In his first game back at “100% health” according to LSU head coach Ed Orgeron, Guice gashed Ole Miss for 276 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first SEC running back to top 250 yards in three career games. This is a remarkable feat considering only three SEC running backs have two games of 250+, two of those being Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson.
Still my favorite Derrius Guice run to this day… pic.twitter.com/Y0b5TMw9le
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) April 19, 2017
Keeping with stats, Guice produced a broken tackle on 27% of his 2017 carries and a first down on 25%. While stats are nice, they don’t screw like film, so let’s take a look at how those numbers translate to the tape. When grading running backs, there are a few things I’m looking for out of the gate:
- The vision to see it.
- Burst to run through it.
- Ability to finish
With that qualified, let’s take a look at how Guice’s critical factors when under a microscope.
I have yet to watch another college running back this year that has the vision that Guice possesses. He displays excellent mental processing as he presses the line patiently, combined with the foot quickness to consistently take advantage of creases while manipulating second level defenders into shooting the wrong gap.
As decisive as they come, he will vary his stride as he allows blocks in front of him to develop. Make no mistake, while Guice has great footwork, there isn’t any dancing or wasted steps. Once he sees daylight you can bet he’s already striking a match off the butt of a pulling lineman or fullback and running through the smoke. If there were one gripe to have about his ability to read flow and anticipate alleys, you could argue that he processes better when headed north-south as opposed to east-west, but overall he possesses widescreen vision that will translate marvelously to the NFL.
What makes Guice’s burst so special is that he’s always in good football position to engage the afterburners. This is due to his superb balance and the staggering power he can generate out of cuts from all degree of angles. You won’t find Guice with his head too far over his skis when navigating trash, aligning his shoulders/knees/feet in an ideal fashion, ready to burst laterally and downhill with excellent explosiveness.
Simply put, Guice possesses the burst to split safeties and consistently defeat angles at the next level and that makes him a home run threat on any given play.
This is where Guice puts the icing on the cake. For all the buzz about his ability to see it and hit it, his ability to finish it jumps off the screen.
Outside of Tennessee RB John Kelly, you would be hard pressed to find an angrier runner than Guice. However, it’s not just the “run through faces” manner in which he approaches and punishes defenders, it’s also the manner in which he executes on the end of his runs. Combined with his aforementioned balance is his ideal pad level that allows him to absorb and deliver punishment. Rarely are defenders able to get a clean shot on Guice with a clear win, which means he is often able to at the very least fall forward for gain extra yards.
Did I mention that Guice also squats 650 pounds? Normally I’m not the type to freak out over weight room numbers, but in this case, the gym film matches the game film. Guice can be trusted in short yard and goal-line situations, as he displays the decisiveness, lower body strength, and leg churn to move bodies and piles.
Once past the first wave, Guice shows the ability to manipulate defenders into poor angles and arm tackles, which he runs through one-thousand percent of the time.
This is where Guice got his biggest knock in my grading system. As mentioned at the top, the promised revelation of Guice as a receiver never came to fruition. It remains a known unknown whether or not he can be used at a high level in the passing game at the next level.
One issue I saw when watching him as a pass catcher, is his tendency to allow balls into his body, leading to a drop:
The other issue I observed was his pass blocking technique. Guice has more than the functional strength required to be a reliable blocker, but at time of publication he has failed to show the technique required to thrive in that area.
In the above video, Guice gets to the proper depth to make a key block, but instead of engaging with his hands and anchoring, he delivers a shot with his shoulder. While effective at times, this limits the time he is able to sustain blocks and is a much less fruitful method against NFL linebackers and linemen. However if Guice takes to the coaching at the next level, he has the skill set to become dependable and more.
Overall, Guice possesses an ideal physical profile (5’11”, 222lbs) with a low center of gravity that bodes wells for his prospects as a bell cow back in the NFL. His foot quickness, lateral agility, vision, and ability to maximize every carry with strong finishing will keep the offense on schedule and churning out rushing yards. With a little refinement in the passing game, there’s nothing to indicate he can’t be a high level three-down NFL starter in any scheme.
With all of that qualified, the big question remains. How does he stack up with dynamic Penn State running back Saquon Barkley? When I graded both of them and put the results side-by-side, Guice had the edge, technically making him RB1.
I’ll add that I absolutely abhor rankings, as they are severely lacking context. I prefer Guice as a pure runner, knowing I can plug him in any system and get an instant impact. If you’re willing to live with the boom-bust style of play that Barkley provides while also utilizing him more creatively in the passing game as a receiver, then he may be your RB1.
Guice and Barkley are two different running backs, with different styles and different strengths and weaknesses. For two prospects who grade out so closely, it’s not about who you take, it’s about how you utilize them.