The 2017 NFL draft was loaded at the running back position but the 2018 crop of running backs is shaping up to be even more jam packed with talent. In an incredibly talented group of runners, two names stand out above the rest. Derrius Guice of the LSU Tigers and Saquon Barkley of the Penn State Nittany Lions have distanced themselves from the pack as the premier running backs in college football and big-time NFL prospects. Barring injury or a major step back this upcoming season, these two runners are expected to go head to head competing to be the #1 back in the 2018 draft. Here is a breakdown of Derrius Guice vs. Saquon Barkley as they enter their Junior years:

VISION + PATIENCE

BARKLEY:

Amazing vision. Extremely smart runner who anticipates the holes and reads the linebackers in the 2nd level very well to choose the best spot to attack. Barkley loves to sell one hole and then quickly cut out of it usually to bounce to the outside catching the linebackers and safeties collapsing to the inside. Barkley bounces to the outside more often than most running backs but only does it when the opportunity presents itself and doesn’t force it. Barkley has good patience but behind a very inconsistent line at Penn State he was forced to attack immediately on a lot of runs and when he had more time in the backfield he would occasionally rush the process due to some lack of trust in the blockers.

GUICE: 

Guice is more of a downhill runner than Barkley and with this running style comes a few missed holes. Guice’s vision is very good but he flies downhill too fast at times, not allowing his blocks to set up and occasionally running into his own lineman slowing him down or knocking him off balance. Also when breaking through tackles, Guice puts his head down and keeps driving straight forward which is great for the most part but he will also lose sight of better lanes. When Guice slows down a bit and shows more patience, his vision improves and is a big strength. Like Barkley, Guice toys with linebackers, appearing in one hole and then quickly cutting to another. Patience is the biggest thing that Guice needs to improve upon in his junior season.

VERDICT:

Saquon Barkley. Vision and patience is one of the most important skills to a running back and Barkley has the edge on Guice. In order for Guice to close this gap, he will need to find a healthy balance between his downhill running style and a little patience in the backfield to allow holes to open or to keep his options open before his explosion downhill.

STRENGTH + BREAKING TACKLES

BARKLEY:

Barkley is a big back coming in at 223 lbs. at 5’11. He is also equipped with tree trunks for legs that generate his power.  Barkley doesn’t get free from lineman’s grasp often and relies on his feet to make lineman miss. He runs through any arm tackles and is incredibly hard to take down once he reaches top gear. In the secondary, he finishes most runs dropping his shoulder and running over a DB. Barkley is a very unpredictable runner who isn’t completely reliant on power but can run guys over if they get too caught up in the finesse aspect of his game.

GUICE:

One of the most powerful runners I have ever seen, Guice will run through anyone. He loves contact and is never phased by a big hit usually dishing most of the punishment out. Guice rarely if ever goes down on 1st contact and is impossible to bring down with arm tackles or half hearted attempts. Even when tackled he falls forward and often times carries the tackler for a few extra yards. At least once a game you will see Beast mode type runs from Guice where he strings together broken tackles for huge gains.

VERDICT:

Derrius Guice. Despite weighing 11 lbs. lighter than Barkley at the same height, Guice’s strength and tackle breaking ability is definitely superior to Barkley’s. Guice runs as angry as any back in the nation and refuses to go down. Barkley is no slouch in this area either but isn’t quite as dominate as Guice.

FEET + ELUSIVENESS

BARKLEY:

Not many runners can cut as quickly and as sharply as Saquon Barkley. At any point he can stick his foot in the ground and completely change direction leaving the defender tackling air. He utilizes this on defensive lineman who are on him immediately after the handoff and also uses it to change gaps or bounce it to the outside in a hurry. This cutting ability also comes to use in the open field when DBs are expecting power and he quickly cuts off of them. Barkley also possesses a great spin move that he can use in tight quarters or in space. Barkley has one move that few other RBs dream of using: the hurdle. Barkley has unreal hops and consistently leaps over defenders which puts him at risk of dangerous falls but is an very unique skill.

GUICE:

Despite Guice’s well known reputation as a physical runner, he has a great finesse game to complement it. Equipped with a deadly jump cut, Guice can change lanes in a split second while facing upfield the entire time. In the open field, Guice shows much more elusiveness than in traffic (where he resorts to power) and has the feet to make guys miss. Guice’s cuts will sometimes put him off balance and too upright. He needs to work on staying low and balanced out of cuts so he can explode out of them. Similarly to Barkley, Guice has a great spin move that he uses to spin off contact and it is particularly successful as a counter to his powerful running.

VERDICT:

Saquon Barkley. Both have very impressive feet and elusiveness especially for their size. The edge goes to Barkley who is a little smoother in his cuts and maintains solid bend at all times. If you combine breaking tackles and elusiveness though, I would give the slight lead to Guice as his ability to break tackles is THAT special and his elusiveness is not too far behind that of Barkley’s.

SPEED

BARKLEY:

For any size, Barkely’s speed is impressive but for a back his size, it is special. Barkley gets the edge with ease and is used in jet sweeps at Penn State to get him to the outside. From any distance, Barkley can take it to the house and has very impressive breakaway speed. When he is used as a receiver on wheel routes, he separates from linebackers with ease. Most impressive about Barkley’s speed is how quickly he gets to the top gear. Very few DBs can catch up to Barkley if any and he breaks off a huge play nearly every game which is more impressive when considering the inconsistencies of his OL.

GUICE:

Guice can run away from a defence which you never see with a runner that is as violent as he is. The best comparison to his running style would be a Marshawn Lynch but Lynch doesn’t have nearly the top gear that Guice has. Guice does not have Barkley’s instant acceleration but he still reaches top gear in a timely fashion. Guice can get the edge on outside runs and is not just a downhill runner. He, like Barkley, has the ability to outrun DBs for long TDs.

VERDICT:

Saquon Barkley. The top end speed of the 2 backs is comparable with Barkley likely getting the slight edge but what separates them is Barkley’s ability to get to top speed faster than most. Barkley gets the edge with more ease than Guice and explodes into the secondary a little faster.

RECEIVING

BARKLEY:

Special player out of the backfield. Not only is he a scary threat in the screen game with his amazing talent in the open field but he is also a major problem coming out of the back field as a receiver. His route running is rare for a running back and he is impossible to cover for linebackers as he is just too quick for them. As a route runner you also see his incredible change of direction and cutting ability when he is in his breaks. To complete his receiving ability, Barkley has excellent hands. A pure hands catcher, he has a larger catch radius than most running backs and even a lot of slot receivers.

GUICE:

Utilized predominantly in screens at LSU, Guice wasn’t asked to do much as a receiver. When he was asked to run routes, he showed the ability to separate but was a little inconsistent occasionally getting too choppy at the top of his routes. In the screen game, Guice dominated. In the open field, Guice was able to have a ton of 1 on 1 matchups with DBs and LBs and it did not end well for the defence. Guice ran through a ton of tackles while also showing the elusiveness to make guys miss. Guice’s hands were not tested too often because most of his targets came on screens but he showed pretty natural hands for the most part.

VERDICT:

Saquon Barkley. This area is not even that close. Although you love Guice in the open field on screens, Barkley has shown the ability to do everything as a receiver. With LSU not usually featuring a RB in its seldomly used passing game, Guice hasn’t been able to showcase this part of his game. With new offensive coordinator Matt Canada coming in, Guice may receive a bigger role in the passing game as Canada’s last stop in Pittsburg used RBs quite a bit in this area. Even if Guice shows ability as a receiver, it will be hard to duplicate Barkley’s skill set in the pass game.

BLOCKING

 BARKLEY:

One of the better blocking RBs in the college game. Barkley is an extremely smart player and locates the free rusher immediately. With his lower body strength, Barkley can hold up very well vs LBs. Barkley stays low in his stance to maximize his power and never pops up allowing him to maintain his blocks and act as an extra lineman against the blitz. The one thing that Barkley could definitely improve on in this area is staying engaged. Too often he gets caught watching the play instead of focusing solely on his assignments allowing some pressures.

GUICE:

Guice is a solid blocker but isn’t a standout at all in this area. Mainly a chop down blocker, Guice rarely takes on his assignment staying up. This leads to some hit and miss results. When successful, it wipes his man completely out of the play but when he misses on the chop block, his assignment is a free rusher and there is not chance at recovery as Guice is on the ground. Guice should be able to stay on his feet and take on his man more often because of his strength. My favourite part of Guice’s pass protection at this point is his chip blocks. On the edge, he eliminates outside pass rushers with a very solid pop that stops them dead in their tracks.

VERDICT:

Saquon Barkley. As one of the better blocking backs, Barkley easily beats Guice who is an average blocker at this point but contains the physical potential to be as good as Barkley.

OVERALL

 BARKLEY:

One of the most complete backs in recent memory, Barkley is a better version of Ezekiel Elliott in my opinion. Barkley is a well rounded back with very few issues in his game. A true 3 down back, Barkley can dominate in the run and pass game. He is one of the better receiving backs with easy separation in his routes and excellent hands. If Penn State’s line improves, it will be interesting to see if he can be a little more patient at times.

GUICE:

Special runner who combines amazing power and size with the ability to play with some finesse especially in the open field. Every run Guice is able to make a guy miss or break a tackle often times stringing together a bunch of missed or broken tackles for huge runs. As Guice takes full reigns of the running game with Leonard Fournette gone it will be worth monitoring if his physical style is maintainable throughout a full workload without his body breaking down. Another thing that will be watched is if he can become a consistent threat as a receiver. His two biggest areas that need to improve are his patience and blocking. Patience may come with more reps and if he doesn’t develop more consistent patience he is still a special runner. As a blocker, Guice needs to do a better job taking on linebackers in 1 on 1 situations without always resorting to a chop block.

VERDICT:

Saquon Barkley. Going into their junior seasons, Barkley has the edge on Guice because of a more complete game that includes a huge impact on all 3 downs. I think the more experience Guice gains though, the closer the gap between the 2 will be. As a whole I like Barkley’s game better right now but I like Guice’s potential on the first 2 downs as a runner a little more with the talents he possesses. All in all, you can’t go wrong with either of these 2 backs. Don’t be shocked to see them both go in the top 10 when next year’s draft rolls around.

About The Author Matt Salem

Matt is 17 years old and lives in Canada. He loves football and hockey (because he's Canadian). He loves the NFL Draft and is happy to finally have a platform where he can get his thoughts and views out there. Matt is going to University for sports management and hoping he can do something with sports and scouting afterwards.