The past few draft classes have been notably strong at the running back position with top-tier talents such as Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, and Leonard Fournette headlining their respective classes. The 2017 running back class, in particular, was billed as one of the best in recent memory — and for good reason. With returning talents like Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, and Nick Chubb to the college game, the potential appears to exist for the 2018 class to equal, or even surpass its predecessors.
One running back who is likely to contend for the distinction of top-rated player at the position in 2018 is LSU’s Derrius Guice. After ceding the spotlight to Leonard Fournette as a freshman, Guice burst onto the college football scene as a sophomore in 2016 while filling in for the former no. 1 ranked recruit in an injury-plagued campaign.
In just six starts (and 12 games played) for the Tigers in 2016, Guice led the SEC in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, with totals of 1,387 and 15, respectively. The Baton Rouge native carried the ball 183 times for an eye-popping 7.6 yards per carry. Firmly entrenched as the starter heading into 2017, Guice will have every opportunity to build on his impressive résumé without the threat of Fournette to his carry count.
NFL scouts have already taken notice of the dynamic LSU runner, with some evaluators expressing a preference for his NFL prospects over those of his former teammate. While I’m not sure where I stand on that debate just yet, it’s certainly interesting to note these types of sentiments from evaluators at such an early stage in the pre-draft process — especially when you consider the massive amount of hype that surrounded Fournette since high school.
So what is it about the “other” LSU running back that has NFL scouts so intrigued?
“The way (Guice) runs, my guess is half or more (of teams in the league) would take him over Fournette right now” – AFC Scout
As a runner, Derrius Guice can do a little bit of everything. He’s exceptionally strong in his lower half — a trait that enables him to consistently pull through arm tackles and drag tacklers forward for extra yards on many a carry. Guice really thrives after contact because of his incredible combination of power and balance. According to Pro Football Focus, the LSU running back averaged an astonishing 4.1 yards per carry after contact in 2016.
For someone with such a punishing running style, Guice displays surprising elusiveness. Per CFB Film Room, Guice forced 52 missed tackles in 2016 — a figure that ranked him among the top-10 players in the FBS last year. A twitchy athlete with impressive agility, Guice is sudden in and out of his cuts, displaying the ability to change directions easily and without gearing down.
Guice is a versatile runner who can win with power and elusiveness as well as speed. He may not have an elite top gear, but he’s got enough speed to be somewhat of a big-play threat. He hits the hole with good burst and displays enough juice in the open field to outrun angles.
In general, Guice displays very good vision. He’s good at anticipating creases and he’s also an outstanding cutback runner. The Tiger running back displays a keen understanding of blocking assignments. He can read blocks inside-out or outside-in, depending on the concept that is called on a particular play.
On this run the play is designed to go left, but Guice quickly recognizes the open field to his right and makes a few swift cuts to reach the open space before he jukes one defender, outruns another, and cruises into the endzone for six.
The hole isn’t there initially on this play, but with a little patience and understanding of the blocking scheme, Guice buys time in the backfield until a hole opens up to his left.
Here Guice finds the cutback on an outside zone play.
Guice is generally a patient runner who does a terrific job of setting up blocks. He is a very decisive runner who trusts what he sees and attacks without hesitation.
The biggest questions Guice will need to answer this season are related to his value on third downs. In LSU’s run-heavy offense Guice was seldom utilized as a receiver, totaling just 9 receptions for 106 receiving yards in 2016. In limited opportunities; however, Guice shined in the screen game and demonstrated the ability to uncover against man coverage. At the very least Guice appears to be a competent receiver — the question is: how big of a receiving threat will he be at the next level?
In blitz pickup, Guice is a very effective chop blocker. When he connects, as he does most of the time, he effectively eliminates the contacted defender from the play.
While Guice is an effective down blocker, he’s a bit over-reliant on the tactic, almost always resorting to it — an approach that makes it difficult to gauge his ability when he stays on his feet and faces up defenders. I’d like to see him stay upright and use his hands on more pass protection reps next year given the hit-or-miss nature of the chop block.
For me, it’s difficult to watch Derrius Guice without being reminded of Marshawn Lynch. They possesses similar frames, angry running styles, and exceptional balance. Both excel in the screen game as receivers. Both are elusive runners; especially with consideration to their downhill running styles.
Overall, Derrius Guice is a very good running back prospect with many tantalizing traits and few real weaknesses. He has the look of a top-half-of-the-first-round pick at this early stage in the pre-draft process, and I think that his stock could conceivably rise into the top 10 (if he’s not already there) with a strong junior season and quality offseason testing results.