Scouts are taught to evaluate prospects' most recent game tape, but what if injuries prevented a prospect from being at his best during his final college season? Do you grade him on that season alone or do you use more of a projection based on his previous production and performance as a young player?
That's the dilemma scouts are wrestling with this spring when it comes to Derrius Guice. The LSU standout followed up his spectacular 2016 campaign (SEC's rushing leader with 1,387 yards despite starting just six games in place of starter Leonard Fournette) with a solid junior season in which he ran for 1,251 yards even though he was playing through a leg injury for most of the year. Without the same explosiveness and burst that had piqued the interest of scouts looking for the next big thing at the position, Guice's evaluation is part assessment and part projection for evaluators around the league. After taking some time to dig into the 2016 and 2017 tape while also reaching out to some of my scouting colleagues, here is The Book on Guice.
What I'm hearing
"I think he's the best runner in the draft. He's not the best overall player at the position, but as a runner, it's hard to find a better one in this class. From his balance, body control, explosiveness and strength, he can do it all with the ball in his hands. ... He finishes his runs violently and repeatedly runs through contract. That's exactly what you want your top running backs to do." -- NFC personnel director
"I love his grit and toughness. He's a grinder who is at his best running between the tackles. I don't know if he's a RB1, but he's a solid RB2 with the potential to be a lead back in time. ... I would love to pair him with a slasher to create a situation like New Orleans has with (Mark) Ingram and (Alvin) Kamara. ... He really reminds me of Ingram." -- AFC college scouting director
"I'm a big fan of the kid. It took him a while to get over the injury (in 2017), but I love his relentlessness and refusal to go down when he gets hit. He rarely goes down on first contact and his punishing style kind of reminds me of Marshawn Lynch. I'm not saying he's 'Beast Mode', but the kid is a really good player." -- AFC scout
"Don't waste your time on 2017 film because he wasn't even back up to his top speed until the bowl game. He will be the same player he was in 2016. If you had a grade on him after last year, you should use that." -- LSU assistant coach
What I'm seeing
Guice is an old-school running back with a blue-collar mentality and a rock-solid game. He's the quintessential workhorse RB for a power-based offense that features downhill runs between the tackles. As a back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher in the rugged SEC, Guice is a NFL-ready runner with the grit and toughness needed to shine as a RB1.
After looking at the All-22 coaches' tape, I believe there are so many impressive parts to Guice's game. From his rugged running style to his outstanding strength, power and body control, he's built to grind it out between the tackles as a workhorse. He displays the toughness, violence and explosiveness to run through tacklers in the hole while also flashing enough wiggle and elusiveness to slip into creases on inside runs. Although he didn't show as much explosiveness or home-run potential in 2017 due to a nagging injury, he has enough burst and acceleration to take it the distance when he gets to the second level. Looking back at Guice's 2016 film (see Texas A&M and Arkansas), he has more than enough juice to rack up runs of 10 yards or more when he spots a crack in the defense.
To that point, I believe Guice's performance in 2017 not only speaks volumes about his overall toughness and grit but also confirms his ability to thrive as a potential workhorse at the next level. Despite lacking his normal burst and explosiveness, Guice continued to post solid games as a RB1 due to his rugged game and persistence. Guice's stamina, endurance and violent finishing skills stood out on tape as he shouldered a heavy workload as the Tigers' No. 1 offensive option without his A-game for most of the season. With that in mind, I believe we could see a more dynamic and explosive version of Guice as a pro, which should lead to more production and an even greater impact as a RB1.
In the passing game, Guice didn't get a lot of touches as a receiver (32 career receptions) but he displays soft hands and adequate route-running skills. Although he's at his best snagging screens or flat passes out of the backfield, he appears to have enough quickness and craftiness to be an integral part of the passing game on option routes. If given more opportunities as a receiver, Guice could be a consistent 50-catch guy as a pro based on his hands and skill.
From a critical standpoint, I would point to Guice's lack of big plays in 2017 as a concern. Although he battled through a nagging injury for most of the season, I still worry about his explosiveness and top-end speed after studying the tape. He couldn't run away from defenders when he reached the second level last season, and his inability to break free for explosive runs (runs of 10 yards or more) grounded the Tigers' offense for most of the season. That said, Guice showed plenty of big-play ability in 2016 and scouts should closely examine game tape from that season to see his real potential as a home-run hitter.
Overall, Guice is a rock-solid runner with the kind of blue-collar mentality and rugged game that shines at the next level. He's the best inside runner in the 2018 class, exhibiting the balance, body control, violence and finishing skills to spit out 100-yard games like an ATM machine as a pro. If he lands with a team that runs an offense built around power plays (power and counter), Guice could emerge as a top-five rusher early in his career.
Ingram, a two-time Pro Bowl selectee, is rarely cited as a top-five talent when observers rattle off names of the top runners in the league, but he has quietly become one of the most impactful workhorse runners in the game following back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns. Ingram is also an effective receiver out of the backfield, particularly on screens and swings. With 50 catches or more in two of the last three seasons, Ingram has become the total package at the position.
When I look at Guice's playing style, skills, and blue-collar mentality, I see striking similarities to the Saints' star running back. From his relentless running style to his violent finishes to his patience on screens and swings, Guice can be used in a role that allows him to shine as a runner/receiver and the lead back in a RB rotation.
Where he should be picked
The devaluation of the running back position in the draft makes it hard to predict where Guice falls on draft boards, but his potential as a rugged RB1 should put him in position to hear his name called in Round 1. I rank him as a top-40 prospect in this year's draft with a grade that suggests he can be an immediate starter in the right system. While I'm not ready to proclaim Guice a transcendent star at the position, I do believe he's a little underrated at this point of the evaluation process and I wouldn't be surprised to see him emerge as a viable Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate in 2018.
As for team fits, I believe the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks would be great matches for Guice's talents. The Steelers, in particular, would work well. Guice could spend his rookie season as an apprentice to Le'Veon Bell before taking over as the team's RB1 if the Pro Bowl RB moves on after 2018 (the Steelers have placed the franchise tag on Bell).
The Seahawks also strike me as a perfect fit due to the team's need for a blue-collar RB1 to bring balance to their offensive attack. Remember, the Seahawks were at their best a few years ago when Marshawn Lynch anchored the offense as a punishing runner between the tackles. Guice would give the team a hard-nosed RB with the necessary toughness and grit to help Seattle recreate its old-school identity in the NFC West.