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Upside swing: Washington steals Derrius Guice at Pick 59

At the NFL Draft, it gets late awfully early. Sure things dry up quickly. At some point on Day 2, everyone seems like a project of sorts: a player with a partial skill set; a player with physical limitations or character issues; someone with caveats about college production. You can talk down pretty much anyone.

With that in mind, teams shift into upside and value mode rather quickly. Don’t tell me how things could go wrong — tell me, what could go right? And the Day 2 pick from the 2018 Draft that excited me the most was one of these upside swings — Washington snagging LSU running back Derrius Guice with the No. 59 selection.

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For much of his LSU career, Guice showcased first-round ability. He was a first-team all-SEC pick as a sophomore in 2016, and you know how loaded that conference is. He averaged 7.6 YPC that year, and his 16 touchdowns led the conference. He has an attractive build for a primary NFL runner: 5-foot-11, 224 pounds. He’s sturdy enough to run inside, strong enough to take a heavy workload, and quick and explosive enough to bust off breakaway runs.

His game took a step back last year, in part because of a balky leg. The Tigers were also reluctant to use Guice as a receiver (32 catches in three years). Nonetheless, 237-1251-11 is a strong rushing line in a major conference, especially from a true junior, just 20 years old. Even with running back a somewhat-marginalized position in today’s NFL, Guice was rated a late-first or early-second round selection on most projection boards.

Alas, Guice didn’t go in Thursday’s first round, while Saquon Barkley (obviously), Rashaad Penny and Sony Michel did. But when Day 2 kicked into gear, Guice continued to tumble like wet clothes in a dryer. And the running backs, they kept flying off the board. Nick Chubb to the Browns. Ronald Jones to the Buccaneers. Kerryon Johnson to the Lions. Guice isn’t better than some of these guys, than any of these guys? Washington eventually stepped in and used the No. 59 pick on Guice.

The rumor mill was churning with possible reasons Guice could have slipped. He may have been a little flaky with his pre-draft interview schedule. He may have made up some strange accusations about his NFL interview process. Some anonymous sources concluded he was immature, a character risk. (Maybe Guice is somewhat of a mercurial kid. But that’s to be expected from most 20-year-olds. And heck, the kid’s father was murdered when he was six, and his brother has led a troubled life; you have to salute Guice for persevering and making something of himself.)

It’s hard to know what’s true and not true in all this. But Guice never had any obvious missteps at college; this isn’t someone with a rap sheet. It’s not unusual for the league to collectively get cold feet on a player, to the point that groupthink takes over and the value gets ridiculous. Remember Dan Marino free-falling at the 1983 Draft? Warren Sapp’s tumble in 1995? Aaron Rodgers was in the running to be the first player taken in 2005 — somehow he went 24th to the Packers.

I’m not suggesting Guice will turn out to be a Hall of Famer like those other guys (Rodgers will surely join Marino and Sapp, someday). But I credit Washington for seeing the upside here. Consider the holdovers in the backfield. Washington knows Samaje Perine (3.4 YPC) was probably a wasted pick last year. Chris Thompson is a wonderful receiver, but not built for heavy work. Robert Kelley is just a guy, and was even worse than Perine in 2017. Head coach Jay Gruden needs someone to lug the mail on first and second down, and in short yardage.

Washington’s line play wasn’t great last year and it’s an offense in flux, with young receivers and a new quarterback. But Guice strikes me as part of the solution. I think he has the potential to be a special runner, and I expect a bunch of NFL teams could regret how they played this hand. Don’t be afraid to take your cuts.