How Derrius Guice Can Overcome the Chris Thompson Factor - Footballguys

Diving into the prospects of Redskins rookie Derrius Guice for 2018. 

In a supremely talented class of running backs, Derrius Guice represents the sledgehammer of the group, a bulldozing back capable of wearing down tacklers with his relentless style. Handpicked by the Washington coaching staff after a season of ineptitude and inconsistency on the ground in 2017, Guice profiles as the type of player who could inject a panache, power, and poise into Jay Gruden’s offense.

The doubters will point to Guice’s lack of third-down usage in college, and that is a fair criticism, but even his head coach is warming to the idea of the “very exciting” prospect of more third down work. Guice’s path to meaningful action may not be as circuitous as it appears, and a spectacular rookie season – which may only be eclipsed by the generational talents of Saquon Barkley – is well within the LSU product’s reach.

Guice What?

Standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing 224 pounds, Derrius Guice cuts a formidable figure. Initially bursting on to the scene at LSU in 2016 after an injury robbed Leonard Fournette of game time, Guice seized his opportunity with relish. His considerable talents saw him lead the SEC in rushing that year (1,387 yards) and rushing touchdowns for running backs (15); despite starting only six of 12 games.

In 2017, it was a different story for Guice. Niggling injuries robbed him of some of his effectiveness as a total package. Predictably, his rushing totals dropped, but notably, he gutted it out and played 11 of 12 games.

NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein compares him favorably to Marshawn Lynch, citing Guice’s ability to generate power through contact and win collisions against men of similar or greater size. This type of grinder is precisely what the Washington rushing attack needs. Guice offers a combined skill set – power, vision, strength, cutting ability, contact balance – that none of the other Washington backs do.

Guice will instantly assume the goal line back role as long as he can fend off the training camp challenge from last year’s darling, Samaje Perine. The trick for the rookie will be how many snaps he can wrest away from the ever-reliable Chris Thompson.

The Chris Thompson Factor

For the past three seasons, Chris Thompson has been a stalwart of Washington's passing offense, reeling in receptions with purpose and providing an element that is crucial to the offense’s success. After all, his career 129 receptions and 1,126 yards are a meaningful asset by any measure. Thompson's sure hands are a quarterback’s best friend, you might say.

Enter quarterback Alex Smith, who brings his talents to Landover. The erstwhile Chiefs passer has a reputation for being a proponent of the dump off pass, and some of that is justified, but a cursory glance at the targets to Kansas City running backs over the past few seasons is instructive:

CHIEFS RB TARGETS AS % OF TOTAL TARGETS (2015-2017)

YEAR RB WR TE TOTAL RB%
2017 114 242 171 527 0.21
2016 90 288 156 534 0.21
2015 78 260 125 463 0.16

This is a different head coach in Andy Reid and a different cast of characters, but Smith hasn’t made targeting running backs a massive priority. It is worth noting as well that some of the teams above featured Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Kareem Hunt, all capable pass catchers.

Where does this leave Thompson, you ask? Perhaps on a similar level to the past three seasons, although there is a push-pull element to consider:

  • More productive carries from Guice churns out more first downs
  • An offense predicated on ball control and small, sustained gains is less reliant on pass-catching backs in obvious passing situations
  • Favorable game scripts lead to more carries for the workhorse back

Thompson will not completely go away, but Gruden’s rhetoric and investment in Guice would indicate the rookie is in for a big role, regardless of depth chart complications. If Guice can develop good chemistry with Smith and not disgrace himself in pass protection, there is a scenario where, by year’s end, Guice is stealing valuable snaps from Thompson.

Can the ‘hog mollies’ hold up their end of the bargain?

You could hardly blame the Redskins for casting an envious glance over at their division rival Dallas Cowboys, what with the consistently quality lines they can field every season. In Washington, meanwhile, it is not as rosy. Trent Williams and Morgan Moses, slated to start at tackle, enjoyed good seasons in 2017 and can be counted on to deliver. The same could be said for former first-round pick Brandon Scherff at guard, but Chase Roullier and Shawn Lauvao don’t inspire a huge amount of confidence.

If Washington can’t dominate on the interior, Derrius Guice may find little joy; creating something out of nothing is in the rookie’s toolbox, certainly, but he will not be able to reverse field and create like a Tarik Cohen.

This may be the greatest wildcard in Guice’s fortunes for 2018 and beyond. That said, Guice’s no-nonsense style should be a boon to the offensive line, who will know that they will not be asked to sustain their blocks for too long before Guice breezes into a gap. If former college teammate Leonard Fournette is correct in his expectations for Guice’s ability to make an immediate impact, fantasy owners will be chanting this kid’s name come championship weekend.

Projections

Projector G RSH YD TD REC YD TD FUM
David Dodds 15 190 798 5 29 235 1 2
Bob Henry 16 225 990 7 28 230 1 1
Jason Wood 16 240 1000 6 15 125 1 2  
Maurile Tremblay 16 186 775 5 23 182 1 2

Final thoughts

In a world without the generational talent of Saquon Barkley arriving on the scene, Derrius Guice and his Tasmanian devil-esque running style would be front and center. There is a beauty in the simplicity of Guice’s modus operandi as a player: power, pure and simple, and a wiggle that is deceptive in its execution to shed would-be tacklers. The offensive line’s ability to mesh with this unique talent will be crucial to developing a rhythm that may render Chris Thompson an afterthought. Guice will gobble up touchdowns on the goal line, and a revitalized offense under the capable stewardship of Alex Smith could deliver plenty of such opportunities. Guice is a bargain as the 21st ranked running back (according to the latest ADP).

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

Bobby Sylvester of FantasyPros shares the optimism on Guice:
“Apparently Guice hasn't yet earned the job over Perine and Rob Kelley, but you can choose to ignore that unless it lasts into the preseason. Guice is a potential workhorse and this Redskins' offense should score enough that we could see a fringe RB1 season out of Guice should he be given 250+ touches.”

Michael Fabiano of NFL.com said:
“I think it’s a good pick. He’s a physical runner, he can pass protect, he can catch the ball. He’ll lose some targets to Chris Thompson, but I’m projecting him as a fourth or fifth round pick.”