What Should We Expect From Derrius Guice in Fantasy Football?
Since rookie players enter the NFL with a blank slate, it is more difficult to predict their success or failure; there are no sure things. Last year, for example, Joe Mixon fell well short of fantasy expectations, while Leonard Fournette slightly exceeded them. And then there was Alvin Kamara. He was a league-winning player as a rookie.
Which side of the fence will Derrius Guice fall on in Year 1?
Prior to the NFL Draft, Guice was touted by most experts as the second-best running back prospect behind Saquon Barkley, but Guice surprisingly fell to the end of the second round. He was drafted by Washington with the 59th overall pick, making him the seventh running back off the board.
However, the fantasy community believes in Guice. At the moment, he is the 19th-ranked running back, according to MyFantasyCalculator's standard-league average draft position (ADP) data. He is second among rookies -- behind only the aforementioned Barkley.
We know Guice has great size (5'11, 224 pounds) and extraordinary size-adjusted speed (91st-percentile). His best comparable player on PlayerProfiler is Ezekiel Elliott. Could be worse, right? We also know Guice was productive at LSU, where he rushed for 2,638 yards in his final two years, averaging 6.3 yards per carry against the top-notch competition.
But we also know Guice landed in a Washington backfield that includes Chris Thompson, a supremely talented pass catcher, and his fall in the NFL Draft has to at least give us a little reason to pause.
Will Guice do well enough as a rookie to justify his current ADP?
2018 Offensive Line Outlook
Despite being ranked as the 11th-best offensive line heading into the 2017 season, per Pro Football Focus, Washington ended up 21st in the league. They were an injury-ravaged unit, being forced to start 27 different line combinations, which was second-most in the league.
Heading into the 2018 season, they are rated somewhere between 10th (the Score's Justin Boone) and 19th (numberFire's Jim Sannes) -- so they're fairly average. If Washington's blocking unit can stay healthier than last year, it wouldn't be a stretch to see them finish somewhere in the middle.
That's not a huge boost for Guice's rookie-year outlook, but it's not a death sentence, either. Eddie Lacy was able to have a strong rookie campaign despite having the 17th-best blocking unit in 2013. Last year, Leonard Fournette was able to eclipse 1,000 yards in a mere 13 games behind the 15th-ranked O-line.
If Guice is as talented as the scouting community said he was pre-draft and can remain healthy, rushing for 1,000 yards should be in his range of 2018 outcomes.
Running Backs With Alex Smith
Although it has not be proven that a "rushing quarterback" helps improve the overall run game, according to Pro Football Focus, it also does not hurt it. During Alex Smith's five-year stint with the Kansas City Chiefs, almost all the KC running backs were efficient.
Below is a table showing our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric for the Kansas City running backs (at least 200 rushing yards to qualify) during Smith's tenure. NEP is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players, with the team side being adjusted for strength of opponent. A three-yard run on 3rd and 2 is wildly different than a three-yard run on 3rd and 4, and NEP helps account for that by tracking the expected points players add to their team's total over the course of a season.
|Year||Player||Position||Rushing Yards||Rushing NEP Per Carry|
For the most part, Kansas City's running backs were efficient playing alongside Smith. For reference, the league average Rushing NEP per carry for running backs typically falls around the range of -0.02 to -0.04 (yes, negative because passing is so much more efficient than rushing). The only season in which Smith's running backs struggled was in 2016. Smith's overall rushing volume that year was at its lowest, and his Rushing NEP per carry was at its worst level in his KC career.
Although it is hard to prove that Smith was a key reason why the Chiefs' running backs were, for the most part, very efficient, it definitely wasn't because of the Kansas City's offensive line. During the Smith era, KC's O-Line was below average, with their best year coming in 2016, when they were ranked 14th by Pro Football Focus. Ironically, it was the same year that Smith rushed for less and none of the running backs finished with positive NEP marks.
If Alex Smith runs a lot in Washington and Guice gets enough volume, the stats suggests that it could be an efficient and productive rookie year for Guice.
Receptions? A Bonus
Although Chris Thompson will likely be the primary pass-catching back in Washington, Guice won't just carry the rock. He had only 18 receptions in his best season at LSU, but Washington coach Jay Gruden believes that Guice will get his share of receptions.
Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, and Jeremy Hill are three examples of recent backs who didn't catch many balls in college but did OK as a pass catcher as an NFL rookie. Each of those three had fewer than 20 receptions per year in college, and they had between 27 and 36 grabs in their first seasons in the NFL.
Still, Thompson is clearly the frontrunner to lead Washington's backs in catches. He's logged 88 catches for 859 yards in 26 games over the last two years.
But Thompson does comes with some injury concerns. In the past three years, since Thompson became an integral part of Washington's offense, he's missed a total of nine games, six of which came last season due to a fractured fibula. Thompson is listed at 5'8", 191 pounds, so it's not unreasonable to think injuries could continue to be an issue for him.
In Thompson's absence last year, Samaje Perine, who had a mere 40 total catches in his college career, made 22 receptions, with 15 of those coming in the last six weeks. So Washington continued to throw to their backs even without Thompson in the mix, which is a promising sign for Guice should Thompson hit the shelf again this season.
And while we're talking about Perine, let's put any concerns about him stealing work to bed. As a rookie last year, Perine averaged a horrid 3.4 yards per carry, which tied for last among all backs who saw at least 175 attempts in 2018. He was also terrible by our metrics, finishing with an ugly -0.15 Rushing NEP per carry, making him the least efficient Washington running back in the past five seasons. Perine is unlikely to be a factor in 2018.
Mostly because of Chris Thompson's presence, Washington wasn't the ideal landing spot for Guice, and it's undoubtedly cooled some of the fantasy buzz the rookie back had prior to the NFL Draft. But, as we mentioned early on, Guice is still valued highly. He's the RB19 in standard-league ADP, and he's actually the RB17 in PPR formats, which seems backward.
Guice is in a muddled tier that consists of several backs with question marks. To be frank, after you move past the first two or three tiers of running backs, things fall off quite a bit, and there's not much separating most of the runners.
If Guice hits the ground running and establishes himself as the Washington's go-to guy on early downs, he should get enough volume to justify his draft spot, and playing with a running quarterback like Alex Smith should only help things.
Time will tell if coach Jay Gruden's talk about Guice catching passes is legit or summer coachspeak, but if Guice at least handles most of the early downs, he'll fall into some receptions as long as he proves decently capable as a receiver. In short, Guice may not be a total zero through the air.
Our models project Guice for 220.8 carries, 865.0 yards and 6.29 touchdowns on the ground, with 183.6 receiving yards and 1.04 scores on 22.88 receptions. He's our RB23 in standard scoring, putting him right in line with his current draft cost.