After a safe-but-smart pick in the first round of 2018 NFL Draft, the Redskins decided to roll the dice in the second round on Friday night, and the early returns look fantastic.
Drafting LSU running back Derrius Guice was no simple decision, but selecting him with the No. 59 pick, at the back end of the second round, was a home run.
For months, Guice was projected to be the second running back taken off the board, behind only other-worldly prospect Saquon Barkley. In the lead-up to the draft, rumors began to surface about Guice's immaturity, and some predicted he might slip to the top of the second round.
But the seventh overall running back selected in the NFL Draft? No chance.
It happened, and the Redskins took advantage.
"A lot of things came out of nowhere and weren't true, and I just didn't understand 'Why me?'" Guice said Friday night. "I'm just thankful that this whole process is over with, that an organization believed in me and trusted in me. I'm just ready to get to work."
What did the Redskins get in Guice? An absolute freight train. He ran for more than 2,600 yards the last two seasons at LSU, and his playing style has been compared to Marshawn Lynch. He likes to lower his shoulder and run through opponents.
"I'm a very physical, powerful runner that doesn't shy away from contact."
How then did the Redskins land Guice at No. 59? There is a reason every NFL team passed him over, and Washington coach Jay Gruden was asked that specifically.
"We looked at the reports and talked to Derrius and Derrius's agent and got a pretty good indication that we felt good about taking Derrius at that position and we're lucky to get him," the head coach said. "This is a hard-nosed runner."
The "reports" in question started at the NFL Scouting Combine. While in Indianapolis for the annual March event, Guice told a story about his interview process in which several NFL teams questioned his sexuality. The league quickly intervened, saying that was inappropriate and investigated the matter. But the results showed that the questions never happened. From there, rumors of missed flights and on draft night, an "altercation" with Eagles brass emerged.
Guice dismissed that notion.
"My trip to the Eagles was great," Guice said. "There wasn’t an altercation when I went. It was great."
Gruden backed up his new rookie.
"We don't know anything about that, quite honestly. These reports that come out after the pick, unfortunately, we don't get access to every report on the player so we'll wait and see and talk to Derrius, but he's assured us there was no altercation there at all."
At just 20 years old, Guice might seem immature, though he's still a very young man. But he's a young man with extraordinary skill running the football, and that's why the Redskins decided the risk was worth the reward.
After selecting Da'Ron Payne in the first round, it was obvious the 'Skins intended to fix their rush defense. By taking Guice in the second round, the 'Skins very clearly want to run the ball better as well.
"He’ll fit in just fine. I love his talent," Gruden said. "At the end of the day, it’s all about the skill set that he has and he has got one, without a doubt."
Immaturity can be annoying for coaches, but it's not insurmountable. And young men grow up, sometimes at an accelerated pace after a humbling event like falling in the draft.
Known for his "angry" running style, Guice said that slipping in the draft will only serve as motivation.
"It's just a feeling that I have inside of me that I've already run with since being little and I just feel like it's gotten 10 times worse now," he said. "I can't wait to be unleashed on the field."
As a team, the Redskins ranked 28th out of 32 teams last year in rush yards. Guice should help immediately. His arrival likely doesn't spell the end of Robert Kelley or Samaje Perine, but the training camp competition just got much more intense. Guice has the talent to push for the starting job right away and to work alongside excellent third-down back Chris Thompson.
It's also important to point out that Guice will likely test the Redskins coaching staff. There is a reason why he was still available at the No. 59 pick.
Gruden seemed prepared for that challenge.
"He's got some energy, now. He’s got some energy," the coach said about his new rookie RB. "Just bottle that up and let that unleash on Sundays, not so much on Thursdays and Fridays."
Containing Guice's energy during the week, and maintaining his focus in meeting rooms, will be the job of the coaches. Guice needs to own those responsibilities as well.
For the Redskins, however, they made a move Friday night that could make them a much better team this fall. The team balanced a smart, calculated move for Payne in the first round with a risky yet potentially very rewarding steal of Guice on Friday.
What's interesting is if the Redskins absolutely wanted Guice, they could have just taken him at No. 44. The team didn't have to trade down to No. 59, didn't have to recoup the third-round pick sent to Kansas City to complete the Alex Smith acquisition.
In drafting Da'Ron Payne in the first round, the Redskins eschewed the chance of trading out of the pick and getting more selections. They wanted Payne so they went out and drafted him.
In drafting Guice, the Redskins risked it. They traded out of the sure thing, getting more chances, and hoped their guy would last.
"We thought the trade was needed. We thought we could add a third-round pick, which was very critical for us," the coach said.
"And Derrius fell right to us."
On football talent alone, drafting Derrius Guice at No. 59 is an absurdly valuable pick, but the selection doesn't happen in a vacuum.
With their first two picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Redskins directly addressed their two biggest weaknesses on each side of the football.
Nothing will be known until the team plays real games in September, but for April, it seems like Washington is playing its cards well, taking the safe bet and rolling the dice when the time calls.
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