Last Saturday night, the Jets selected Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire with the 188th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The 22-year old McGuire is 5'10" and 214 pounds and rushed for over 4,300 yards and 42 touchdowns in four seasons with the Ragin' Cajuns. He also caught 130 passes and scored 10 touchdowns through the air. McGuire was the Sun Belt Player of the Year in 2014.
McGuire made an instant impact at ULL, leading the nation with an 8.4 yards per carry average and racking up 863 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. He added another three scores through the air on 22 catches for another 384 yards.
His sophomore season saw him voted as the Sun Belt Player of the Year as he posted career highs in rushing yards (1,264), rushing touchdowns (14), receptions (45) and receiving yards (468). That included a game against Arkansas State where he rushed for 265 yards and four scores.
Over the next two seasons, McGuire's overall production slipped, but he still rushed for over 1,000 yards each year and scored a total of 25 touchdowns. His nine total touchdowns in his senior year represented the lowest total of his career, though.
McGuire helped his stock after the season ended, by scoring the only touchdown on an 18-yard run in the East West Shrine Game.
McGuire would primarily see action out of one-back sets at ULL but was also motioned out into the slot from time-to-time. ULL usually lined up in the shotgun or pistol formation.
McGuire has taken direct snaps in the past in wildcat-type packages and even threw three passes, although they were all incomplete.
He also played for ULL's basketball team, where coaches praised his defensive abilities.
McGuire's athletic make-up certainly fits the profile of a potential star. Check out his impressive list of closest comparables based on his combine measurements and workout numbers:
McGuire posted excellent speed and explosiveness numbers, but poor agility and strength numbers. That translates to his on-field performance.
McGuire's production over the course of his career was spectacular and he had a lot of big games. However, there is some concern that his yards-per-carry numbers diminished in each of his four seasons (from 8.4 to 7.6 to 5.0 to 4.9).
Of course, 4.9 yards per carry is still pretty good and, based on PFF rankings, ULL's offensive line was in the top 10 for run blocking back in 2014, but dropped off significantly in each of the next two years, so that may have been a factor.
McGuire has had a knack for breaking long runs over the years, although this too was something that dropped off over the past few years. He had nine games with at least one 20 yard run in 2014, six in 2015 and only three in 2016. He ran a 4.53 at the combine, but arguably looks faster on film. Here's an example of that breakaway speed:
McGuire's best traits as a runner are probably his acceleration and cutback ability. He doesn't really run with a lot of power, but can finish runs strong and fall forward for extra yardage at times:
McGuire has shown he can carry a heavy workload, racking up 232 carries despite being banged up in 2016. That included one game where he racked up 38 carries.
As you'd expect from anyone with 52 career touchdowns, McGuire has a nose for the end zone and an ability to punch it in from close range. He has good burst, so can hit the hole at speed, but I wouldn't consider this one of the main strengths of his game.
McGuire's pass catching is where he sets himself apart from many of this year's running back prospects.
While he only averaged about 33 catches per season, which is lower than a lot of top backs in this year's class, many of those do most of their damage on dump-off passes, whereas McGuire is a lot more versatile.
He can run routes, get downfield and catch the ball against tight coverage:
In addition to his route-running abilities from the backfield, McGuire has also had some production from the slot. Of course, that's not to say he can't take a simple dump-off pass and generate yardage from that too.
Interestingly, his yards-per-catch averages also diminished in each season (from 17.5, to 10.4, to 8.9, to 8.2).
For a running back, McGuire has excellent hands. He displays that here with an excellent one-handed grab on a ball thrown behind him:
Over the past three years, he's only had a couple of drops each year and no fumbles. One of his drops last year was a lateral pitch which was ruled to have been a forward pass, though.
On this play, he could have had a big gain and possibly a long touchdown, but he had to go down to the ground to secure the catch:
McGuire has had to stay in an pass protect several times per game on average over the past few years. He doesn't always look comfortable in these situations and it's an obvious area that he'll need to work at, otherwise he might not get on the field in passing situations very often at first.
McGuire gave up three sacks in the first four games last year, including the strip-sack shown below. However, he otherwise didn't surrender any sacks in the past three seasons:
Todd Bowles has complimented McGuire's work as a dual returner and he was working on those roles at rookie camp last week. However, he hasn't had a great deal of experience or success at the college level.
McGuire returned just three kickoffs for 46 yards in his college career, but saw more extensive work as a punt returner. His numbers were not great but he did have a long return of 37 yards.
From the film, McGuire doesn't look 100% confident at fielding punts. In one game, he lost a muff near his goal line:
In another game, McGuire not only juggled the catch, but then also lost almost 10 yards while trying to cut across the field:
Scouting reports have been critical of his vision, suggesting he perhaps leaves some yards on the field. However, he shows a good ability to see when the middle is clogged up and has the athleticism to bounce it outside:
He also shows the ability to find running lanes in the open field:
As a pass catcher he can sometimes have issues with locating the ball. This potentially could have been a touchdown but he couldn't find it:
McGuire has been praised as a high-character player by his coaches, who praised his attitude and maturity. He graduated early and handled the fact he was banged-up in his senior year with toughness.
Much of McGuire's drop-off in production has been attributed to a foot injury he suffered early on in the 2016 season, although we've already noted that his averages per touch were already falling year-on-year.
NFL scouts supposedly feel this affected him significantly in his senior year and that obviously hurt his stock. It remains to be seen if he can get back to 100% and if that will lead to improvements in his running ability but taking the gamble in the sixth round seems reasonable.
Other than the foot injury, McGuire doesn't seem to have had any other serious injuries, although he may have had a concussion after being knocked out of one game in overtime.
McGuire's cutback ability and the way he picks a hole and hits it hard would seem to make him well-suited to zone blocking packages, although he had success running out of power/man packages at ULL.
If the Jets run a west coast offense as expected, then his pass-catching abilities will bring a similar dimension to the offense to Matt Forté and Bilal Powell. He can certainly learn from those two and try to develop into a similar kind of pro.
McGuire is a player who was looking like a surefire NFL starter a few years ago. He was less impressive over the last few years, although that has been attributed by some to injuries. If that's true, it remains to be seen how permanently they've slowed him down.
Picking up an athletic and dynamic back who was productive in college in the later rounds is usually a good idea. If your offensive line plays well, such a player can be every bit as productive as a first round prospect. McGuire's pass catching ability is already at a high level and this might be a productive way to get him involved in the offense early on in his career.
What will hold McGuire back in the short term is his inexperience as a pass protector and perhaps the jump in level from Sun Belt to NFL. If he can add some strength and get 100% healthy, then it's a good situation for him because the Jets have two reliable backs ahead of him, but the potential for a starter role to open up over the next year or so.